Guest Column: Wyoming Already Is Benefiting From Renewable Energy

Guest columnist and Rawlins Mayor Terry Weickum writes, "It’s long past time for an elitist state senator from Fremont County to stop his annual circus and to stop trying to undermine Carbon County’s economic future with his tired old disinformation about the renewable energy industry.

CSD Staff

February 10, 20245 min read

Weickum 2 9 24
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

It’s long past time for an elitist state senator from Fremont County to stop his annual circus and to stop trying to undermine Carbon County’s economic future with his tired old disinformation about the renewable energy industry. His bullying comments that posted February 8 leave me more than a little bit outraged. 

Legislators always talk about economic diversification and local control. Well, here in Carbon County we don’t have as much employment as we used to in the coal, oil and gas industries, but we do have wind resources.

So, over a decade ago we worked hard with state agencies, state legislators, the Governor’s office and other credible partners to assure that wind energy projects are indeed properly sited and properly taxed in our Wyoming communities, as a way to diversify our economy.  

I formerly was the Chair of the Carbon County Commission and chairman of the Wyoming County Commissioners’ wind task force that collaborated to assure wind power developments only happen in Wyoming “our way” with our terms and our rules.

The regulatory and tax combination we all agreed on and that has been used since was to make wind projects deliver economic benefits and not cause unmitigated environmental impacts.

At the same time, this combination assures that Wyoming remained a business-friendly energy state and a place where new kinds of power plants could thrive. 

For example, even though wind power plants are major property taxpayers – among the largest nonmineral property taxpayers in Carbon County and in Wyoming – we removed the sales/use tax exemption this industry had, and decided to restore the sales tax on renewable energy equipment.

The sales taxes these projects brought and are bringing in during construction have kept our county afloat, especially during COVID, and put our people to work including heavy equipment operators, mechanics, welders, laborers, retail workers and hospitality professionals.

Just look at the CREG reports over the past several years to see the huge sales tax growth in Wyoming counties thanks to wind investments. Sales taxes benefit the state general fund that benefits everyone in Wyoming. Property taxes fund our schools and local governments. 

The wind and transmission projects happening in our county were permitted by our Carbon County Commissioners and by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality’s Industrial Siting Division, following extensive public involvement and involvement by experts at Wyoming Game and Fish, Wyoming Office of State Lands, WYDOT and other entities that assure protection of all of Wyoming’s resources.

Most of these projects also were reviewed in Environmental Impact Statements prepared by the Bureau of Land Management, which led to further financial obligations upon the projects that assure all environmental impacts are considered and addressed. 

Our Carbon County communities were fully aware of what these projects will look like, what employment opportunities they will bring, and the hundreds of millions of dollars in new property tax revenue and sales tax revenue and electricity tax revenue they stand to provide.

We know wind power project have to post reclamation and decommissioning bonds, and we know it will not “be on our landscape for decades and possibly even centuries.” I mean, is the Fremont County senator traveling through Carbon County by wagon or getting his mail via Pony Express? Human technology and systems evolve! 

Carbon County has been an energy-exporting county since before it was founded, and we are proud to continue being a business-friendly and energy-exporting county today and to support an all-of-the-above energy strategy.

If the Fremont County senator doesn’t like our local decisions and our community-driven efforts to diversify our economy in the way we choose, and if he doesn’t want to look at our wind power plants that are benefitting our local economy along with our oil and gas partners and other energy industries, I ask him to stay out of Carbon County.

I also ask him to stop trying to economically wreck the development and workforce opportunities that new power generation and transmission projects can bring to us and to Wyoming and to Wyoming workers. If there is a wind project planned in his county that he doesn’t like, he can participate in all of the public comment avenues available to him to stop it. 

 We need to think about the generations of Wyoming citizens who come after us. What will we leave them if we allow overzealous government actors to sever diverse opportunities to work and earn a living here by taxing respectable, responsible, good new businesses to death?

As a Carbon County Commissioner said before me and as I like to remind those legislators who clearly don’t live in the real world, “Quality of life begins with a paycheck.” We don’t need “a better deal from renewable energy” because we already have a great deal. What we need is more responsible and less bullying legislators.

Terry Weickum is the mayor of Rawlins

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CSD Staff