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Bill for wind farm moratorium in eastern Oklahoma moves along

Wind developments in Oklahoma east of Interstate 35 would be put under a moratorium until 2017 under a bill passed by a state Senate panel.

The Senate Energy Committee passed Senate Bill 1440 by a vote of 10-3 Thursday. The bill, by Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, also directs a study of the appropriateness of wind farms in eastern Oklahoma, where it says wind resources are “less than fair.”

Several wind farms are under various stages of development east of Interstate 35, including one in Craig County by EDP Renewables North America that has drawn opposition by the Oklahoma Property Rights Association.

TradeWind Energy’s 141-megawatt Mustang Run development in Osage County is already under construction and wouldn’t be affected by the proposed moratorium. Wind Capital Group is developing the 150-megawatt Osage Wind project, but its development status was unavailable Friday.

Bingman said the bill is still a work in progress and may be refined to better describe areas that could come under a moratorium. Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, is the sponsor in the House.

Bingman said the bill wasn’t a direct result of opposition to the EDP Renewables wind farm in Craig County. He said a moratorium also was discussed in the Legislature last year after the proposed Kingfisher wind farm in Kingfisher and Canadian counties in central Oklahoma.

“They really haven’t been outside of western Oklahoma, but some of these wind farms are moving closer to more densely populated areas,” Bingman said. “The attitudes to wind farms are different in those parts of the state.”

The bill directs the Oklahoma Secretary of Energy and Environment to work with other state agencies to study wind potential in eastern Oklahoma, along with access to transmission, how development might affect wildlife and public support of the industry.

Bingman said it will be helpful to look at possible zoning regulations at the county level and the concerns of landowners about nearby wind farm developments.

“We just need a little direction from the people with vested interests,” he said.

Another bill, SB 1559 by Sen. Cliff Branan, R-Oklahoma City, passed out of committee last week. It puts tighter bonding requirements on wind projects for decommissioning and establishes a quarter-mile setback from homes or homes under construction. The bill also requires wind turbines to be no louder than 50 decibels from a distance of 1,000 feet.

Arnella Karges, vice president of government affairs for the State Chamber of Oklahoma, said policymakers have worked hard to make sure Oklahoma is a leader in wind energy production, which has spurred billions of dollars in capital investments.

“It’s unfortunate that we are seeing bills this legislative session aimed at either restricting wind farm developments or halting future projects altogether,” Karges said. “Why have policies which encourage wind production in our state and then not allow that development? The State Chamber supports an ‘all of the above’ energy portfolio for Oklahoma, and wind power is part of that.”

Oklahoma has several incentives for wind developers, including a five-year exemption of local property taxes. The state reimburses counties, schools and other local government units for that lost revenue from the ad valorem reimbursement fund.

Renewable energy developers also can qualify for a state production tax credit of 0.25-cents to 0.75-cents per kilowatt hour of electricity generated.