PAWHUSKA – A proposal for a 150-megawatt wind farm on Osage County’s prairie was given the green light Thursday night after a public hearing at which sentiment was overwhelmingly in favor of the development.
“This is an absolutely beautiful opportunity for our community,” said Cathy Bowen, whose family ranches in the area. “How can we turn something down that’s so clean?”
After listening to proponents and opponents of the project, the Osage County Board of Adjustment voted 4-0 to grant a variance to Wind Capital Group of St. Louis to erect 94 wind turbines on land zoned for agriculture west of Pawhuska, near the town of Burbank, on land owned by the Kane, Weyl and Bowen families.
Wind Capital plans to start building within a few months and has signed a deal to buy the turbines from General Electric. The turbines will stand mostly north of U.S. 60, a highway that is federally designated a scenic byway, but a few will flank the road to the south.
The Osage Nation is powerfully opposed to the wind farm and vowed to stop it by obtaining an injunction in U.S. District Court.
“We believe that we have such a strong position in this that it is not going to go forward,” said Chris White, the tribe’s director of governmental affairs.
White said the federal government, through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, would have veto power over the county ordinance governing wind farms because they would affect the minerals rights the tribe retains under the entire county.
His was not a popular stance at the meeting, where Osages and others said the oil from which some tribal members have drawn income has caused a greater blight on the land than wind ever will.
Wind Capital is one of three wind companies that are active in Osage County. Also planning a development is TradeWind Energy of Lenexa, Kan., while Invenergy of Chicago is studying wind patterns in the extreme northwestern corner of the county.
Wind Capital has a contract to sell the power it generates to Associated Electric Cooperative Inc. of Missouri, a key factor in moving its plans forward.
Thursday’s hearing drew more than 100 people, most of whom applauded when the board voted to approve the zoning variance.
Many were from the prairie town of Shidler, whose 271-student school district – which currently gets about $900,000 a year in state aid – could see an infusion of about $1.5 million a year from property taxes on the wind turbines, said Shidler School Superintendent John Herzig.
“It’s a great thing for our school system because it takes us off the state-aid formula,” Herzig said. “In these small rural towns, the school is the rural town. If you build it, they will come. We’re looking forward to a bright future.”
Oklahoma now offers a five-year exemption from property taxes for wind and other developments. To lessen the impact of that break on counties and schools, the state foots the tax bill in the amount developers would have paid without that incentive.
A legislative task force is reviewing that and other tax breaks, which strain state coffers.
Rancher Ford Drummond, who owns land adjacent to the project, spoke against Wind Capital’s plans, saying he is worried about his land being devalued, wildlife, the spread of the invasive weed sericea lespedeza, and whether the wind industry is viable without lucrative tax credits from the federal and state governments.
“But for the tax credits, we wouldn’t have wind farms,” Drummond said, recounting how his ranch had been approached 10 years ago by another wind company, Enron Wind, which went belly up along with the rest of Enron.
Drummond, whose family is among the largest landowners in Osage County, said he was not surprised by the outcome of Thursday’s meeting.
“I understand that it will be a benefit for the landowners and the Shidler School District,” he said. “But it is not a win-win for all of Osage County, and it is going to have a long-term effect on all of us.”
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding