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Wind farm vote tabled amid battle

PAWHUSKA – Osage County commissioners tabled a vote Monday on a proposed wind energy ordinance that has been criticized by tribal leaders and conservationists who say it needs “more teeth” to protect one of the last stretches of tallgrass prairie in the United States.

Two 150-megawatt wind farms have been proposed on private ranches east of Pawhuska. If built, some 200 turbines would be visible from more than 700 square miles in Osage County and would disrupt the habitat of eagles, prairie chickens, bats and other native species, according to The Nature Conservancy, which operates the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve north of Pawhuska.

“We seem to have environmentally related causes at battle with one another,” Paul Kane, whose family owns one of the ranches on which a wind farm is proposed, wrote in a letter to the Pawhuska-Osage County Planning and Zoning Commission. “Certainly no one wishes ill will upon the prairie chicken, or on any of God’s creatures for that matter. Conversely, Oklahoma’s ability to provide affordable, abundant energy resources has always been a critical component of our economy, our identity and our history.”

Kane added that conservationists are trying “to control the use of property that they do not own. In effect, they are taking a shortcut, and trying to create a preserve without paying for it.”

Lee Holcombe, a rancher and preservationist, disagreed.

“If oil people have to go through gyrations of (getting permits) at Indian burial grounds, then wind people should go through the same hoops,” he told the county commissioners Monday.

At a public hearing last week, requests by The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Osage Nation for stricter rules and more study went unheeded by the Planning and Zoning Commission.

“I am confused and frustrated that I took my time to come up here and everyone’s comments were just shoved under the rug,” said Hayley Dikeman, a biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service, after a 90-minute hearing that ended with planners voting to approve the ordinance as written.

The companies seeking to build the wind farms, TradeWind Energy of Lenexa, Kan., and Wind Capital Group of St. Louis, have said they will respect natural resources, wildlife and archeological sites.

In Oklahoma, no state laws govern the construction of wind farms, making Osage County the first in the state to see such a controversy.

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission has no power over electrical generation except to set rates charged to customers, and the state Department of Environmental Quality’s authority derives from its regulation of air quality and emissions at generating facilities. Wind turbines have no emissions and thus are not regulated, said DEQ spokeswoman Skylar Mc-Elhaney.