ENID, Okla. – A flat portion of land on an end of Lee Frisendahl’s family farm was supposed to house his future dream home.
However, now, a portion of a 350-mile 765 Kv power line is set to be constructed within just 100 feet of the location, rendering the spot useless.
“There’s no way we can build our dream house now, and so we’re talking about the loss of our dreams,” said Frisendahl, a sergeant with Enid Police Department.
The power line is part of the Wind Catcher Energy Connection project, which includes 800 wind turbines in the Oklahoma Panhandle and a 350-mile power line stretching across the state to near Tulsa.
While the Public Service Company of Oklahoma (PSO), Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) and Northwest Oklahoma leaders have touted the project’s state and local benefits, some landowners impacted by the project have voiced concerns about how it will inevitably affect their livelihood – and some are questioning if it’s really benefiting Oklahomans.
PSO said the project is expected to bring about $300 million to local communities through property taxes over the project’s duration also provide customers a cost savings of $7 billion over 25 years. The construction project also is predicted to generate more than $65 million in new state and local tax revenue.
The company also said up to 4,400 indirect jobs will be created annually during construction and 80 permanent jobs will be created once the project is operational. Oklahoma schools will see about $300 million in property tax revenues and ad valorem tax revenues, PSO said.
Properties where the power lines cross will receive a one-time payment for the land easement.
Enid Regional Development Alliance Executive Director Brent Kisling told Oklahoma Corporation Commission members earlier this month the project will benefit Garfield County, amongst other communities.
“(The project) will bring millions of dollars per year in land owner payments to our Northwest Oklahoma economy as well as needed ad valorem taxes for our schools,” Kisling said. “Completing the nation’s largest wind farm project will also continue to put us on the radar screens for companies that manufacture components for wind turbines as well as companies that rely on renewable energy for their operations.”
Land on the line
At Frisendahl’s family farm in Garfield County, he’s spent more than 20 years building up the property and building a legacy for his four children. Created by Frisendahl, a house, numerous barns, a lake, trails and more dot the property. In addition to having what he calls unsightly power lines and the loss of his dream home location and a number of trees, shrubbery and other nature, Frisendahl voiced health and noise concerns about the power lines.
“This power line uses a configuration that cuts noise levels in half compared to similar structures. AEP (American Electric Power) first used the design in 2006, and it has worked very well,” said Stan Whiteford, manager of region communications for PSO.
PSO has recognized while “some of the studies have indicated some statistical associations between EMF (electromagnetic fields) and certain health effects, the majority of research has found no such association.”
Just the statistical link to health effects is enough to make Frisendahl, a two-time cancer survivor, uneasy.
“There seems to be a higher number of cancer incidents in and around power lines,” he said. “Even if there’s a .000001 percent chance of harming my children, I can’t live with taking that choice. So ultimately, we’re probably going to be faced with having to move if they continue with this project.”
Frisendahl also said that in his experience as a real estate agent and auctioneer, he expects to lose significant value on his family farm due to the power lines. That will render it more difficult to relocate if his family chooses to do so.
“My land has a different value than just a plain wheat field or something because I live there, it is recreational … who pays for the money I lose when they build these?” he asked.
“Maybe some people don’t care, but the bulk of people I’ve spoken with are of the same belief, this thing’s going to be 600, 700 foot from my yard. They wouldn’t want to live near it, or listen to it and see it every day.”
‘We’ll work with landowners’
Property values are based on issues such as a home and its amenities, and an EHV power line can be one factor considered, Whiteford said.
“We do find that when we build lines like this, people often build right up to the edge of the right of way. The point being is that personal preferences come into play, and those are not the same for everyone,” Whiteford said.
Whiteford said that restrictions for landowners underneath the power lines include no structures such as homes, barns, sheds, pools, ponds and tall trees within the 200-foot right of way. Also, he said anything that could impede workers’ ability to access and maintain the line is restricted. Items that need removal from the power line installation are taken into consideration to determine the fair value of the right of way.
