After more than a decade of rapid growth in Oklahoma, the wind industry is like a teenager that might need some guidance as its developments grow closer to populated areas and conflicts arise.
That was among the opinions offered Thursday at a packed meeting at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to study wind farm siting, notification of landowners and decommissioning.
Secretary of Energy and Environment Michael Teague said Oklahoma is sixth in the nation in wind power capacity. Wind provided more than 15 percent of the state’s electricity in 2013. It’s also helping keep electricity rates low for residents and businesses, he said.
“That low cost of power is key to keeping our low cost of living,” Teague said. “Wind power is important, but it has to be done right.”
Teague said the wind industry could learn from the experiences of the oil and gas industry, which started out without regulations but is now a mature industry. He compared wind to a “teenager growing like a weed that needs a bit of guidance.”
Most of the wind farms in Oklahoma have been built in rural western parts of the state, where nearby residents were far away or happy to have a development provide extra tax revenue for local schools. As developments moved closer to populated areas, opposition arose from neighbors who haven’t leased their land to wind farms.
Those tensions were evident at the meeting, with landowners on both sides providing comments on property values, their experiences living next to wind turbines and the possible effects on wildlife.
Tammy Huffstutlar, whose property in Calumet is near several wind turbines, said she worries about the health effects from “shadow flicker” from the blades. Huffstutlar played a recording of the noise from a broken turbine and said it took two weeks to get it fixed.
“We’ve lived there 36 years, and our property value went down even after improvements were made to it,” Huffstutlar said.
Claremore resident Frank Robson, who owns a large ranch in Craig County, said a planned wind farm will destroy the views from his property. He organized the Oklahoma Property Rights Association to challenge wind developments on behalf of landowners who don’t want nearby turbines.
“The country life when the wind turbines come is destroyed totally,” Robson said.
But Joe Bush, who has leased land to developers in Osage County, said wind farms would help in the fight against climate change, which he said is already evident on his property with below-normal rainfall.
Bush said neighboring landowners who want to establish additional regulations for wind farms are infringing on his property rights. He suggested they buy the nearby property if they don’t want to look at a wind farm.
“Don’t buy a politician, buy the property,” Bush said.
Laurie Williams with the Sierra Club said wind developments don’t have to deal with tightened emissions regulations affecting coal plants, like those proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency.
“Long-term power purchase agreements for wind power may be able to displace the need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars retrofitting or upgrading old coal-fired power plants,” Williams said. “As a result, wind can serve as an important financial hedge against environmental risk.”
Williams said recent wind power purchase agreements signed by Public Service Co. of Oklahoma and the Grand River Dam Authority will save money for ratepayers.
Terry Stowers, who works with mineral owners and landowners with and without wind farms, suggested similar regulations to those for spacing between oil and gas wells.
“This sandbox is big enough for us all to play in,” said Stowers, executive director of the Coalition of Oklahoma Surface and Mineral Owners. “The wind industry should welcome state regulation, otherwise there will be a patchwork of local rules.”
The Wind Coalition, a regional trade group, said wind developments have brought $6 billion in investments to Oklahoma in the last 12 years. The industry is already subject to some regulatory oversight from various local, state and federal agencies, said Bill Humes, an attorney for the coalition.
“The wind industry is not operating in a regulation-free environment,” Humes said. “We come to this (notice of inquiry) willing to take a hard look at industry practices.”
Staff for the commission’s public utility division reminded participants that any changes dealing with wind farm siting, notification and decommissioning would have to come from the Legislature.
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