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Legislator to offer bill for regulating wind farms

OKLAHOMA CITY – Rep. Earl Sears says he will sponsor legislation that would put regulations on the wind industry.

Sears, R-Bartlesville, is the incoming chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee.

He said the proposed regulations will contain three key elements: siting and setbacks regarding location of wind farms; decommissioning; and public hearings that would allow residents of communities near planned wind farm projects to express their views.

The legislator said he is still working out the details.

Sears said he will also sponsor legislation that would review tax credits for the industry. He said he has no plans to make changes to incentives that operational wind farms are receiving, but that credits for new developments need to be evaluated.

He called such credits “very lucrative.”

“This is a huge issue,” Sears recently told the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which is studying issues associated with the wind industry at the request of Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa. “It is one I truly believe for Oklahoma that we need to absolutely take a step back and consider regulations and rules with regard to the wind industry and where we are putting these particular farms.”

Property rights are involved in the issue, Sears said.

“It is just like a city council, as you well know, the neighborhoods that you live in and everybody in this room lives in, the neighbor next door doesn’t get to be able to put that old used icebox and sewing machine and washing machine out in the front yard,” Sears said. “We have rules, regulations and city ordinances. And right now, I am of the opinion we don’t have enough regulations.”

Sears said he believes the Corporation Commission is the best entity to regulate the industry.

“We don’t want to over-regulate this industry, but we absolutely have to put something out there,” Sears said.

Jeffrey Clark, executive director of The Wind Coalition, said industry officials are willing to work with lawmakers to address anxiety about wind farms. Tax credits also need a second look, the trade group’s leader said.

But Clark emphasized that Oklahoma’s wind power industry needs to be competitive with surrounding states, such as Texas and Kansas.

Clark said he expects lawmakers to file a number of bills that affect the wind industry. He said he is eager to see the details of the measures.

“We recognize the current structure needs to be reviewed,” he said.

An effort last year, Senate Bill 1440, to put a moratorium on wind farms east of Interstate 35 for three years failed to garner legislative support. Sears was the House author, and Bingman was the Senate author.

The results of the Corporation Commission study are expected to be released by the end of the year, said Matt Skinner, a spokesman for the commission.