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Lawmakers say economic booster to fly them to Kansas

Twenty Wyoming legislators are flying to Kansas to visit a wind turbine distribution center over the next two days. The lawmakers will travel in two separate groups of ten, and the trip will be paid for with private money, Speaker of the House Steve Harshman (R, HD-37, Casper) said.

The company they’ll visit, Transportation Partners and Logistics LLC, has its corporate headquarters in Casper and a distribution facility in Kansas. The distribution facility moves wind turbines that are manufactured elsewhere, company president Jim Orr said. He referred additional questions about the company and the purpose of the lawmakers’ trip to company vice president Billy Brenton, who did not respond to a message left on his voicemail Monday afternoon. The company was founded in Casper in 2011, according to the Wyoming Secretary of State.

In an interview, Harshman said he wasn’t sure what exactly lawmakers would discuss during the visit. “It wasn’t a big plan,” he said, “we were just talking.”

The trip was organized in coordination with the Casper Area Economic Development Alliance, Harshman said. That group has recently focused on attracting the wind industry to Natrona County, according to the Casper Star-Tribune. Harshman said Natrona County lawmakers had met with CAEDA, and following that meeting one of the board members, Tony Cercy, offered to provide a plane to fly lawmakers to visit the Kansas facility. The trip will come at no cost to taxpayers, Harshman said, and lawmakers are traveling on their own time.

‘No conflict of interest’

“We checked there’s no conflict of interest, that kind of thing,” he said. He invited a number of lawmakers after conferring with Senate President Eli Bebout (R, SD-26, Riverton). “We wanted to get kind of a broad cross-section of people,” Harshman said, “some people that have wind in their area, some that don’t.”

Lawmakers will fly to Kansas in a plane owned by CAEDA board member Tony Cercy, Speaker of the House Steve Harshman said. This photo, from Cercy’s LinkedIn page, depicts a group of people standing by a plane with “Cercy” painted on the tail.

Cercy is now retired, according to his LinkedIn profile, but was once the president of an oilfield service company sold to industry giant NOW Inc, according to the Casper Star-Tribune. His LinkedIn profile shows a photo of an airplane with “Cercy” painted on the tail. Harshman said Cercy was not part of Transportation Partners and Logistics LLC and was simply a CAEDA board member.

CAEDA considers wind a potent opportunity for Natrona County, Harshman said. Wyoming has a high potential for wind energy, ranked eighth in the nation by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in 2010. But it is also currently the only state with a tax on the electricity produced by wind turbines.

The first group of ten lawmakers will leave for Garden City, Kansas tomorrow, and the second group on Wednesday, May 17, Rep. Tyler Lindholm (R, HD-1, Sundance) said. He is on the May 17 trip.

“The aspect that possibly a turbine manufacturer might be interested in coming to Wyoming is pretty exciting,” he said. Each group will visit just for the day, flying out of Casper in the morning and returning in the evening. Harshman said each day’s trip would include a representative from CAEDA.

Sen. Ogden Driskill (R, SD-1, Devils Tower)

“You can call it a junket if you want,” Sen. Ogden Driskill (R, SD-1, Devils Tower) said, “but this is no idle thing. We’re looking seriously at the viability of bringing a manufacturing company to Wyoming.”

Driskill is among the lawmakers who have resisted wind energy in the past. Last legislative session, he cosponsored a bill that would have forced utility companies in Wyoming to sell electricity produced solely from coal, hydroelectric, nuclear, natural gas or oil. Wind and solar energy would have been shut out from in-state use. “Some people took it as anti-wind,” Driskill said. Lindholm also cosponsored the bill.

Last session, an attempt to raise the wind tax from $1 to $5 per megawatt hour failed in committee. Sen. Cale Case (R, SD-25, Lander), who supported the bill, resurrected the idea of reviewing the wind tax at last week’s meeting of the Joint Senate Revenue Committee. He added the tax to a list the committee will be considering subsequent meetings as it attempts to find new revenue for public education.

Driskill said the history of legislative resistance to wind could be part of the motivation behind the offer to bring lawmakers to Kansas.

“Wyoming’s very checkered on wind and I’m part of the ones that caused it,” he said. “I would guess that’s probably why I was invited because I’ve been a pretty good critic.”

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Driskill said he’d be traveling with an open mind, given the state’s current fiscal picture. Wyoming’s always been an energy state, he said, and wind is a new energy market for the state to pursue.

“If it’s a way to diversify our economy I’ll talk to anybody,” he said.

