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Oklahoma property rights at heart of battles over wind farm regulation

As wind farm developments expand into new areas of Oklahoma, conflict has grown between landowners who want wind turbines and those who want to limit development. The disputes have led to calls for greater regulation from state lawmakers.
by Paul Monies Modified: February 16, 2014 at 3:11 pm •  Published: February 15, 2014

Robson, the brother-in-law of Walmart founder Sam Walton, said the wind industry operates with few restrictions in Oklahoma, especially when it comes to nearby landowners who don’t want to lease to developers.

“If you had zoning, it would be different,” said Robson, whose family owns a 15,000 acre ranch in Craig County. “But they can do what want to, when they want to, where they want to and how they want to.”

Legislation proposed

Sen. Cliff Branan, R-Oklahoma City, addressed the group’s concerns by introducing Senate Bill 1559. It passed the Senate Energy Committee 12-2 last week and now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

SB 1559 would put tighter bonding requirements on wind projects for decommissioning and establishes a quarter-mile setback from homes or homes under construction. It also requires wind turbines to be no louder than 50 decibels from a distance of 1,000 feet. Branan said the bill is a work in progress.

The bill has drawn intense opposition from the wind industry, some business groups and environmentalists. David Ocamb, president of the Oklahoma Sierra Club, said SB 1559 could drive wind developers to nearby states.

“This bill would put such an amazing chill on the industry that I cannot imagine another turbine built in this state,” Ocamb said. “It just makes so much sense to go to Kansas or Texas, where you have the same wind resource and the same access to transmission. There’s no incentive whatsoever to go to Oklahoma where you have onerous regulations put in place by legislators who are responding to very parochial and very well-heeled special interests.”

The bill could also deter companies with renewable energy policies from further investments in Oklahoma, Ocamb said. Google, which operates a data center in Pryor, has been outspoken about its desire for renewable energy.

Representatives of EDP Renewables said the company’s Craig County project is still in the early stages. Developers have about 80 percent of the land they need for the wind farm. The company hasn’t yet contracted with a utility to buy the electricity.

Curt Roggow, a lobbyist for The Wind Coalition, said SB 1559 is different from bills introduced last year that affected development only in central Oklahoma and the Kingfisher wind farm.

“This year, the proposed legislation affects all developments,” Roggow said. “Here they are trying to stifle the wind development in Craig County and that one particular wind farm, but the proposed solution is a negative effect on all wind farms.”

Some resolution in the Kingfisher project came in December with an agreement between developers and a group called the Central Oklahoma Property Rights Association, but not before a series of contentious meetings before the Piedmont City Council and Canadian County commissioners.

The Kingfisher wind farm is a 300-megawatt development between Piedmont and Okarche by Apex Clean Energy Inc. The project is expected to be operational by 2015.

by Paul Monies
Energy Reporter
Paul Monies is an energy reporter for The Oklahoman. He has worked at newspapers in Texas and Missouri and most recently was a data journalist for USA Today in the Washington D.C. area. Monies also spent nine years as a business reporter and...
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At a glance

Top wind capacity by state

1. Texas: 12,214 megawatts

2. California: 5,542 megawatts

3. Iowa: 5,133 megawatts

4. Illinois: 3,568 megawatts

5. Oregon: 3,153 megawatts

6. Oklahoma: 3,134 megawatts

7. Minnesota: 2,987 megawatts

8. Washington: 2,808 megawatts

9. Kansas: 2,713 megawatts

10. Colorado: 2,301 megawatts

Source: U.S. Department of Energy

2012 Wind Technologies Market Report

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