Op-Ed: Renewables are competitive, so why does windy Wyoming tax its turbines?

Source: By Froma Harrop, Denver Post • Posted: Thursday, February 8, 2018

A wind farm operates outside Glenrock, Wyo.
Special to the Reporter-Herald, courtesy of Enyo Renewable Energy A wind farm operates outside Glenrock, Wyo.

Some of the nation’s fiercest winds tear across the 100-odd miles separating Casper and Rawlins, making Wyoming a potential colossus of wind power. So why is Wyoming the only state to tax wind power? Ask the politicians representing America’s biggest producer of coal. Or simpler, check their donor list.

“There is a real feeling that Wyoming is not open for business for wind,” a frustrated economic development official from Casper told a conference in Laramie.

Despite the tax on wind power, there are plans to build enormous wind facilities in Wyoming. Imagine the business possibilities if the state stopped taxing what other places pay subsidies to build.

Promoters of fossil fuels have long argued that wind and solar power are just too expensive and unreliable to serve as major sources of energy. But if that’s the case, why fight them? Why not sit back and let market forces sink them as pipe dreams?

Because that is no longer the case. Renewable energy has become competitive, and the fossil fuel producers know it.

In Colorado, the big electric utility Xcel Energy just received “shockingly low bids” from developers of renewable energy, The Denver Post reports. Bids from solar and wind power companies, energy storage included, undercut even coal-generated power in price.

Believe it or not, some Wyoming lawmakers recently tried to raise the wind tax by 400 percent. It was killed in committee, leaving the $1 per megawatt-hour tax — itself nuts — in place.

Where is the Trump administration on renewable energy? Where do you think it is?

President Donald Trump currently wants to slash the Energy Department’s $2 billion energy efficiency and renewables programs by 72 percent. China, meanwhile, is showering tax credits on foreign solar companies that move there.

China’s single-minded crusade to dominate solar energy has slashed the world’s prices for solar panels. This has put American manufacturers at a disadvantage, and not always fairly. But the cheaper panels have boosted a domestic solar industry, now employing about 250,000 Americans to assemble, install and maintain the panels.

Trump’s new 30 percent tariff on Chinese solar panels will make solar energy more expensive and kill many of these jobs. New utility-scale solar construction will be hit hardest in California, Texas, Florida and Georgia.

The five states getting the largest percentage of their power from wind are Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota, Oklahoma and North Dakota. Texas is now the biggest producer of wind power in volume. Note that all these states voted for Trump.

Their interest in renewable energy centers on jobs and dollars, not necessarily concern over global warming. Farmers and other big landowners are all in on it. Congress tried to go after subsidies for electric vehicles, wind energy and solar power in the tax bill. These states are why it failed.

The cards are on the table. The European Parliament is pushing for a target of 35 percent renewable energy by 2030. In Norway, a major oil exporter, over half the cars sold are now electric or hybrid.

California lawmakers are trying to mandate that 100 percent of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources by 2045. Hawaii enacted a similar law in 2015. (It has already saved the state a reported quarter-billion dollars.) Tesla will be soon selling solar panels and the batteries to store the energy they produce at Home Depot — not far from the screwdrivers and plumbing pipes.

Back in Wyoming, investors plan to build transmission lines that could carry energy from up to 1,000 turbines being erected south of Rawlins to electricity markets in California, Nevada and Arizona. Or perhaps the people of Carbon County, Wyo., would rather scratch coal from their surface mines. They decide.