All but two turbines from Oklahoma’s 2,000 utility-scale wind turbines are located outside of new siting limits signed into law earlier this year, according to a new study by Oklahoma State University researchers.
Shannon Ferrell and Joshua Conaway with OSU’s Department of Agricultural Economics performed a geographical analysis to see if turbines from 30 existing projects would have been approved under new setbacks of 1.5 nautical miles from schools, hospitals and airports.
“The results of this project show Oklahoma wind energy projects occupy far less land than suggested by industry estimates,” Ferrell and Conaway wrote. “Turbine spacing allows ample and diverse land uses within project ‘footprints,’ and existing wind projects largely avoid locations such as hospitals, airports, and schools by wide margins.”
Senate Bill 808 went into effect Aug. 21. The law said new wind turbines must not be within 1.5 nautical miles (about 9,100 feet) of schools, hospitals or airports. The legislation was pushed by several landowner groups concerned about the encroachment of turbines, including the Oklahoma Property Rights Association.
The research report said two schools – Weatherford Elementary School West and the Concho School on the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribal Complex – were within the new turbine setbacks. The Weatherford school was 1.43 miles from a turbine at the Weatherford Wind Energy Center. The Concho school was 0.63 mile from a turbine at the Canadian Hills wind farm in Canadian County.
“This suggests that if current wind energy development trends continue, setbacks from these facilities should not significantly hamper wind energy development,” the study said.
Oklahoma has more than 4,300 megawatts of wind projects, putting the state in fourth place. Wind accounted for 17 percent of the state’s electricity generation in 2014. Natural gas accounted for 44 percent, while coal was at 37 percent, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.
The State Chamber of Oklahoma’s research foundation sponsored Ferrell and Conaway’s report, which included analyses of future property tax revenue from the projects and consumer savings on electric bills from greater use of wind power by utilities.
The report said wind farms built or under contract in Oklahoma would provide more than $1 billion in additional property tax revenue to schools and counties over their useful lives.
It also said wind power generated in the state would save Oklahoma ratepayers an estimated $2 billion in fuel costs from utilities.
“This report clearly shows that Oklahoma’s investment in wind energy production is paying off,” said Fred Morgan, the chamber’s president and CEO. “A billion dollars in local tax revenue for counties and school districts with wind farms is crucial for these rural areas.”
Rick Mosier, with the Oklahoma Property Rights Association, said the group remains concerned about setbacks from homes and the property of nonparticipating landowners next to neighbors who have leased property to wind developers.
“It’s something we’re continuing to evaluate,” said Mosier, adding the group hasn’t yet discussed its legislative priorities for the next session.
Mosier said the association continues to hope state lawmakers evaluate tax incentives for wind developers. A five-year property tax exemption will end for wind developers in 2017, but lawmakers kept a zero-emissions tax credit.
“The ad valorem exemption will end in 2017, but this year another 1,525 megawatts of wind is expected to come online, and more will come next year,” Mosier said.
“It’s a course of evaluation to make sure we’re getting our money’s worth,” he said.
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