Oklahomans concerned about the placement of wind farms and how a new state law on rooftop solar panels will work can attend two meetings Thursday at the Corporation Commission in Oklahoma City.
In the morning, the first technical conference for a notice of inquiry on wind farms will be held by the commission’s public utility division. The inquiry was requested by Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, after several pieces of proposed wind legislation brought up issues involving siting, setbacks and decommissioning.
In the afternoon, Commissioner Dana Murphy will host an informational meeting on how to implement Senate Bill 1456, which allows regulated electric utilities to establish a new, higher rate structure for users of rooftop solar panels and small wind turbines.
Public utility division staff have said the wind inquiry will not result in new or proposed rules. It will be up to the Legislature to impose setback requirements, strengthen the state’s existing law on decommissioning wind farms or establish other regulations on wind developments.
In comments filed in the wind inquiry, residents unhappy about nearby wind farm developments in central Oklahoma said they were concerned about declining property values in one of the fastest-growing areas of the state.
“In our experience, this has pinned neighbor against neighbor,” said the Oklahoma Wind Action Association, a group of landowners opposed to wind farms in Canadian and Kingfisher counties. The association recently filed a federal lawsuit against Apex Clean Energy Inc., which plans the 300-megawatt Kingfisher wind farm.
Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, said the Corporation Commission should regulate wind development. In a letter to the commission, Sears said there should be a way for interested parties to air their concerns about proposed wind developments and their effects on land and wildlife.
“I understand and support the positive impact of the wind energy footprint in Oklahoma,” Sears said. “However, the time is now to put in place mandatory regulations for the well-being and long-term needs of our state. Any regulations in place at this time are purely voluntary, not mandatory.”
Sears sponsored a bill in the last Legislative session that would have imposed a moratorium on wind farm development in the eastern part of the state until 2017. Senate Bill 1440 passed the Senate but didn’t get a hearing in a House committee.
The Wind Coalition, an industry group representing wind developers, said wind farms must secure permits and approvals from various regulatory bodies after getting consent from landowners. Other requirements are put in by financing companies. The group said there’s not a “best practice” for siting because each project depends on the topography of the land.
“It can be difficult to define a one-size-fits-all standard for wind turbine siting, because the setbacks required to minimize sound and shadow will vary based on the particular site’s topography, landscape, and housing density,” the coalition said in its initial comments.
A second technical conference is planned for Oct. 15 for the wind notice of inquiry. A hearing before the commission will be Dec. 2.
Meanwhile, the Corporation Commission has until the end of 2015 to approve new electric utility tariffs for users of distributed generation, the focus on Murphy’s meeting Thursday afternoon.
SB 1456, which was backed by the state’s major electric utilities, allows a new customer class to be established for users of rooftop solar panels and small wind turbines. The utilities said the law was needed to minimize subsidies to users who were using distributed generation but weren’t paying their fair share for connection charges to the grid.
The law doesn’t apply to emergency backup generators or customers who install solar panels or small wind turbines before Nov. 1, when the legislation takes effect.
A group opposed to SB 1456 is gathering signatures to repeal the law through a referendum petition. The effort isn’t likely to appear on November’s ballot since election officials have already finalized the ballot to send to overseas voters.
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