METAL highway warning signs in some parts of the country alert drivers to the potential for a big blow: “Severe Cross Winds Most Likely.” Perhaps we need a welcome sign in parts of eastern Oklahoma that says “Entering Low-wind Zone. Drivers, Breeze on By!”
This is the message being sent by Oklahoma Senate Bill 1440, which would place a moratorium on new wind farm developments east of Interstate 35, until 2017. The bill passed the Senate handily, despite its questionable origins in a property dispute between landowners in a single county in which a wind farm is planned.
Supposedly, the bill would apply only to areas deemed low-wind zones by scientists. We were blissfully unaware that any part of Oklahoma was a low-wind zone. Our travels haven’t encountered such Edenic places where gales have gone missing, replaced by breezes too meek to move the blades of those giant, expensive wind turbines.
The bill could foil plans for a wind farm in Craig County. An SB 1440 supporter, who owns property in the area, said he can’t understand why anyone would put a wind turbine where the winds don’t blow much. “You don’t mine where there’s no coal,” he said, “and you don’t drill where there’s no oil.”
Yes. And coal companies don’t invest millions of dollars where there’s no coal and oil companies don’t invest millions of dollars where there’s no oil. So why would a wind farm developer invest in Craig County? It must be based on a belief that the wind is there for the taking.
This is something the market should decide, without the Legislature’s involvement. But then few things sail easily into the category of being off limits to lawmakers. Someone wants to build a wind farm and someone else doesn’t want it to be built. So let’s pass a law to stop it!
Craig County has had its share of big blows (twisters) through the years, but it had only one EF4 or greater tornado between 1875 and 2013. So maybe it really is a low-wind zone. In a list of the country’s windiest places, Oklahoma City ranks in the top 20. Tulsa, down the road a bit from Craig County, is not.
Wind power density is divided into seven classes. Much of western Oklahoma and the Panhandle have a rating of Class 4 or higher. Craig County is in the Class 3 category, which means it has sufficient winds to generate power if someone is willing to roll the dice.
According to a wind energy trade group, most of the commercial-scale turbines erected today are 2 megawatts in size and cost roughly $3 million to $4 million, installed. Anyone willing to invest that kind of money isn’t just blowing smoke.
The Legislature, which effectively crippled the sale of surplus Oklahoma water with a moratorium, is now mulling a wind farm pause that would effectively put up “No Windmills Need Apply” signs in parts of the state.
On the same day that The Oklahoman’s Paul Monies wrote about SB 1440, his colleague (Jay Marks) reported the comments of Michael Teague, the state energy and environment secretary. Teague, speaking at the Oklahoma Renewable Energy Council, said Oklahoma could improve its energy mix for power generation by adding more natural gas … and wind.
He was introduced by a man from Ponca City. That’s about 120 miles from the Craig County seat of Vinita. Somewhere along that road, the wind apparently goes from a hard blow to a mere whiff.