Articles filed under Energy Policy from Wyoming
A House committee on Tuesday endorsed legislation that would extend by two years a moratorium on the ability of wind farm developers to forcibly take land so they can stretch power lines to their turbines.
Wind energy was one of the main topics of discussion during last year's legislative session, as lawmakers passed a landmark wind-generation tax and temporarily banned wind developers' eminent domain powers. And legislators left a lot of unresolved questions for this year's session.
Wyoming has already seen many negative effects of the "split estate" concept, which allows mineral rights to be sold separately from surface rights. Five years ago the Legislature passed a law that requires developers to make reasonable accommodation of existing surface uses, which has greatly reduced some -- but not all -- of the conflicts. "It's taken 125 years to sort out the relationship just between the mineral owners and the surface owners." noted Dennis Stickley, a University of Wyoming law professor. "We'll have another 100 years of litigation and conflicts between wind rights and surface rights."
State legislators are drafting a bill that would set the groundwork for wind energy law in Wyoming, including establishing wind energy property rights alongside surface and mineral rights. The bill would also prevent Wyoming landowners from selling their wind energy rights separate from their surface rights, as some property owners in the state have already done.
Freudenthal says he might favor limiting wind energy developers to using eminent domain to secure only the last few parcels of private property needed for a project as long as they had negotiated with landowners for most of what they needed.
Land use regulation almost always triggers property-rights objection. In this case, a vocal minority of the eight landowners that have signed with the promoter assert that their "private property rights" should let them force industrial development into the Northern Laramie Range. This is nonsense. The U.S. Supreme Court settled the issue nearly a century ago: Reasonable restriction on land use, established through appropriate public process, is not a "taking" of private property.
In this surreal debate, perhaps it's worth remembering that though it has been four centuries since Cervantes' character Sancho pointed out to Don Quixote, "Look, your worship ... what we see there are not giants but windmills, and what seem to be their arms are the vanes that turned by the wind make the millstone go," we still must look at things honestly for what they are, not just for what our fantasies want them to be.
Independent-minded Wyomingites have begrudgingly tolerated the heavy-handed use of eminent domain for decades, understanding that the state's economy rises and falls on energy exports. But recent scenarios plotting out the potential for wind energy development in this infamously windy state - and the power lines that may come with it - has triggered a call to action.
"The general consensus is we will be living in a carbon-constrained world, so it's best to prepare for it," said Rob Hurless, Freudenthal's energy adviser. "If you want to provide power to the California market, there's a clear standard there." Until there's a quantum leap forward in carbon capture for pulverized coal-fired power plants, America's existing fleet seems destined for a gradual retirement. Just how gradually the plants come off line will depend on how federal climate legislation is crafted.
Freudenthal noted the visual impact that wind farms, as well as the transmission lines they require, will have on Wyoming's landscape, has been a major cause for concern with landowners and residents in the state. "We're having a different response to it entirely," he said, when comparing wind energy construction to other energy development ..."[People are] having a real problem with adjusting to the idea that the landscape is going to be visually different than it was in the past."
TransCanada has signed agreements with three wind energy developers to supply power to the company's proposed $3 billion electrical transmission line that would run from Wyoming to the Southwest. ...TransCanada and other Wyoming wind interests have been concerned about recent actions by the California Public Utilities Commission that they believe could limit renewable energy produced outside of that state.
The California Public Utilities Commission recently adopted a measure that may have a negative effect on Wyoming's wind energy market. In March, the commission issued an order limiting the volume of tradable renewable energy credits that public utilities there can buy to meet California's renewable portfolio standard.
Gov. Dave Freudenthal on Tuesday evening kicked off the first of three community discussions about Wyoming's budding and controversial wind energy industry. The recent construction of hundreds of wind turbines have divided several communities between those who may benefit financially and those will only see their views disrupted.
Now, visualize row upon row of wind turbines on some of our most precious vistas and landscapes -- the Chugwater Bluffs, the Laramie Range, Elk Mountain, and the Upper North Platte River Valley. This is not the Wyoming we want. If we are not careful, this is the Wyoming we may get. The governor and Legislature have demonstrated good leadership on this issue. This needs to continue.
State lawmakers have determined that major industrial developments, including wind farms, warrant government scrutiny because of potential impacts beyond the land where they're located, be it private, state or federal. That's a sound policy. And because Wyoming's abundant wildlife is treasured by the state's people, it's appropriate that our wildlife management agency have a say in projects that could harm that valuable resource.
The Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments has drawn up rules for wind development leasing on state land, partly to help reduce potential conflicts between wind development and other uses such as mining, drilling and ranching. The office is charged with managing about 3.6 million acres of state trust land for beneficiaries including public schools. The office is taking written comment on its proposed rules until Monday and plans public hearings in mid-March in Casper, Green River, Rawlins and Cheyenne.
Gov. Dave Freudenthal, who made the wind tax a priority of his legislative agenda, intends to sign the bill, a spokesman said. Lawmakers amended the tax as it passed through the House, and both chambers passed the proposal with at least two-thirds support. The bill would impose a $1-per-megawatt-hour excise tax on wind energy production and split the revenues 60-40 between counties and the state.
With currents of powerful wind gusts whipping across its plains and plateaus, Wyoming has become a new frontier for the wind industry - the latest energy development for a state that only recently experienced a natural gas boom.
With the 2010 legislative budget session half over, all four of Gov. Dave Freudenthal's wind energy proposals are still alive -- albeit, in some cases, significantly altered. But the outcome of the bills is still far from certain as they move through the Legislature. The most controversial proposal, House Bill 101, would impose an excise tax on wind energy produced in the state. If passed, it would be the first such tax in the nation.
A proposed excise tax on wind energy in Wyoming was improved by the House Revenue Committee, which trimmed it by two-thirds and delayed the tax's implementation by a year. Both moves should help allay critics' fears that such a tax will make the fledgling industry choose other states to build wind turbine projects.