OKARCHE — A planned wind farm in northern Canadian County and southern Kingfisher County is dividing neighbors between Okarche and Piedmont.
Apex Wind Energy Inc. plans to begin construction of its Kingfisher wind farm later this year. The 300-megawatt project would have about 120 turbines and generate enough electricity to power 100,000 homes.
The company held an information session Tuesday evening in Okarche. Another is planned for 5:30 p.m. Thursday in Piedmont at the First United Methodist Church.
Apex has leased about 11,000 acres for the project north of State Highway 3 between Okarche and Piedmont.
Among those who attended Tuesday's meeting were Terra and J.J. Walker. They are building a house in the middle of the Kingfisher wind farm project area. The Walkers have about 150 acres of land and were approached by Apex to lease their property. They decided not to sign leases but are upset the development will go ahead.
The Walkers are worried about declining property values with wind turbines surrounding their new house.
“We need to afford equal protection to those who have leased and those who elected not to participate,” J.J. Walker said.
Apex representatives said they've worked to make sure there are setbacks of at least 1,500 feet from all residences and an average setback of 3,200 feet from the houses of nonparticipating landowners. The company showed maps of the project and the available areas for wind turbines once setbacks are taken into account for homes, barns, roads, gas lines, wells and floodplains.
Meanwhile, Apex is tracking legislation that could affect its project. Senate Bill 912, by Sen. Rob Johnson, R-Yukon, would have put a five-year moratorium on wind projects within 10 miles of city limits. That bill passed a Senate committee, but was amended on the floor of the Senate on Tuesday to remove the section relating to wind development. The legislation now deals with job titles at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. Johnson is no longer the author.
“I said in committee that the restrictions on this were probably too severe, but I was trying to work with all the sides to see if we could look at slowing down putting up turbines by major cities or housing additions,” Johnson said. “After it got it out of committee, I met with a lot of people who supported it and wanted me to run it, but I don't feel it's the state's place to set zoning requirements. I think it should be left up to the county, and that's when I decided I wasn't going to pursue that bill at all.”
Another Johnson measure, Senate Bill 1012, would clarify population limits on an existing law that allows counties to create metropolitan area planning commissions for the coordination of development in unincorporated areas. It passed the Senate last week by a vote of 36-3 and now heads to the House.
In January, Canadian County Commissioners declined to advance a proposal to create a countywide planning and zoning board for unincorporated areas of the county. The proposal grew out of opposition by some Piedmont residents to Apex's planned Kingfisher wind farm.
Commissioners asked Johnson to request an attorney general's opinion to clarify the law setting up metropolitan area planning commissions. In an unofficial opinion last month, an assistant attorney general said current law would not allow Canadian County to set up such a commission because it includes parts of a city — Oklahoma City — with more than 200,000 residents.
Johnson said SB 1012 would affect just four counties with parts of large cities: Cleveland, Canadian, Creek and Rogers counties.
Okarche area resident Maurice Woods said such planning commissions would infringe on the property rights of rural residents. Woods, an attorney who leased his land east of Okarche to Apex for the Kingfisher project, said residents in unincorporated areas don't want local governments to subject them to building, plumbing and electrical codes.
“Those are all the things I moved to rural Canadian County to get away from,” said Woods, who attended Tuesday's meeting with his family. “That would allow them to create another zoning board that doesn't exist now. It's a de facto annexation.”
Apex developed and oversaw construction of the nearby Canadian Hills wind farm, which began operations in December. That 300-megawatt development is now majority owned by Boston-based Atlantic Power Corp. and has 136 turbines.