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.”
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.
“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.”
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.