To some, the emergence of wind power on Oklahoma’s high plains is casting a mighty big shadow.
It’s a source of business for communities across the state, where crews of workers coming from as far away as overseas need places to stay and other services while they work on wind developments.
It is also a source of income for landowners who are lucky enough to own real estate with wind power potential.
But not everyone is caught up in the wind power craze. Some people don’t believe wind project developers are offering fair leases. Others don’t like wind power projects simply because they spoil the view, and because they didn’t know what was coming until construction crews arrived. There also are both environmental and wildlife concerns.
Spoiling the view
Scott Shillingstad, 56, and his wife, Theresa, 46, bought land south of Hammon about six years ago, intending to turn it a homestead for their family.
First, they cleared hundreds of tons of trash and debris from the property.
Then, a few years ago, the Vietnam veteran started building a home on a little hill with nice views to the north and west.
In between clearing the land and starting to build his home, he suffered a heart attack.
“But I came back, stuck a shovel in the ground, and started building this place,” Shillingstad said.
Then, someone put up a tower designed to measure wind speeds on the other side of a road leading past his home.
Now, on a ridgeline to the north, crews with a wind development company called Acciona Energy are busy building a 120 megawatt wind farm.
The development leaves Shillingstad with concerns about the value of his land.
“Right out my window, on that first ridgeline, that is where the towers are going,” he said. “So, whether I stay or go really is a hard decision for me to make at this point. Our plan as a family was to buy land out in the country, where all of us could live and be close together. If it gets to the point that I cannot live here, then our life plans are shattered.”
Allene Bottom and her family own 1,140 acres across the highway from where Shillingstad and his family are located.
Bottom, who has a signed lease with Acciona, said that she isn’t sure whether the company will ever build one or more turbines on her land because it is included in a potential second phase of the project, which will supply power for the Western Farmers Electric Cooperative.
The lease gives her 3 percent of revenues from a turbine’s wind-generated power for its first 15 years of operations, and then 6 percent of revenues every year after that. She said the value of the contract is about $4,800 a year, per turbine.
While Bottom actually has a signed lease, she said comparing a wind agreement with one for an oil or natural gas well shows wind agreements could be far better than they are.
Bottom said that it took several rounds of negotiations to get an agreement that she would be willing to sign, and she added that she still thinks it could be improved.
“It has worked out fine, but there are some very definite flaws in it,” she said.
Bottom said one concern she has is that there are no state laws regulating wind farm development, and that another is she doesn’t believe wind farm owners are being taxed like oil and natural gas well owners are.
Counties deserve a fair share of tax revenue from the projects, she said.
“They are going to go up and down the roads, and the counties need to be compensated for it,” Bottom said.
State Rep. James Covey, D-Custer City, owns land adjacent to Bottom’s. But unlike his neighbor, Covey said he would not sign a lease with the wind project developer.
He said leases today require landowners to give a great deal of control over surface rights.
“As with any kind of agreement, you need a good attorney. I would encourage anyone to get a good attorney, and not to sign anything until they have done so.”
Shillingstad said he never knew about the wind project until workers started building the project.
Roy Shockey, 65, a neighbor of Shillingstad’s, said he also didn’t know anything about the development until contractors moved trailers onto the construction site.
“Nobody let us know anything out here, and it is not right,” Shockey said.
Covey said that counties ought to consider protecting their residents by requiring zoning for wind development projects, but that he doesn’t support the Legislature requiring the zoning, saying it’s a county’s choice.
He added that all wind developers should hold town hall meetings for everyone near potential project areas so they can be informed.
Covey said he only has heard one negative complaint about wind farm developments, adding, “That was from a person who was concerned she wasn’t going to get any.”
Some developers, he said, have been open and frank with residents. But others, he agreed, have not.
“The individuals affected could drive a meeting like that,” Covey said. “I think the developers would step in and be more open and frank, if that happened.”
Attempts to get contact information for an Acciona representative were not successful.
All Shillingstad knows is that it creates bad situations.
“We love this place and don’t want to leave it,” he said. “But these projects pit neighbor against neighbor, those doing leases against other people who live near them.”
Turbines dangerous to birds, bats
Wind turbines are dangerous to both migrating birds and bats.
The Oklahoma Wind Power Initiative says the potential issue in Oklahoma is bats, especially the Mexican freet-tailed bat, which habitats some caves near wind farms in western Oklahoma. Birds are not really bothered by the turbines, now, officials say, because of turbines’ sizes and spacings.
As for the bats, initiative officials say an ongoing study at Oklahoma State University is examining the issue. And the initiative works with the Nature Conservancy to produce information designed to help wind project developers select environmentally sound locations.
By Jack Money
27 July 2008
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding