PAWHUSKA – An Osage County planning board postponed its decision on issuing a permit for a wind-energy facility west of town after the proposal met with strong local opposition at a Thursday public hearing.
TradeWinds Energy is the second company in three years that has attempted construction of a wind-turbine farm on a wide stretch of prairie along U.S. Highway 60. In August 2011, Wind Capital Group survived its public hearing and was granted a conditional use permit needed to begin building a facility.
Two years later, the project was sold to TradeWinds by Wind Capital. The purchase followed ongoing resistance to the proposed facility from the Osage Indian tribe and a loosely-united consortium of wildlife and conservation groups.
That opposition continued on Thursday, with much concern being voiced about possible negative effects the 260-feet tall turbines might have on the area’s eagle and prairie chicken populations. Osage Nation Principal Chief Scott BigHorse spoke about the importance of bald eagle feathers to the tribe.
“Killing of eagles is a crime,” BigHorse said. “In our culture, we believe they are the closest creature to God Almighty and they help carry our prayers to him.”
Tribal members also cited the impact the wind development could have on the tribal oil and gas income.
“It is located right in the middle of our most prolific oil field – one that’s been in use for nearly 100 years and is considered the largest in Oklahoma,” Osage Minerals Council Chairman Andrew Yates said.
Ian Chavez, an attorney representing the Osage Nation and the Osage Minerals Council, presented the board with a petition which, he said, “details why you cannot issue the permit, according to the law.”
Chavez pointed out to several legal defects regarding the wind-energy company’s request.
“What we have is a company that wants to come in a build a wind facility solely for its own benefit,” Chavez said. “They have not provided any hardship caused by the (property’s) current zoning for agricultural/ranching use.”
The request was tabled until May 8 to allow time for members of the Osage County Board of Zoning Adjustment to review items raised during the hearing, including the Osage petition.
Zoning adjustment chairman Mike Bender pointed out, however, that the board’s job was not to determine if wind energy was good or bad, but was “somewhat narrowly focused.”
“We are only trying to decide if it is compatible with adjacent areas,” Bender said.
A spokesman for the Lenexa, Kan.-based energy firm told nearly 100 persons in attendance at the meeting that the 136-megawatt facility – called Mustang Run – would include 60 to 70 of the of the tower structures scattered over approximately 9,500 acres east of Burbank.
“Mustang Run and the Breckenridge project we are developing near Enid represent a capital investment of $1.6 billion and will generate one gigawatt (of energy) once they’re installed,” TradeWinds’ Aaron Weigel said.
Leading the support for the project at the previous meeting were representatives from the Shidler Public Schools, whose district stands to benefit from ad valorem taxes on the wind project. At this meeting, several anti-project spokespersons addressed the fact that the wind-energy company will receive a five-year moratorium on paying the taxes on the project.
Although the State of Oklahoma is expected to pay those taxes for the wind development companies, “there isn’t much money floating around Oklahoma City these days,” said Ford Drummond, the owner of a ranch next to the project.
His father, Frederick Drummond, suggested that the board hold off on making a decision until the Oklahoma Legislature advances any of several pending bills related to the wind-energy issues.
At least 10 patrons of the rural school district appeared in support of the wind proposal in 2011, only one voiced a comment Thursday.
“It’s all kind of becoming about eagles and prairie chickens,” Kathy Bowlin said. “Clean energy is what our generation needs to keep in mind.”
One of the project’s handful of supporters attempted to downplay the threat that turbines pose to area raptors by citing numerous other things that contribute to the killing of flying creatures, including pointing out that “the death of hundreds of millions of birds each year are caused by feral cats.”
Former Osage Nation official Chris White quickly responded to the claim with the comment: “I’d like to meet the cat that can kill an eagle.”