Wyoming Faces Energy Crossroads As Billionaire Builds Largest Wind Farm

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May. 26 2019, Updated 8:45 p.m. ET

Wyoming is a potential hotbed for wind energy, but it’s not being taken advantage of. The state has passed taxes on the renewable source and they’re trying to push it even higher. That hasn’t stopped a billionaire from wanting to build an extravagant wind farm that has pushed more discussion on the future of Wyoming’s energy production.

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Philip Anschutz is a billionaire and entrepreneur who has thrived off of his father’s drilling company in Wyoming. He’s gone on to invest in various sports and entertainment entities like numerous Major League Soccer teams and arenas. He also has an interest in bringing over 1,000 wind turbines to Carbon County, Wyoming. The Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project would be the largest wind farm in the United States and would generate up to three gigawatts of power.

Despite being known for its vast amount of coal, the state also receives lots of wind from the Rocky Mountains. In order to protect the state’s thriving coal industry, legislation was passed to tax wind by $1 per megawatt-hour. New laws tried to push that tax up by five times the amount, but it failed to go through. Despite its failure, it shows how much pushback there is from the government at adopting wind turbines.

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Why is Wyoming not freely willing to construct lots of wind turbines? They’re one of the seven United States that don’t charge income tax. Instead, their exported coal to other states is taxed and that’s where they generate revenue. By switching over to renewable energy like wind, that would kill a lot of potential money with coal mines shutting down.

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Anschutz attempts to fix that problem by also implementing transmission lines to big cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles. While California is dealing with oversaturation of solar energy, this wind-generated power would come through on its own transmission line. In all, the project would cost roughly $8 billion, but it has the potential to add a large number of job opportunities and could generate a lot of money for Wyoming.

Republican legislator Mike Madden has been in the crossfire of the furious debate. While he believes that wind power should be taxed at a higher rate, he states in Business Insider that he isn’t trying to just defend the coal industry: “I’m not interested in picking one of our resources and protecting it. That obviously is not my philosophy at all. I want the free market to pick it, not to have government politicians pick it.”

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Others want to protect Wyoming’s landscape. University of Wyoming economist Robert Godby explained how much of the population doesn’t want to see the state littered with wind turbines when traveling or camping: “...You can feel like you are on the same plains that Native Americans have experienced for millennia. But then you turn around and look behind you, and the entire horizon might be red blinking lights from the wind turbines, and those really kind of infuriate people.”

That kind of attitude, along with rising tax prices, could thwart future projects and prevent Wyoming from thriving in the wind industry. The state is at a unique position of profiting off the traditional fossil fuel and a potential billion-dollar industry in wind energy. While it's easy to say that people should pick what they want, the government will have a major impact on what the state will generate in the future.

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