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Landowners group girds for wind developers  

Credit:  BY JAY F. MARKS, The Oklahoman, www.newsok.com 9 July 2010 ~~

Gary Stocking thinks he is getting a raw deal from Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co.

He insisted on annual payments like the ones paid by wind developers when the state’s largest electric company approached him two years ago for access to the Woodward County ranch that has been in his family for more than 100 years.

OG&E officials rejected that request as a “bookkeeping nightmare,” Stocking said, while an attorney told him the company didn’t have to pay what he wanted. It could just take the land through eminent domain.

That is exactly what happened, although Stocking is still fighting with OG&E over compensation.

“I’m not the only one,” he said.

Stocking is one of about 200 people on the e-mail list for the newly formed Southern Great Plains Property Rights Coalition, a group of landowners fighting for fair compensation as wind development changes the landscape.

He said utility companies and transmission developers should not be able to use eminent domain to seize land if they cannot come to an agreement with property owners.

“The law says that (they) can do it,” Stocking said. “We’re saying, ‘Wait a minute. Something needs to change.’”

OG&E officials said they are willing to listen to landowner suggestions, but they haven’t received any concrete proposals yet, a company spokesman said.

“We’re all ears,” said Paul Renfrow, OG&E’s vice president of public affairs.

The fledgling property owners group has scheduled an informational meeting for July 15 at Great Plains Technology Center in Woodward.

Stocking said most members are from the Woodward area, but he expects to attract owners from southwest Kansas and the Texas Panhandle.

Regional transmission planner Southwest Power Pool recently has approved construction of multiple high voltage transmission lines in the area. That is expected to lead to increased wind turbine construction in the area.

It also could bring a matrix of feeder lines tying to the major transmission lines intersecting the area.

Stocking said he is supportive of the wind industry, but there are still some bugs to be worked out in its development because it is not as established in Oklahoma as is the oil and natural gas industry.

He is concerned property owners aren’t getting their due as transmission infrastructure is built up.

“We want to be treated fairly,” Stocking said.

Eminent domain laws allow government entities or utility companies like OG&E to take property in exchange for just compensation if it is deemed to be for the public good.

Stocking said just compensation is not clearly defined.

He maintains it should be based on the most lucrative use of the property, which in much of northwest Oklahoma is as a site for wind turbines

Lease agreements often are structured to pay property owners for the amount of electricity being generated on their land, Stocking said. Such deals can bring in as much $5,000 per megawatt.

Stocking insists landowners should be paid as much when transmission lines cross their property.

“We don’t want more than anybody else, but we … sure don’t want to be treated as a doormat,” he said.

Stocking said his land used to be worth about $1 million. Now he estimates its value is about a third of that because of the transmission lines. He wants OG&E to compensate him for that loss.

The dispute likely will end up in the hands of a Woodward County jury if the parties cannot agree on compensation.

Such disputes are not the norm, OG&E officials said.

The company usually is able to reach agreements with as many as 90 percent of the landowners in the path of a transmission project. That number dipped to about 75 percent on the recently completed Windspeed line between northwest Oklahoma City and Woodward, forcing OG&E to resort to condemnation proceedings.

A small percentage of those cases still are pending in court.

Stocking said the property owners group doesn’t want more of those cases, but landowners need to be treated fairly.

“We want to work with them,” Stocking said. “They’re just using an antiquated law to feather their own nest.

“That’s not right.”

Source:  BY JAY F. MARKS, The Oklahoman, www.newsok.com 9 July 2010

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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