TULSA – Future development of Oklahoma’s wind industry will need greater transparency, collaboration and community involvement if the state is to realize its potential as one of the nation’s biggest wind producers, speakers said Thursday at a roundtable on wind regulation.
The forum at the University of Tulsa’s College of Law comes as lawmakers consider more than a dozen bills to reform incentives for wind energy and put additional siting regulations in place.
Oklahoma’s first commercial-scale wind farm began operations in 2003. Since then, the state has grown to more than 3,780 megawatts of installed wind capacity. That pushed it to No. 4 in the nation in 2014.
As wind farm development has moved from the rural, western part of the state to areas closer to population centers, concerns are arising over siting, noise and the effects on views for neighboring landowners. That’s tended to divide people into pro-wind and anti-wind camps, said Jason Aamodt, assistant dean of online legal education at TU’s law school.
“We need to move beyond the rhetoric to real decision-making,” Aamodt said. “It gets into sustainable development, with the triple bottom line of economic development, environmental conservation and social development.”
Many of the new contracts for wind power from Oklahoma wind farms are being signed by out-of-state utilities. Exports are a generally a good thing for an emerging industry, but not if Oklahoma taxpayers are providing the incentives, said Rick Mosier, president and general counsel for Robson Properties.
The state paid $64 million in ad valorem tax reimbursements to local authorities in 2013, with about half of that going to wind farms. The five-year property tax exemption is available for wind developers, large manufacturers and data centers.
The Oklahoma Tax Commission estimates the wind industry could claim $210 million in ad valorem tax exemptions from 2014 to 2018.
“We’re trying to shoehorn a new industry that is very capital intensive into a program that was meant for industries that are labor intensive,” said Mosier, who wants lawmakers to end a waiver for the wind industry that releases it from job requirements under the property tax exemption.
Mosier said the state should end another incentive that gives a tax credit of 0.5 cents for every kilowatt hour of electricity generated from zero-emission sources. The Tax Commission estimates $123 million under that tax credit could be claimed from 2014 to 2018.
The Wind Coalition’s executive director, Jeff Clark, said the industry is working with lawmakers to reform the state’s wind incentives. But he said Oklahoma must be mindful of incentives offered to wind developers in neighboring Texas and Kansas.
Jaime McAlpine, president of Chermac Energy Corp., said efforts at the Legislature to establish state siting authority were misguided. Edmond-based Chermac has developed more than 750 megawatts of wind projects and has 1,200 megawatts under construction.
“Local rule has been the standard in Oklahoma since statehood,” McAlpine said. “Home is where it matters. You have to take into consideration what your neighbors think, but it should be up to the landowner and county commissioners.”
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