Identified Opportunities in Wind Industry
The Casper Area Economic Development Alliance (CAEDA/Forward Casper) has aligned its focus and is exploring opportunities to expand and diversify the economy in the Casper region. With a more vertically aligned focus and in light of Rocky Mountain Power's recent release of their Integrated Resource Plan; CAEDA/Forward Casper has identified an opportunity to grow through diversification into the wind industry in Wyoming by attracting wind manufacturing facilities and complementary businesses to the area.
Last week, several CAEDA/Forward Casper board members hosted seven Natrona County legislators to discuss its new focus and approach to economic development. Legislators who attended were Senator Bill Landon and Representatives Steve Harshman, Tom Walters, Joe MacGuire, Chuck Gray, Debbie Bovee, and Bunky Loucks.
Charles Walsh, CAEDA/Forward Casper President and CEO informed the legislators that "CAEDA/Forward Casper is focusing on four primary industries: Advanced Manufacturing, Energy, Finance and Medical. These four industries allow us to leverage an existing capacity and pursue more definable, measurable, and consistent business growth. We are functioning more like a business and less like a government entity moving forward. We will prioritize and focus our actions and targets based on strategic market opportunities and alignment with our diversification and growth targets. We believe wind to be one of those energy segments that offer consistent growth potential for our local businesses and value-added jobs."
One of CAEDA/Forward Casper's newest board members, Billy Brenton of Transportation Partners & Logistics LLC Management Solutions said, "Wind is one of the cheapest forms of energy now and power plants love wind because it helps them keep their utility prices low." The wind industry is growing and evolving at faster rates. Newer turbines only need 7 miles per hour wind to operate at full capacity. According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), Wyoming is a national leader in wind generation potential. AWEA's state fact sheet for Wyoming says it has the potential to produce 420,000 MW but only has 1,490 MW of online wind capacity.
There are no wind manufacturing facilities currently in Wyoming, however due to Casper's central location and access to many key forms of transportation (I-25, major highways, rail, and an international airport) it is an ideal location to serve as a central hub to the industry. This has the potential to create thousands of stable jobs in the area in construction, welding, electrical, heavy machinery operations, fiberglass and steel manufacturing trades and more.
Brenton sited a negative perception of wind energy and the $1 tax per megawatt hour produced by wind as key factors that have inhibited the growth and activity of Wyoming's wind industry. Wyoming is the only state in the nation with a tax on energy produced by wind.
Following the presentation and an extensive conversation about the wind industry in general and Wyoming's policies regarding wind energy, some legislators expressed an interest in continuing the conversation with CAEDA/Forward Casper. Senator Landon said, "I found the meeting with our economic development officials to be very informative. The potential certainly exists with regard to wind power and wind generation. There is opportunity out there and I like CAEDA's four-tiered approach. I stand ready to do what I can at the state level to assist in local efforts to diversify and grow our economy. Casper is vital to that statewide effort."
The legislators were interested in looking at what policy options they have in regards to wind energy production and wind-related businesses. Wyoming does not have a policy on bonds for wind farms and Brenton does not believe establishing a bond for wind farms would pose as a deterrent to wind development.