For Joe Bush, leasing to the wind companies made a lot of sense, from both a financial and environmental standpoint. His Tower Hills Ranch covers 5,000 acres and would include more than half of the 68 turbines planned for the Mustang Run project.
“It sits on top of a series of bald hills, and it’s a really windy place,” Bush said, leaning against a fencepost on his property. “The combination of being in a windy location and having the excess transmission lines available made this an attractive spot.”
Bush said the lease payments would help ride out the tough times faced by ranchers like himself, who continually deal with the cyclical nature of the cattle business and periods of prolonged drought. The additional property tax revenue also will help local schools, he said.
“I love Osage County,” Bush said. “This piece of ground is sacred to me. I didn’t enter into this lightly with only dollar signs in my mind. I really think this is the right thing to do to protect the environment. We could use some prosperity.”
Bush, whose great-grandfather, Lee Russell, built the first fence in Osage County, knows his views aren’t shared by some others in his family. His cousin, Frederick Drummond, is adamantly opposed to the wind projects. Frederick Drummond and his son, Ford, own some property to the south of the proposed wind farms.
Ford Drummond, a third-generation rancher, said his family’s property would be surrounded on three sides by wind turbines. He said they will have a devastating impact on property values and deter crop dusters from spraying to prevent the spread of invasive weeds on the tallgrass prairie.
“People call them wind farms, but there’s nothing bucolic about them,” Ford Drummond said. “It’s an industrial process. We’ll lose our open areas, and with those flashing lights we’ll lose our night sky.”
Drummond said TradeWind listened to state officials and agreed not to put developments in the Flint Hills in Kansas.
“This is the last, best piece of the tallgrass prairie,” Drummond said. “These developers have come in and divided neighbors, families, cousins. It’s very hypocritical to develop in Osage County when they’ve agreed not to do it in the Flint Hills in Kansas. This is our piece of the Flint Hills.”
TradeWind representatives said they understand the concerns of some landowners and the tribe in Osage County. But they remain committed to the projects.
Aaron Weigel, director of project development, said TradeWind’s Caney River project in Elk County, Kan., has a similar profile to the projects planned for Osage County. The Caney River wind farm lies just outside the designated “Heart of the Flint Hills,” where wind companies agreed not to develop projects in Kansas.
“It is built and constructed in tallgrass and has active oil and gas,” Weigel said.
“In our view, we believe wind projects are still good and there are good locations to build them. We are sensitive to the locations we build. At the Caney River project, we spent more than $8 million to do conservation and restoration efforts on tallgrass prairie related to that project. It would not be out of the question to us to do similar things with this (Mustang Run) project,” he said.
The Grand River Dam Authority in March signed a 20-year contract to take electricity from the Mustang Run development. Weigel said the turbines and roads needed for the wind farm will cover 2 percent of the 9,000 acres leased for the project.
“We believe that is reasonable for the greater good of affordable, low-cost energy that serves Oklahoma,” Weigel said. “There are people in the county who really want this. Wind projects are something that can create this kind of divisiveness, but they typically are something that counties can be proud of. Once they’re constructed, most people are happy with them and feel like they provide a good benefit for the state and the utilities.”