“We’ll work with landowners, and they can do most activities that don’t pose a threat to them or the facilities,” he said.
Glenda Watkins, a licensed architect and former energy manager and chief engineer at Vance Air Force Base, is a landowner whose property in Garfield County is set to be bisected by the power line.
Watkins said the power line will disrupt livelihood on her farm, and interfere with her son’s ability to farm easier with GPS. Her children and future generations on the farm will need to deal with that impact, and Watkins said no amount of compensation can offset it. Watkins added she’s concerned about the project on a broader scale.
“Where I’m coming from is not just the destruction and farming potential of our land, but also from the sort of global viewpoint of renewable energy and what’s appropriate and where it’s appropriate,” Watkins said. “Even more from my concern is the tremendous subsidies that the Department of Energy pays to these industrial wind corporations … they talk about wind power as being a benefit to the taxpayers of Oklahoma, but we are subsidizing this, and all U.S. taxpayers are paying for the profits that these wind companies are getting.”
Whiteford said he wouldn’t categorize Wind Catcher as government-subsidized, and that if approved, PSO’s and SWEPCO’s customers would pay for Wind Catcher.
“On the back end, however, we will pass along to customers the savings realized through the availability of federal production tax credits. Lower energy costs from Wind Catcher, along with the PTCs (production tax credits), will more than offset WC’s costs, and thus provide overall savings to customers,” Whiteford said.
Watkins also questioned the need for the project.
“The (Oklahoma) Corporation Commission and the state Legislature have a duty to look at all aspects of this and determine, ‘Is there a real need? Does it really help the people of Oklahoma?’” Watkins said.
While Panhandle landowners are receiving leases for the turbines and some jobs are being created for the project, Watkins said the number of landowners impacted by power lines offsets many of the benefits, and that big companies are benefiting more than Oklahomans. She added existing structures need to be repaired and revitalized instead of building more power lines across the state.
“I think people that are against this are accused of ‘not in my backyard’ kind of thing (and) ‘we should be willing to sacrifice in order for the greater good’ – that kind of thing,” Watkins said. “We have to look at what’s best for the people in the state of Oklahoma, and in Garfield County, and in the city of Enid. The city of Enid isn’t getting any of this clean energy, so who’s really benefiting from this?”
Support for the project
Other Northwest Oklahoma leaders have voiced support for the project.
High Plains Technology Center Superintendent Dwight Hughes, in early January, said the project will benefit the Woodward-based technology center.
“Adding this project to the portfolio of Oklahoma wind developments will allow us to double the size of our classes and allow for more of our local citizens to find jobs in this area of the country,” Hughes said.
In Texas County, Guymon Mayor Kim Peterson said in early January that Wind Catcher will provide an economic boost to the Panhandle’s economy.
“The tax dollars generated by the completion of this project – as well as the influx of economic activity created through the land owner payments and new employment – is exactly what our local economy needs right now,” Peterson said.
Speaking to ERDA Friday in Enid, PSO President and COO Stuart Solomon said he’s never seen a project like this and expects bills to go down for customers.
“This is the only project that I’ve ever been associated with where we can spend a huge amount of money and at the end of the day, bills for our customers go down,” Solomon said. “Obviously, (we’re) extremely excited about it, we’re excited about the opportunities that we think this brings to our company, our customers, to our state and the communities all along the project path.”
While Frisendahl said he understands some of the broader, statewide benefits, he’s asking for fairness in how the project impacts landowners such as himself and his family.
“We’re not trying to be unrealistic, we’re not trying to ask for the moon, but we’re trying to ask for fairness. If you’re going to take our farm against our will, if you’re going to put these anywhere close enough to the farm to jeopardize my family and to jeopardize every reason we moved to the country, at least treat us fair,” Frisendahl said. “At least take into consideration what it’s going to take for us to relocate or to do something to prohibit this from being an issue for my family.’