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Walmart backs Public Service Co. of Oklahoma’s plan to co-own a major wind farm in Oklahoma’s Panhandle

Supporters and opponents of Public Service Co. of Oklahoma’s preapproval request to charge ratepayers for Wind Catcher Connection costs continue to lobby before elected regulators, who will hold a hearing on the proposal next week.

On Friday, PSO announced it had reached a settlement agreement with Walmart that supports the proposal and asks elected Oklahoma Corporation Commissioners to approve the utility’s request.

Once built and online at the end of 2020, the 2,000 megawatt Wind Catcher Connection would be the nation’s largest wind farm. PSO would own 30 percent of the project, while its sister utility, Southwestern Electric Power, would own the remainder.

The utilities, both of which are subsidiaries of American Electric Power, also propose building a 360-mile long, a 765-kilovolt line capable of carrying 600 megawatts of power from the wind farm onto part of the Southwest Power Pool grid that PSO operates and maintains.

In total, the project’s expected cost is $4.5 billion. PSO is looking to recover an expected cost of $1.36 billion, but has maintained in its testimony and rebuttals that it believes its ratepayers would benefit, rather than pay more, because of the more-affordable electricity they would get once the project comes online.

Walmart, a significant customer of the utility, announced Friday it supports PSO’s request.

“Projects like Wind Catcher help Walmart meet our goal to be supplied by 100 percent renewable energy,” Mark Vanderhelm, the retailer’s vice president of energy, stated in a news release announcing the agreement.

“As a PSO customer, we look forward to seeing this important project move forward to provide the renewable, affordable energy we need to help meet our business goals.”

The project also must be approved by regulators in Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas.

In Arkansas, Southwestern has announced it has reached a proposed settlement agreement with the Arkansas Public Service Commission’s staff, the state’s attorney general, and Walmart that would enable it to recover $607 million from its customers there to offset Wind Catcher expenses. The agreement is based on the same guarantees PSO is offering in Oklahoma.

That proposed agreement remained pending Friday in Arkansas, while the Oklahoma Corporation Commission is expected to hear the PSO case Wednesday morning.