A battle over a proposed wind farm in northeastern Oklahoma has made its way to the Legislature, where two bills would put tighter regulations on new and existing wind farm developments across the state.
EDP Renewables North America wants to build a 59-turbine development near Centralia in western Craig County. The project is still in the planning stages, but it’s drawn opposition from several nearby landowners, including one whose family owns a 15,000-acre ranch.
Senate Bill 1559, by Sen. Cliff Branan, R-Oklahoma City, and SB 1276, by Sen. Charles Wyrick, D-Fairland, would strengthen an existing law that requires wind developers to pay for decommissioning projects. The bills forbid wind turbines within a quarter-mile of houses unless the owner gives consent. They also set up a process at the Department of Environmental Quality to regulate noise from wind turbines.
SB 1559 is set for a hearing Thursday before the Senate Energy Committee. Branan, the committee’s chairman, said the bill would protect property rights of surrounding landowners and make sure wind projects are properly decommissioned.
“We realize that it is a valuable source of power and we want to harvest our Oklahoma sources of power, but at the same time, try and deploy a little bit of sensible regulation and property rights” Branan said.
Frank C. Robson, owner of commercial real estate company Robson Properties in Claremore, formed the Oklahoma Property Rights Association to fight EDP’s proposed wind farm near Centralia. Robson, whose family owns the Robson Ranch in Craig County, is the brother-in-law of Walmart founder Sam Walton. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Wyrick said his bill was a request from several constituents in his district in the northeast part of the state. The bill was an attempt to start a conversation as wind farm developments move closer to populated areas and outside the western half of the state where the wind potential is greater, he said.
“It was kind of a surprise to me that there were proposals to move those fields of wind energy that far east,” Wyrick said. “When the people that I represent directly have concerns, then I have concerns. But I’m not totally opposed to wind energy.”
There were 1,711 industrial-scale wind turbine towers in Oklahoma as of July 2013, according to obstacle data from the Federal Aviation Administration. All of them were west of Interstate 35.
B 1559 would require wind developers to obtain a $25,000 bond for each wind turbine built in the state. The money would be used for decommissioning once a development has ended its useful life. The law currently requires a decommissioning bond be obtained after 15 years but doesn’t specify the amount.
The bills have drawn opposition from the wind industry and the State Chamber of Oklahoma. Arnella Karges, vice president of government affairs for the chamber, said the proposed measures could jeopardize wind development and impose burdensome regulations on the industry.
“There is no reason to create a new level of bureaucracy other than to kill an industry that provides income for rural communities and adds to Oklahoma’s diverse energy portfolio,” Karges said.
Curt Roggow, a lobbyist for regional trade group The Wind Coalition, said the industry worked with landowners and legislators to address the decommissioning of wind farms in 2010. The proposed changes to the Oklahoma Wind Energy Development Act go too far and impede private property rights over a localized dispute, he said.
“Really, what needs to happen is they need to solve this issue at a local level, work out any agreements they can on this project specifically and not jeopardize the industry across the entire state,” Roggow said.
Roggow said proposed noise regulations on wind turbines are an extra burden. The bills allow for fines if the noise exceeds 50 decibels at 1,000 feet. Fifty decibels is about the same loudness as a quiet suburb or normal indoor conversation.
“I don’t know that there will be any buildings within 1,000 feet, so that regulation doesn’t make any sense,” Roggow said. “The very first turbines ever built were noisy but technology has come a long way in the last 20 years towards creating a quiet turbine to the point where the only sound you can hear is the blade cutting through the air.”
Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman also has a bill addressing wind developments. SB 1440 was filed as a shell bill with no specific language and has been assigned to the Senate Rules Committee.
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