Largest wind farm in state to begin generating power
ALBUQUERQUE — Work is done on a massive wind farm in eastern New Mexico that Xcel Energy officials said Dec. 16 will move the utility closer to its goal of being carbon-free by 2050 and help cement the Western state's position when it comes to renewable energy generation.
The 240 turbines that make up the Sagamore Wind Project near the New Mexico-Texas border will be going online at the end of the month following final testing.
The $900 million project spans 100,000 acres and will be capable of producing enough electricity for nearly 194,000 homes. At 522 megawatts, it represents the largest wind farm built to date in New Mexico, the second largest in Xcel's eight-state system and one of the largest connected to the grid that serves the central United States.
Xcel CEO and chairman Ben Fowke said during a virtual celebration that Sagamore will be a key asset as the Minnesota-based utility pushes toward reducing carbon emissions by 80% by 2030.
Xcel officials said the new wind farm will result in lower costs for customers and will provide hundreds of millions of dollars in lease payments to landowners and tax revenues to the state and local governments over the next 25 years. That includes $101 million in property taxes and $44 million in gross receipts taxes.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said aside from the economic benefits, Sagamore represents another step as the state looks to shift electricity generation from coal and natural gas to wind, solar and battery storage over the coming decades.
College votes to nix Confederate-tied 'Dixie' from name
SALT LAKE CITY — A university in Utah voted on Dec. 14 to drop "Dixie" from its name — an example of the nation's reexamination of the remnants of Confederacy and slavery.
Dixie State University's Board of Trustees unanimously recommended the name change after reviewing the results of a study that showed some employers in other states expressed concern about the Dixie name on graduates' resumes. It also said nearly two-thirds of people in the college's recruiting region associate the name Dixie with the Confederacy.
The recommendation was made to the state's Board of Higher Education and must be approved by the Republican-controlled state Legislature. The university has not chosen a new name yet.
The university in St. George about 300 miles south of Salt Lake City had faced scrutiny in the past over its name but had resisted changing it. The area was nicknamed Dixie, a reference to Southern states, when settlers with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, many of them from the South, tried to make it into a cotton-growing mecca in the 1800s.
Supporters say the name is important to the area's heritage and is separate from the history of slavery. But efforts across the U.S. to remove monuments, names and other Confederate symbols have intensified during the nation's reckoning over racial injustice.
Dixie State has taken steps in recent years to remove some Confederate imagery. In 2009, the school's nickname was changed from the Rebels to Red Storm. A statue depicting a soldier on a horseback waving a Confederate flag with one hand and reaching out to a wounded soldier with the other was removed in 2012.
Committee advances tax increase on cigarettes, snuff
CHEYENNE — State lawmakers narrowly advanced a measure to increase excise taxes on cigarettes and moist tobacco snuff during a meeting Dec. 18, marking one of the only revenue-raising measures to be advanced by a legislative committee during interim meetings this year.
The bill, if approved by the Legislature during its regular session next year, would raise the tax on cigarette packs from 60 cents to 84 cents, keeping with inflation since the last time a cigarette tax increase was passed in the state in 2003.
At 60 cents per pack, Wyoming's current cigarette tax rate ranks among the lowest 10 states in the country, according to a 2019 report from the Tax Foundation.
While the legislation was expected to raise roughly $6 million annually for the state's general fund, its proponents were not solely focused on the revenue possibilities, instead emphasizing the potential health benefits that could come by deterring people to smoke.
Jan Cartwright, executive director of the Wyoming Primary Care Association, said an increase in cigarette taxes can result in reduced youth smoking, and she encouraged the committee to advance an increase higher than the 24-cent jump being proposed.
However, others were less confident in the cigarette tax increase leading to long-term changes in behavior. Monika Leininger, an organizer with the Powder River Basin Resource Council, told the committee that her group had concerns about the potentially regressive nature of the tax, pointing to a public health study that found lower-income smokers often struggle to quit despite any tax increases.
Sales tax revenue defies projections with boost from wind farm
CHEYENNE — When the coronavirus pandemic reached Wyoming, Laramie County and the city of Cheyenne both anticipated losing about 25% of their sales tax revenue.
But thanks to construction of the Roundhouse Wind Energy project and other industries performing better than expected, sales tax revenues from July through October have increased by 20.5% from 2019.
While sales tax revenues did falter from a number of industries — including oil and gas and traveler accommodations — the positives have outweighed the negatives so far this year.
According to City Treasurer Robin Lockman, the biggest boost for Laramie County came in September, when sales tax revenues ended 83.2% higher than last year. With construction on NextEra Energy's Roundhouse Wind Energy project having reached its peak, the county saw $3,178,334 in sales tax revenue in the electric goods merchant wholesalers category, compared to $1,734,556 in 2019.
Lockman said both online shopping and vehicle purchases saw significant increases in recent months. On the other hand, the traveler accommodations category took a $532,352 hit in July and August alone, which can be attributed to both the pandemic and the first-ever cancellation of Cheyenne Frontier Days.
Neo-Nazi website founder accused of ignoring $14M judgment
A Montana real estate agent who secured a $14 million judgment against a neo-Nazi website publisher for orchestrating an anti-Semitic harassment campaign against her Jewish family is seeking a court order compelling the man to disclose information about his assets and finances.
Tanya Gersh's attorneys said in a court filing Dec. 11 that Andrew Anglin, founder and operator of The Daily Stormer, hasn't paid any portion of the August 2019 judgment and has ignored their requests for information about his whereabouts, his operation of the website and other assets.
U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen in Missoula, Montana, ordered Anglin to pay over $4 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages to Gersh, who is represented by lawyers from the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center.
Anglin isn't represented by an attorney in the case. He didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Gersh says anonymous internet trolls bombarded her family with hateful and threatening messages after Anglin published their personal information, including a photo of her young son. In a string of posts, Anglin accused Gersh and other Jewish residents of Whitefish, Montana, of engaging in an "extortion racket" against the mother of white nationalist Richard Spencer.
Gersh says she had agreed to help Spencer's mother sell commercial property she owns in Whitefish amid talk of a protest outside the building. Sherry Spencer, however, later accused Gersh of threatening and harassing her into agreeing to sell the property.