The Senate Energy Committee passed a bill Thursday putting additional regulations on wind farms in Oklahoma, but not without hearing from supporters and opponents of a proposed development in northeastern Oklahoma.
The committee approved Senate Bill 1559 by a vote of 12-2. The bill’s author, Sen. Cliff Branan, R-Oklahoma City, stripped the title from the bill, adding flexibility for future changes as it makes its way through the legislative process.
Branan, the committee’s chairman, said the bill gives more local control to counties to be involved in permitting for wind developments, implements setbacks from homes and regulates noise from wind turbines. It also requires developers to post a $25,000 bond for each turbine to be redeemed when wind farms are decommissioned.
“This is sensible regulation, similar to oil and gas,” Branan said. “It’s just smart to be safe.”
Robert Hartley, a Craig County rancher, said a proposed wind farm by EDP Renewables North America would be a good fit for his land. He said the population density is low and the land primarily is used for grazing. Hartley leased about 4,000 acres of the 20,000 acres he owns in Craig County to EDP Renewables.
“I don’t want my neighbor telling me what to do with my property, nor the government, and I’d urge you to vote against this bill,” Hartley told the committee.
His neighbor, Frank C. Robson, has a 15,000-acre ranch near Centralia but doesn’t want any part of the wind farm. Robson organized the Oklahoma Property Rights Association, a group of landowners opposed to the EDP Renewables project in Craig County.
“There is no zoning in Craig County and, as a consequence, with no zoning, the wind farm could be put anyplace,” Robson said. “It could be put next to a house, it could be put next to a property line, and you have absolutely no control over where the placement is.”
Vanessa Tutos, government affairs director for EDP Renewables, said the company has a good track record of working with landowners on proposed projects. She said company representatives have yet to meet in person with Robson and his group.
Tutos said the Craig County project is still in the early stages and has about 80 percent of the land needed under lease. The company won’t announce a construction timeline until it has secured a power purchase agreement with a utility to buy electricity from the wind farm. EDP Renewables also owns and operates the Blue Canyon wind farms in southwest Oklahoma.
Noise, ‘shadow flicker’ cited
Tammy Huffstutlar, who lives in Calumet in Canadian County, told the committee she was surprised to find there was no oversight of wind turbines when the Canadian Hills wind farm was proposed near her house. Huffstutlar, who didn’t participate in the development, said her house now has 11 turbines nearby. She said the noise and “shadow flicker” from turbines have changed her life.
“The flicker turns formerly pleasant sunrises and sunsets into nausea-filled bouts of vertigo,” Huffstutlar said. “The audible noise from the turbines makes our outdoor activities tension-filled periods, which are cut short to minimize the unpleasant experience.”
Vicki Ayres-McCune, executive director of the Panhandle Regional Economic Development Coalition, said SB 1559 could affect future wind farms planned for the Panhandle. She pointed to a proposed high-voltage, direct-current electric transmission project by Clean Line Energy Partners LLC that would take electricity from the Panhandle to utilities in Tennessee and the southeastern United States.
“I just want to encourage you, as you assess this policy, to make sure you don’t hinder development that will come to our state,” Ayres-McCune said. “Quite honestly, the transmission that is slated to go in the Panhandle, the wind farms could be developed in another state, and Oklahoma would lose out because of our policy.”
Sen. Tom Ivester, D-Sayre, called the bill a good starting point and said other industries, such as oil and gas and hog farms, are regulated by the state.
“We’re not saying we want to prevent wind rights or prevent wind development, but there are smart ways to do it,” Ivester said.
“This is the wild west; there is absolutely no regulation whatsoever. You don’t have to get a permit.”
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