Under pressure from a proposed legislative moratorium on developments covering half of Oklahoma, members of the wind industry released a study Wednesday touting the economic benefits of wind energy.
The study, by economists Kyle Dean and Russell Evans of the Economic Impact Group LLC, found wind developers invested about $6.1 billion in Oklahoma projects from 2003 to 2012. The study said 26 wind farms built in the state during that decade led to 1,600 direct jobs, with another 4,000 jobs created from manufacturing and related support industries.
Dean said Oklahoma wind farms provide an additional $43 million a year in property tax revenue and pay an estimated $22 million annually in landowner royalties.
“Most of these projects are in rural areas and do support the local, rural economies,” Dean said at a Capitol news conference.
The research was paid for by the Oklahoma office of a regional trade group, The Wind Coalition. The wind industry has concerns about several pieces of proposed legislation, including Senate Bill 1440, which could put a moratorium on new wind farms east of Interstate 35 until 2017.
“Wind energy has invested billions in our state through wind farm construction, employment and royalty payments to landowners,” said Curt Roggow, lobbyist and Oklahoma director for The Wind Coalition.
SB 1440, by Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, passed the Senate 32-8 earlier this month. It is before the House energy and aerospace committee, but hasn’t been scheduled for a hearing.
Michael Teague, Oklahoma’s secretary of energy and environment, said businesses looking at the state want three things from their electricity supply: reliability, affordability and sustainability.
“In some states, you can’t get all three. But in Oklahoma, you can,” Teague said. “You can kind of have your cake and eat it, too. We have all three of those things here.”
Republican Rep. Don Armes, who represents a rural district in southwestern Oklahoma near Lawton, said he watched closely the development of one of the state’s first wind farms, Blue Canyon near Meers. Wind farms help rural economies by providing additional income for farmers and ranchers, he said.
“In the old days in Oklahoma, they always used to say a cow does pretty good when they have a pump jack to rub up against,” Armes said. “I can tell you that’s changing dramatically now because cows do even better in the shade of a wind tower. It’s amazing what that’s done for rural Oklahoma.”
Armes said he didn’t support SB 1440 and didn’t think it would pass the House. Teague declined to comment on whether Gov. Mary Fallin would veto the bill if it reached her desk.
“It’s real easy to be critical of something that you might not understand,” Armes said. “I think there’s some naysayers out there that think this energy might not be so great. I’m old enough to remember when people screamed for clean energy, and here it is.”
The study looked at the economic benefits of wind farms in Oklahoma during construction and operations. It didn’t include how wind farms affect nearby property values, a frequent criticism employed by those opposed to developments.
The Oklahoma Property Rights Association, which is fighting a proposed wind farm in Craig County, said it hasn’t yet studied the report. In a statement, rancher and businessman Frank C. Robson, who heads the association, said the state should protect the property rights of non-participating landowners, and wind developers receive significant state subsidies.
“These subsidies deplete the state general fund, taking millions out of the budget for other critical services such as education,” Robson said. “Oklahomans deserve to know the full financial impact of these subsidies.”
Oklahoma wind developers and manufacturers can qualify for a five-year property tax exemption that is made up to schools, counties and libraries through the state’s ad valorem reimbursement fund. In 2012, wind developers qualified for $17.3 million in property tax exemptions, or 38 percent of the $46 million in exemptions, according to the Oklahoma Tax Commission.
Oklahoma also has a state production tax credit of 0.25 cents to 0.75 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity generated.