Law of the West | TheFencePost.com

Law of the West

John Scorsine
Peyton, Colo.

Having moved down from the eastern plains of Wyoming to the plains of Colorado, one would expect that I am used to wind. We have all seen the picture of a Wyoming windsock after all ” a length of heavy anchor chain. But, this last week, the winds around Peyton have been certainly worth mentioning. It also brought to mind thoughts on how to make the best of it.

As you drive from the south into Cheyenne, you can see in the distance a wind farm. Numerous white tall towers with turbines on top, their long slender blades turning in the Wyoming “breeze” generating energy from our truly inexhaustible resource ” Rocky Mountain Wind. But, there are ways to bring this same environmentally sound energy into your home and derive some benefits for your wallet at the same time.

If you are interested in considering the installation of a personal wind generator for your home, ranch or farm there are many resources on the internet to help you with a “small wind” project. Perhaps one of the most comprehensive is the website for the American Wind Energy Association, a trade association for the industry. You can find them at http://www.awea.org. Their site is very informative, just click on the “small wind” link.

From a legal perspective, there are a couple points to be highlighted. The first is the role of “net metering”. State laws in both Wyoming and Colorado require a practice by utility companies called “net metering”. Nebraska does not yet have such a statutory requirement across its state.

As it was explained to me, net metering is a way to allow a consumer to “sell” excess energy production back to the utility company. Typically, we seem to think of electricity as a one way system ” the utility sells us energy. But, those lines run both ways and the electricity we can produce on our property can be “sold” to the utility company over the same system. One way this is done, with the least accounting and administrative hassle for the utility, is net metering. Basically, when you produce excess energy on your property, the electricity goes into the power lines and in making its way back to the utility company will run your meter in reverse … spinning it down. The result being that your net electrical bill is lower. Yet, on those rare days when the “breeze” isn’t present you are still hooked up to the utility company ” pretty seamless it would appear. According to the Association, 30 states currently have requirements that utilities allow for net metering.

But, even the Association recognizes that net metering will only reduce a typical residential utility bill $10 – $40 a month. When a home system may cost $15,000 to $40,000 to purchase and install, how can this be a good investment? Well, there are other incentives.

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The first set is federal tax credits and were provided for in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. A lot of these credits expire in 2007, so this is something to get with your tax planners and advisors on right away ” proper timing might mean a tax savings for you this coming April 15. Some credits apply to only businesses and other to consumers and businesses. For example, a business can receive a tax credit of 10 percent of the cost of a small turbine project. A good compilation of the benefits under the Act, prepared by the Department of Energy, can be found at http://www.energy.gov/taxbreaks.htm.

At the state and local level, there are very attractive incentives. These are all listed on the AWEA website, state-by-state. In Wyoming, until June 2008, the purchase of these wind systems is exempt from sales tax. Nebraska has a low cost loan program for the purchase of energy efficiency projects. But, by far the most robust system of state and local incentives is to be found in Colorado.

The best location to learn about the incentives and programs available in your state and community is the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency.

Established in 1995 the Database is an ongoing project of the North Carolina Solar Center and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. You can find it at http://www.dsireusa.org/.

Back in 1963, Bob Dylan philosophized that the answer to questions of peace, war and freedom were “blowing in the wind”. Perhaps, if he were to bring the lyrics up to date, Mr. Dylan would tell us that one of the answers to global warming is, “blowing in the wind”.

The information provided in this column is based upon general principles of law and should not be relied upon in any manner. It is not the intent of this column, its author, publisher or the Fence Post to provide legal advice to any person. You should address specific legal questions to your family lawyer. In Wyoming, the State Bar can refer you to competent lawyers in your community by calling (307) 634-7823. In Colorado, call the Metropolitan Lawyer Referral Service at (303) 831-8000. Readers in Nebraska can receive referrals from the State Bar Association by calling 1-800-742-3005.