 

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Andrew Graham is reporting for WyoFile from Laramie. He covers state government, energy and the economy. Reach him at 443-848-8756 or at [email protected], follow him @AndrewGraham88

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4 Responses to Lawmakers say economic booster to fly them to Kansas

  1. Paul Cook May 18, 2017 at 7:55 am #

    All the while in the real world, China, India and Africa have plans to build many hundreds of new coal-fired power plants. Why wouldn’t we also export our clean technology and coal? Wouldn’t a wind tax be a good source of income for our schools? Wind mills are only a small piece of the puzzle for the future of our younger Wyo. people, and won’t Wyo. always be a premier location for wind energy to power the wasted energy for the bright lites and air conditioners of Las Vegas, L.A. and Phoenix ?

    piedale, Wyoming

  2. Dewey Vanderhoff May 17, 2017 at 7:11 am #

    Back in September of last year , regulators in Washington State turned down Pacific Power’s request for a rate increase to justify adding pollution controls on its coal fired Jim Bridger powerplant in Wyoming. The reasoning was PacificPower failed to adequately address converting JB to natural gas away from burning coal , or closing it down altogether. That was a case of handwriting on the wall for Warren Buffet’s Berkshire-Hathaway, the owner of Pacific Power AND the coal haulin’ Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad. It is also worth noting that the Jim Bridger powerplant, built in the mid-1970’s, will be fully depreciated in 5-7 years, which is another way of saying that being worth nothing it is a good time to permanently close it rather than upgrade or replace.
    Earlier this year, PacificPower indicated they were moving away from coal fired plants ASAP. They own four in Wyoming: Jim Bridger, Dave Johnston, Naughton , and WyoDak , and own or have interest in Montana plants that have been shut down or soon will be: Colstrip and Corette. PP & L has stated they will be replacing 3.5 gigawatts of coal generation with wind power in coming years . The handwriting on the wall is getting bigger.
    Then there is the foul Laramie River coalfired plant at Wheatland, an old school coal plant consistently ranked among the top polluters in the nation for coal fired electricity, operated by Basin Electric serving numerous Wyoming municipalities via WMPA. My own city of Cody is actually a fractional owner of Laramie River thru WMPA.

    I’m saying all this to underscore the fact that coal is going away and it is not coming back. We mostly knew that , but Republican lawmakers were either in denial about it or falsely assumed it would take decades for Wyoming’s coal production to fall. Well guess what ? — the half life of Wyoming cal mining was closer to five years than 25… we will soon be mining and selling only half the tonnage of coal that was produced in peak years. It need be noted that employment in Wyoming coal mines peaked back in 1981 when 39,000 jobs existed in coal statewide. During the peak output years, 460 million tons were mined by only 8,000 workers, and today Wyoming employs only about 6,000 miners and falling. When those aforementioned big coalfired powerplants shut down — and they will — they will take another half of Wyoming’s coal market to the grave

    So the bottom line is Wyoming lawmakers have finally come out of denial ( somewhat ) and are facing the hard cold fact that we really do need to move on alternative energy with great assertion. It’s a matter of survival now. All the other states around us have mebraced Wind and even Solar while Wyoming tried to adversely cripple alternative energies at the Statehouse in the folly of propping up coal these past few years. Turns out Wyoming’s failure to embrace alternative energy since 2010 may have been a near fatal faux pas as other states eclipsed us. Colorado has added 35,000 jobs in the wind turbine industry alone , roughly 17 times the number of mining jobs lost in Wyoming in the same time frame .

    To add insult to Wyoming’s ideological ignorance, the State of Wyoming did not even submit a proposal for hosting Elon Musk-Tesla’s GigaFactory to build lithium batteries and storage systems from same, a multibillion dollar project that could have employed 6,000 people. The GigaFctory is now up and running outside Reno Nevada. Wyoming… did…not…even…try. The only explanation that fits the facts was our lawmaker’s blind allegiance to hydrocarbons.

    Wyoming is now way behind the alternative energy curve and groundswell. This little junket by Wyo lawmakers to Kansas to learn about windplants ? — that shoulda done that back in 2009 shortly after the financial crash when the world changed.

    Lawmakers the likes of Ogden Driskill and policymakers like Guv Matt are the Regressives who have kept Wyoming from modernizing and keeping pace with the real world instead of our mythological construct here in the The Cowboy State that tries ( and fails) to bend the outside world to our will.

    It’s taken almost 40 years since Wyoming went broke in 1968 for state leaders to learn how to spell ” Economic Diversity” and even allow the words to leave their lips. How long will it take to act on real economic diversity ? Do we even know how to ? Tick tock…

    Cody, Wyoming

  3. Jerry Mitchell May 16, 2017 at 8:56 pm #

    Wow. A guy who brusquely muscled his way through in this town is really proving his love for it. I am at once surprised and happy to hear about Tony Cercy’s actions on this issue. Very nice.

    Casper, Wyoming

  4. Tammy Christel May 16, 2017 at 8:52 am #

    Is there infrastructure to transport wind energy out of state to potential buyers? Are there potential buyers?

    Jackson, Wyoming

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