A bill putting more reporting requirements and siting restrictions on wind farms in Oklahoma passed out of a House committee Tuesday.
Senate Bill 808 would stop any wind turbines from being erected within 1.5 nautical miles of an airport, public school or hospital. It also would require developers to submit information to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission within six months of when they plan to begin construction on a wind farm.
“It’s been negotiated by all parties,” said Rep. Earl Sears, a Bartlesville Republican who presented the bill at the House energy and natural resources committee. “I’m very, very pleased with the wind industry in regards to their participation in helping us with these proposed regulations. I believe it’s a win-win for everybody.”
The bill passed 12-8. It now goes to the full House for a vote.
Sears said SB 808, which he sponsored with Senate Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, would be the main wind industry regulation bill this session. Sears said his House Bill 1549, which contained similar provisions, would be dropped.
SB 808 also makes several amendments on wind farm decommissioning to the Oklahoma Wind Energy Development Act, which passed in 2011.
The Corporation Commission, which is in the middle of putting rules around decommissioning language in the existing law, will be asked under SB 808 to verify evidence of a surety bond of at least 125 percent of the expenses for decommissioning.
Oil and gas developers must post standard surety bonds as a requirement for operating, but the commission’s public utility division doesn’t have any experience with collecting or analyzing surety bonds for wind developers.
Commissioner Dana Murphy said about 3,000 oil and gas operators make surety filings every year at the Corporation Commission.
“There’s a standard threshold for oil and gas,” Murphy said in a phone interview. “For wind, there won’t be that many operators but each wind farm has a different level of evaluation. We’d have to establish a staff person in the public utility division just to analyze and evaluate the filings.”
In a fiscal analysis, the commission’s public utility division said it may have to add between two and four full-time positions to keep track of decommissioning and for notice requirements under SB 808.
Discussion at the House committee hearing on the bill focused on a part-time position and an annual fiscal impact between $50,000 and $60,000.
Sears said the setback requirements under the bill were reasonable, but expressed his disappointment that they didn’t include minimum setbacks from homes.
“I couldn’t win that battle,” Sears said. “I personally won’t be the one who will take that forward.”
The bill says any disputes over the setback requirements would go to district court, not the Corporation Commission.
Best practices followed by the wind industry try not to place turbines closer than 1,400 feet of an occupied home. Other concessions are usually negotiated in private leases the wind developer signs with landowners.
SB 808’s 1.5 nautical mile setback from schools, hospitals and airports is equal to about 9,100 feet. Most schools and hospitals are in cities and towns, so it’s unlikely the setback will affect future wind development. There are more than 1,800 public schools across the state.
The Federal Aviation Administration has existing regulations for wind turbine placements near airports. There are more than 290 public and private airports in the state, according to the Oklahoma Aeronautical Commission.
Jeff Clark, executive director of The Wind Coalition, said his group appreciated the work done by the bill’s authors to improve the language since its introduction.
“I believe SB 808 represents a reasonable solution to the issues raised during the notice of inquiry hearings held at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission,” Clark said in a statement. “The members of The Wind Coalition look forward to continuing to work with the Oklahoma Legislature to formulate policies that allow the wind industry to continue as a major economic contributor to the state of Oklahoma.”
Tax incentives for wind energy
Outside of regulation, several bills this year have targeted tax incentives for wind energy, including the five-year ad valorem property tax exemption and the zero-emissions tax credit.
Sears said the wind industry and lawmakers are negotiating on the tax credit bills and could be close to a resolution.
“We’re zeroing in on the ad valorem (exemption) and maybe we’ll leave the zero-emissions (tax credit) alone,” Sears said. “These are ongoing negotiations.”
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 reimbursements come from the first 1 percent of state income tax collections.
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