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OG&E drops plans to develop wind energy on Cooper WMA  

OG&E officials announced Friday, they would not develop any more wind energy opportunities on the Cooper Wildlife Management Area north and west of Woodward.

The announcement comes after about three months of a somewhat contentious debate by locals, environmentalists and sportsmen, some of whom oppose the expansion of the Centennial wind energy project near Fort Supply.

Brian Alford, director of Oklahoma Gas and Electric corporate communications.

“We started with an idea we thought would be a win-win for not just OG&E but the state,” he said “ By developing that (Cooper Area), and putting some wind turbines there, we would provide revenue to Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation to generate revenue for the development of additional areas for wildlife conservation.

OG&E officials did not anticipate the level of opposition they experienced when, last October, they began to pursue the possibility for the developing the northern most four sections of the Cooper Wildlife refuge area with more wind turbines.

“Not only the residents in this area and the sportsmen of this area, but also our employees had some concerns and we heard them,” Alford said. “We have let the department (Wildlife) know we will continue to be a resource for them, but we would not pursue development of that land.”

At present, there is plenty of land that would be appropriate for wind energy development and would possibly not create the disagreement that was set off by the proposal to expand the Centennial project, Alford said.

That announcement thrilled Susan Selman of the Selman Ranch, which is 25 miles north of Woodward near the Cooper Wildlife Area.

Selman has been an outspoken critic of the wind energy development in this region since it began in earnest here about two years ago.

The impact of the wind turbines on wildlife living in refuges paid for by Oklahoma tax payers and sportsman hurts this region’s economy and tourism, she said.

“Well, a lot of people come from all over the US and Canada to hunt Bobwhite Quail here,” Selman said. “The season is almost four months long and they (hunters) stay for several days.”

However, Selman is not opposed to wind energy development here. “ I just don’t think it should be on public land…there is plenty of private land,” she said.

Selman also cites other issues with further development near wildlife areas such as a little understood phenomenon whereby Mexican Freetail Bats that come to this region of Oklahoma to give birth are allegedly attracted to and killed by the turbines. “Those bats are important,” Selman said. “It is estimated that they eat 10,000 pounds of bugs per night and without that, we have to deal with West Nile and more insects on our crops.”

But more wind energy might be inevitable for the state.

Governing bodies, under intense pressure from the environmental lobby, are stretching conceptual thinking to embrace a cleaner and more safe alternative to coal fired plants and nuclear energy. Monday, the state House Committee on General Government and Transportation approved the “Conserving Oklahoma Bill”, which requires new construction to adhere to a tighter energy efficiency standard. It appears to follow a similar trend in California legislation more than a decade ago.

California is the most developed of the states with regard to wind energy, according to online research.

According to the California Energy Commission’s web site, in 2004, California wind farms produce 4,258 million kilowatt hours of electricity, roughly 1.5 percent of what the state uses. To put it in perspective, that is about enough to power a city the size of San Francisco.

At present, according to Alford, wind farms in Oklahoma produce about two percent of the power that OG&E customers use and all that power goes to OG&E customers. That means, when the wind is blowing and that electricity is coming into the plant, gas production and coal production is turned down and the wind is allowed to do the work of the other two.

“Wind is not a predictable form of energy enough to be the sole source,” Alford said.

He said OG&E customers have a need that is constant and so the output of power has to match the need or someone is not getting power. For instance, with only wind, there would be times when there would be no power and science has not created a way to store electricity.

Statistics suggest, while there are benefits to this type of power, it is more expensive than gas or coal fired production and it also has other negative aspects such as;

* Use of large tracts of land. (The average windfarm requires 17 acres of land to produce one megawatt of electricity. However, simultaneous land uses such as agriculture and cattle grazing occur often.)

* Erosion in desert areas.

* Changes in visual quality (since windfarms tend to be located at or just below ridge lines).

* Disturbances to wildlife habitats.

* Avian mortality due to collisions with wind turbines and associated wires (research is on-going to reduce bird deaths).

* Noise (wind turbines generate both audible and low frequency [deep base vibration] sound waves).

* Grass or brush fires caused by shorts in the electrical cables in the unlikely event that they become stretched or twisted when the turbines turn to catch the wind.

Nevertheless, OG&E has plans to emplace 600 more turbines within the next five years in an effort to remain on track with the clean energy push that only promises to gain momentum.

“I think, in the next couple of months, you will see the company present a new proposal for a project,” Alford said.

By Rachel Van Horn

The Woodward News

5 March 2008

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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