Wind developer, officials meet before Buffalo tax talks
By Chad Abshire
RAWLINS — During a lunch meeting Monday afternoon, Carbon County and Viridis Eolia Corporation officials came to an agreement that it seems like the business-friendly persona Wyoming has prided itself on has changed.
With the Joint Revenue Committee set to meet Thursday and Friday in Buffalo to discuss a variety of topics on a busy agenda, one subject in particular has gotten intense scrutiny and ever increasing opposition from local officials, that being any sort of increase on taxes to wind generation.
To that end, Juan Carlos Carpio Delfino, CEO of Viridis Eolia, met with Carbon County Commissioners, Rawlins City Council members and other business officials at Bunkerz on the Rochelle Ranch Golf Course to discuss the Little Medicine Bow Wind Energy Development (LMB) and what a bump in taxation could do to its future.
The state already taxes $1 per megawatt hour of wind produced in Wyoming. One bill the Revenue Committee suggested the Legislative Services Office look at during a May meeting was raising that to an unspecified amount, with some reports stating that figure could reach $12 per megawatt hour. The second bill the LSO was directed to look at was requiring wind companies to provide a portion of the federal Production Tax Credits they receive.
Delfino told officials that there was no question that his company would pull out of Wyoming, the only state that taxes the wind, if the state decided to increase its taxation.
“We can go somewhere else,” he said. “Let’s say we’ve already invested $10 million. It’s better to lose $10 million than to lose $2.3 billion. It’s just business.”
In mid-August, Revenue Committee chair Rep. Michael Madden, R-Buffalo, told the Daily Times that just because Wyoming was the only state with such a tax, that didn’t make it wrong.
“Wyoming does not pick favorites,” Madden said in an Aug. 18 phone interview. “Just because we are the only ones that do it, I guess you could say we are the only ones doing it right.”
Commissioner Leo Chapman said the Legislature “says they don’t want to pick winners and losers, but that’s exactly what they’re doing.”
Bank of Commerce President Copper France said he believed there was a “big misconception with the folks I’ve talked to about the impact the tax would do.”
“They think anything they do would be so negligible,” he said. “There’s a big information gap that they don’t really fully understand the impact that’s going to happen because of that tax.”
Commissioner John Johnson said it wasn’t just about wind, it was about the “business friendly environment in Wyoming.”
“At the end of the day, they have to justify it,” Energy Consultant Lloyd Drain said of the JRC.
He said Viridis officials were going to meet with JRC members prior to the meeting. PCW officials already have.
By the numbers
Set to be located in the Silver Basin area on state and federal land, the LMB would create 67 permanent jobs, as well as 168 indirect jobs, on top of 330 to 680 direct construction jobs, Delfino said.
The project would be constructed in either six or nine phases, he said, and be fully built in about seven years. At that time, LMB will produce 1,870 megawatts of renewable energy.
Energy Consultant Lloyd Drain said the project was about 60 percent the size of Power Company of Wyoming’s Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project.
“Because we are phased and because transmission behind the scenes is coming in phases, it gives us more flexibility in trying to make sure we’re good,” he said. “We can’t develop this if they raise taxes, and we can’t make it if we can’t get into more markets. The good news is that we’ll show some progress in getting turbines up and spinning to show good faith that we’re real.”
Viridis documents state that the project would provide around $500 million in estimated tax revenue. At least $300 million of that would remain in Carbon County over 20 years.
“We can’t replace coal, but we can mitigate the damage,” Drain said of wind energy in Wyoming. “It’s a lot of money, a lot of jobs and maybe even more importantly, a step towards diversity in Wyoming.”
That’s a major benefit for the future of Carbon County, interim City Manager Scott Hannum said.
“Relying on this up and down rollercoaster (of income) has prevented us from having any long-range planning at all,” he said. “Whether that’s coming up with money to improve streets and infrastructure to attract other businesses or whatever it is — having a sustainable business that’s going to last 20 years won’t take out those ups and downs, but it’ll smooth them out.”
Hannum said a steady tax base would “change the dynamics of all the towns in Carbon County.”
In support of the project, Hannum said Rawlins was “living paycheck to paycheck as a community in Wyoming.”
Delfino said the lease for the property was for 75 years and that he “wants (his) grandchildren running around here, hunting antelope and stuff.”
“This is a long-term, very important investment,” he said. “The county will be important beneficiary of our project. Socially, we’re going to be a very good impact. And we’ll also show that it is good business to produce good energy in this county.”
As for this week’s meeting, Chapman said he’s been told that nothing said to JRC members would make a difference in their decision. If the Committee OK’s the bills, they’ll head to the Legislature for debate.
“I believe we’ll win in Cheyenne, but I don’t know about Buffalo,” he said.