January 19, 2023 |

House Bill 3, a piece of tax policy legislation important to the counties in the wind energy areas of Wyoming, passed second reading on Tuesday.

The bill gives county assessors a first-ever look at how the Department of Revenue determines the valuation of wind farms. Assessors will still not have a right to appeal the assessment if they believe it is too low, but they will have some input into the process. Debate was lively, lasting for more than 45 minutes on the legislation and the effective date.

HB 3 came out of the Corporations Committee last week with an amendment that made the effective date—when the legislation becomes law—January 1, 2024. The original language carried an effective immediately timeline.

A floor amendment on first reading brought by Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, who opposes counties conducting their own assessments of wind farms, backdated the effective date to January 1, 2023.

Pictured above: File photo of wind turbines in Shirley Basin. Photo by Cali O’Hare/Bigfoot 99.

The effective date is a big deal, especially for counties who hired an outside contractor last fall to conduct the inspections. During committee testimony last week, counties expressed concern that independent energy producers project a high tax return when they’re pitching a wind project to commissioners in hopes of securing a special use permit. After the plant is built, the state’s assessed valuation yields a much smaller tax.

The Department of Revenue conducted the assessments for decade starting in 2008 without any legal authority to do so. In 2021, a review of state law revealed the authority belonged with the counties not the state. The legislature failed to pass a new law last year giving the DOR the responsibility. As a result, the authority defaulted back to the counties.

Late last year, the nine wind producing counties in Wyoming hired a Texas firm that specializes in valuations of large, complex industrial facilities to conduct the assessments. The company is expected to deliver those assessments over the next couple of weeks. The reports are due to the state are due on March 1, possibly beating HB 3 becoming law.

Rep. Mike Yin of Jackson said the DOR should back off, and the counties should proceed with their assessment plans to avoid conflicts and wasting money.

Rep. Zwonitzer accused county assessors of moving “prematurely” in hiring the outside contractor when they knew a bill like HB 3 was in the works. Zwonitzer would prefer that the county assessments are not delivered to the independent energy producers this year. Opponents of Zwonitzer’s amendment to backdate HB 3 said the county assessors were doing their job because the responsibility became theirs at the start of the year.

Representative Scott Heiner of Sweetwater, Lincoln and Uinta County said it would be healthy to see the two sets of numbers—the ones from the state and the counties for the same projects—and let the chips fall.

Zwonitzer’s floor amendment backdating HB 3 to January 23 failed. House Bill 3 passed. Both were voice votes. It faces one more reading in the House.

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