Community notification and the siting of wind turbines continued to drive discussions in the second of two technical conferences this week on wind farm development in Oklahoma.
The fact-finding meetings are part of a notice of inquiry at the Corporation Commission requested by Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, in the wake of several wind-related bills that failed earlier this year in the Legislature.
Health, safety and visual concerns about utility-scale wind farms were mentioned in Wednesday’s meeting by several commenters, including Joanna Taylor, of Okarche. Taylor said she worries about severe weather affecting wind turbines and the power wielded by the wind industry at the Capitol.
“I’m hoping that in this process, someone will be willing to take on this issue,” said Taylor, a member of the Central Oklahoma Property Rights Association. “We deserve some protection by the state.”
Siting of wind farms
A few people at the hearing said they wanted the Corporation Commission to govern the siting of wind farms, a power the commission doesn’t have for other types of electric generation plants. The Legislature would need to enact a new law for that to happen.
Oklahoma is among 26 states that leave the placement of wind farms to local government such as cities and counties, according the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. Another 22 states have some type of process at the state level, while two states split those responsibilities with local governments. Most of the wind farms developed so far in Oklahoma have been in rural counties without planning and zoning boards.
“What we’re looking for is some kind of coherence, some kind of consistency,” said Warren Thomas, a farmer and rancher and managing general partner of the Tinker Business and Industrial Park.
Noting that he isn’t anti-wind, Thomas said he wanted the state to provide guidelines and model ordinances to regulate the wind industry. He also expressed concern with the amount of tax credits and rebates available to wind developers in Oklahoma.
Commissioner Dana Murphy said she’s had discussions with energy regulators in other states who told her giving siting power to a state agency could be more trouble than it’s worth.
“Most of these public utility commissioners will tell you they wish their agency didn’t have siting authority for power generation plants and everything else,” Murphy said. “It’s a very difficult issue.”
Jaime McAlpine, president of Edmond-based Chermac Energy Corp., said he thinks Oklahoma already has a balanced approach to wind farms, with developers willing to work with local landowners on turbine setbacks from homes and other areas of concern. Chermac has wind projects in Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas.
Other representatives of the wind industry explained how they choose sites and lease land for wind farms, as well as the local, state and federal agencies from which they need to secure permits and permissions. They said wind developments don’t exist without the support of participating landowners and the surrounding community.
“We’re in the energy business because we sell electrons at the end of the day, but we are in the people business,” said John DiDonato, vice president of development at NextEra Energy Resources LLC. “We work with local folks first. We try to be collaborative, constructive and cooperative.”
Bill Humes, a former chief of the attorney general’s public utility unit who now represents The Wind Coalition, said much of the opposition to wind farms can be traced to a “not-in-my-backyard” mentality.
“These people don’t want to see wind turbines near their property, and no amount of regulation other than a wholesale ban on development near their property will satisfy these people,” Humes said.
Humes said industry best practices for setbacks from turbines and their placement to limit “shadow flicker” and minimize noise provide ample protections for landowners on and near project sites.
A hearing before the three-person Corporation Commission in the notice of inquiry is set for 10 a.m. Dec. 2 in Oklahoma City. The commission will summarize public comments and provide recommendations to the Legislature.
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