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Osage Nation speaks out against proposed wind farms

The Osage Nation, largely left out of discussions regarding commercial wind farms planned west of Pawhuska, is taking a stand against them.

On Monday, Principal Chief John D. Red Eagle said the tribe – although not opposed to alternative energy development in general – has found significant reasons to oppose wind farms on the tallgrass prairie of Osage County.

The tribe owns all mineral rights in Osage County and fears that large wind farms will interfere with extracting oil and gas, from which royalties are paid in support of tribal members.

Ecological, archeological and cultural concerns also are at issue.

“The areas being initially considered by the first two wind development companies cover approximately 30,000 acres and are located in a prime area for future oil and gas recovery,” Red Eagle’s statement says.

Galen Crum, chairman of the tribal Minerals Council, whose job it is to protect the mineral estate, said that the council has met with two wind companies planning on erecting about 200 turbines on the prairie.

“They are talking about using an awful lot of ground,” Crum said. “They weren’t thinking about the mineral estate – just about compensating landowners.

Crum said wind leases last a half-century.

“How are we supposed to know the price of oil in 50 years?”

Wind Capital Group of St. Louis and TradeWind Energy of Lenexa, Kan., plan two 15-megawatt developments. A third wind company, Invenergy, is studying wind potential around Grainola, a tiny community in extreme northwest Osage County.

The companies have not found buyers for the power they would harvest from the wind, a key factor in whether the projects go forward.

Crum said the area is home to many active and plugged wells, some ripe for reopening as the price of oil rises and new technology makes extraction more efficient.

Red Eagle echoed preservationists who have opposed the wind farms, saying that the developments would have an adverse impact on the tallgrass prairie, “a true national treasure” whose last small fragments remain only in Osage County and in Kansas.

In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback last month declared a moratorium on future wind development in the Flint Hills area of the prairie, an area now designated the Tallgrass Heartland.

The Osage County wind farms would not be built in the Nature Conservancy’s Tallgrass Prairie Preserve but would be visible from it. Preserve Director Bob Hamilton has urged the county and the state to steer wind development to areas of the county that are not ecologically sensitive. The prairie, on and off the Nature Conservancy’s preserve, is home to numerous birds of prey and the greater prairie chicken, the latter being increasingly rare birds that avoid nesting around tall structures.

“Not all areas in the Osage are sensitive,” Hamilton said. “What makes the tallgrass prairie so special is its big landscape. It’s not just local – it has global significance.”

Hamilton said the Conservancy wants to extend federal conservation easements, now offered to ranchers in Kansas’ Flint Hills, into Oklahoma. The easements would grant ranchers a one-time payment equivalent to one-third to 40 percent of the value of their land to prevent development.

“The easements lock in the status quo,” Hamilton said.

Red Eagle said wind farms create a “very limited” number of jobs – eight to 10 permanent jobs per farm and 150-200 construction jobs for nine months, most for specialized workers who have to be brought in, according to the wind companies.

“Our governor is encouraging wind development in Oklahoma, particularly in the western part of the state,” Red Eagle said. “Our county commissioners need revenue enhancement to effectively serve the citizens, just as the landowners see a financial opportunity for themselves.

“However, I believe there are other financial opportunities that can be explored and alternatives found for the land owners as well, such as conservation easements.”

Aaron Cooper, Gov. Mary Fallin’s spokesman, said Fallin sees wind as key to bringing more jobs and investment into Oklahoma.

“She also believes,” Cooper added, that “new wind energy projects should take into account local concerns, environmental issues and private property rights.”

Original Print Headline: Proposed wind farms draw Osage Nation opposition