PIEDMONT – A planned wind farm between Piedmont and Okarche could be up in the air after the Piedmont City Council voted to support legal action against the developers of the project and declared the wind farm a public nuisance.
The actions, which came at a city council meeting Monday evening, were aimed at the Kingfisher wind farm, a 300-megawatt development in northern Canadian County and southern Kingfisher County. The project is being developed by Virginia-based Apex Clean Energy Inc.
The city council voted 3-1, with one abstention, for a resolution authorizing legal action if Apex builds turbines within a three-mile radius of the city limits. The resolution said about 85 of the more than 100 turbines could be included within that distance.
Apex said it has not finalized the placement of turbines for the Kingfisher project. Based on its current plan, up to 43 turbines could be within a three-mile radius of Piedmont’s city limits.
If the city joins a lawsuit, the legal costs and fees would be the responsibility of the Central Oklahoma Property Rights Association, a group of residents and landowners who have expressed concerns about wind farm development in central Oklahoma.
Dahvi Wilson, a spokeswoman with Apex, said the company was disappointed the city chose to pursue legal action. Apex plans to continue developing the project, which she said will bring millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs to Canadian and Kingfisher counties.
“We remain committed to working with the city councilors in every way we can to find resolutions that address any concerns they may have,” Wilson said in an email. “We once again extend an invitation to the city councilors to have a conversation with us about the project.”
Separately, the council voted 3-1, with one abstention, to declare the construction, maintenance and modifications of industrial-scale wind turbines within three miles of city limits a “public nuisance.”
State law allows cities to regulate public nuisances within their city limits. It also allows them to regulate projects outside city limits “for the protection of the public health, the public parks and the public water supply.” It is unclear how far outside its city limits a city can go to regulate those subjects.
The amended city ordinance lists several health-related findings for large wind turbines, including complaints about “shadow flicker” and noise. It also mentions concerns over declining property values and visibility issues.
Pam Suttles, a Piedmont resident who heads up the property rights association, said her group wants wind projects far from the city. She said a lawsuit was the group’s last option after trying to fight wind projects at the local, county and state levels.
“We need some protections from the risks,” Suttles said. “I don’t believe these wind farms were ever intended to be next to cities. Piedmont is one of the fastest-growing, thriving cities in the state. Why would you want to risk that?”
Suttles said her group isn’t anti-wind and sees the value in wind projects in other parts of the state. But she said most people wouldn’t want a wind turbine in their backyard, just like they wouldn’t want a coal mine in their backyard.
Apex representatives said they’ve worked to make sure there are setbacks of at least 1,500 feet from all residences and an average setback of 3,200 feet from the houses of nonparticipating landowners.
Jeff Clark, executive director of The Wind Coalition, a trade association, said the wind-related concerns listed in the city ordinance were inaccurate or had been debunked. He said it was unfortunate the city council based their opposition on what he called “junk science.”
“It is a very creative way for a very small group of people to try to drive an agenda, and it’s built entirely on junk science,” Clark said. “I cannot fathom how they think they can impose their will on a three-mile radius from the city. They are doing a disservice to the people who elected them.”
Deannexation, recall election
It isn’t the first time some Piedmont residents have been split on the effects of nearby wind farms. In January, the council postponed action on a deannexation proposal from some city residents who had leased their land to wind developers.
The ongoing, public fight also led to the ouster of former Piedmont councilman Vernon Woods, who lost handily in an Aug. 13 recall election.
Before Monday’s vote to approve legal action against the wind farm, Bobby Williamson, the man who beat Woods in the recall election, was sworn in as the Ward 2 councilman.
The recall election came after Woods angered a local group who accused of him of holding backroom meetings with representatives from Apex after city officials decided not to allow the massive turbines to be erected within Piedmont city limits earlier this year.
Woods never denied that he continued to meet with the company, but he claimed he did so because some residents of northern Piedmont were interested in having the turbines on their property.
Apex developed the nearby Canadian Hills wind farm west of Oklahoma City. The 300-megawatt farm is now owned by Boston-based Atlantic Power Corp. and has 136 turbines, including 15 inside the city limits of El Reno.