With each rotation of the blade, Tammy Huffstutlar can feel a growing sense of agitation in her body.
“It just puts me on edge,” she said. “You can’t ever get used to the noise.”
“You can’t help but notice them,” Huffstutlar said as she gazed out at the more than 20 wind turbines visible from her Canadian County home, two of which are within 1,600 feet.
“You can tell when they are not running because you just feel at ease.”
As her neighbors on all sides have signed leases with a wind energy company to allow the construction of wind turbines, Huffstutlar’s eight-acre property north of Calumet is surrounded on all sides by 400-foot tall turbines. Tammy and her husband Rick collect no royalties for the massive electric generators because none are located on their property, but they have become a part of the landscape and dramatically changed their prairie home of over 35 years.
Swoosh. Swoosh. Swoosh.
The Huffstutlar’s live in the middle of the Canadian Hills Wind Farm, a project built by Apex Wind Energy that was completed late last year. For some of their neighbors, many of whom receive annual royalties, the wind farm was a welcomed project. But the construction of wind turbines has become an example of how controversial wind energy can be for those that live at the base of the turbines.
Now that a similar wind farm project has been proposed for northeast Canadian County and the Piedmont area, city officials and residents are wondering how it might transform their community and they are looking at the project near Calumet for clues.
To the Huffstutlar’s, the wind turbines are eyesores, but to their neighbors they are revenue generators and each spin of the blade means more money in their pocket.
“I knew that wind power was what everybody was going to and I thought it would probably be good to be a part of that,” said Nodd Kennedy who owns over 750 acres near the Huffstutlar’s home. Kennedy said he has 10 turbines on his property and some are located very close to his house. He admits there are days when he can hear the turbines making a sound, but he does not find it to be obtrusive.
“If the wind is just right you will kind of hear the [turbines],” Kennedy said. “But I can’t [hear them] in the house.”
Kennedy understands why some of his neighbors are upset about the turbines but he felt the project would be good for his property and family. In the challenging profession of farming and ranching, a chance to make money off a wind turbine was almost too good to pass up.
“They are not taking up any land that amounts to anything,” Kennedy said. “It doesn’t seem like it has hurt anything.”
According to some landowners, Apex promised payments of as much as $15,000 a year for each turbine, and even if there were no wind the turbines would pay a minimum of $4,900 annually. The prospect of making an extra several thousand dollars a year was enticing to Bill Meade, but after signing a lease with Apex, he said he was upset that all he got was a power line running through the middle of his property.
“I signed a turbine lease, but all I got are those power lines,” Meade said, pointing at several H-shaped poles running power lines across his ranch. “They told me I didn’t have prevailing winds to turn them but they built the power lines.”
Meade did not want power lines if he could not get a turbine, but he had signed the lease. Even though he said he was told turbines would be built and he would receive thousands of dollars each year, he was powerless to prevent the power lines from being constructed and was told he would receive a one-time payment of $3,800 for the lines.
“That’s the deal you sign up for; you are giving your place away,” Meade said. “The whole reason I signed up in the first place was because I was told I would get a turbine.”
Meade admits a more careful review of the lease would have been wise, but he was told the turbines would be built all around him and he figured he might as well sign up and get some money if he was going to have to look at them.
Meade’s lease does not promise the placement of a turbine and he said his attorney believes there isn’t much he can do.
“My gripe is they put a power line on my property and don’t want to pay nothing for it, and then tell me they can’t put a turbine on my property because of the wind,” Meade said. “But they are all around me.”
Leon Bomhoff, Meade’s cousin, also said he signed a lease with Apex with the understanding that turbines would be built. But he also received only power lines.
“You feel like you have been tricked but there isn’t much you can do about it,” Bomhoff said.
WHO YOU GOING TO CALL?
Another resident living north of Calumet said his lease prevented him from building a barn or putting up trees without permission from the company. He asked not to be identified in this story, but like Meade, he also said one of his biggest complaints is that it is hard to find the right person to contact when you have a problem.
Kennedy said he hasn’t had any problems contacting the company overseeing the wind farm, but Huffstutlar said she couldn’t get anyone to return her phone calls.
Part of the confusion might stem from the fact that Apex is no longer the company overseeing the project after it was sold to Atlantic Power. A spokesperson for the company said they try to communicate with leaseholders and that they feel feedback in the community has been positive.
“With the recent transition in becoming the majority owner and operator of the Canadian Hills Wind project, Atlantic Power began communicating directly with leaseholders last May, and provided them with contact information to appropriate staff members,” said Amanda Wagemaker in an email to the Piedmont Citizen. “We have had positive feedback from the community at the steps we have taken to enhance communication, which includes putting in place an onsite land manager. We look forward to continuing to our work to address the needs and concerns of leaseholders and the community at large.”
In addition to not being able to contact officials at the company overseeing the wind farm, those without leases say there is a problem with not having a regulatory agency at the state level they can call on when they have complaints. Meade said he has noticed several times that the flashing red lights on top of the wind turbines don’t appear to be working, which he feels can be dangerous for the low-level airplanes he often sees in the sky. However, he isn’t sure who he should call.
Sometimes the Oklahoma Corporation Commission is seen as the agency that should be overseeing wind energy since they play a role in oil and gas wells. But officials at the OCC say they have nothing to do with wind farm projects.
“Location of wind turbines is a local issue,” said OCC spokesperson Matt Skinner. “It is under local jurisdiction.”
Because the OCC is a regulatory agency dealing with oil, gas and public utilities, the assumption is often made that it oversees wind turbines. However, the only oversight the OCC provides related to wind farms is with the price charged by the utility for the power and the decommissioning of the turbine when it is no longer functioning.
“Wind turbines and oil and gas are completely different things,” Skinner said.
Skinner said its possible the Department of Environmental Quality has some dealings with wind energy, but a spokesperson at the DEQ said they do not regulate wind turbines since there are no pollutants omitted.
NEIGHBOR VS. NEIGHBOR
For the most part it seems that those property owners with wind turbines on their land are in favor of the project and those without one are against it. Its a split that Huffstutlar said has caused problems between her and her neighbors and that division has already started to creep into Piedmont even before any turbines are built.
During a city council meeting last month the division was on display as the council considered a deannexation request from several families in northwest Piedmont. The city does not currently allow wind turbines and these families wanted to deannex in an attempt to allow Apex to construct wind turbines on their property.
Also at that meeting were a few dozen residents who were against the deannexation request and wind turbines coming to Piedmont. The exchange between residents in the crowd became heated at times and showed how divisive the issue has become.
“I’m sad about this whole deal because I grew up in Piedmont and I think this has divided friends and neighbors, “Piedmont resident Glen Hyde said during a time for public comments. “This has divided Piedmont.”
Apex has said it hopes to build wind turbines between Okarche and Piedmont as early as this spring, and while the city continues to debate the placement of turbines in its own city limits, not much can be done to stop them from being built in unincorporated parts of Canadian County.
For those living in the vicinity of the new wind farm project, whether you have a turbine on your property will most likely determine whether you have a positive or negative impression of the new structures that are changing the local landscape.