Officials announced Tuesday that the Wind Catcher Energy Connection Project was approved by Arkansas Public Service Commission.
The announcement was made by Southwestern Electric Power Co. Wind Catcher Energy Connection is a joint effort between SWEPCO and Public Service Co. of Oklahoma, and is a $4.5 billion project that involves building a wind farm in Oklahoma, a 350-mile power line and two substations. SWEPCO will own 70 percent of the project, and PSO the other 30 percent.
The wind farm, to be built on 300,000 acres in Cimarron and Texas counties in the Panhandle, will include about 800 2.5 MW wind turbines. A power line will stretch from there to Tulsa, bringing 2,000 megawatts of energy to customers in eastern and southwestern Oklahoma, in addition to parts of Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana. PSO’s share of the project investment is $1.36 billion.
“The APSC’s decision approved provisions of a settlement agreement submitted in a Feb. 20 joint motion by the APSC General Staff, the Arkansas Attorney General, SWEPCO, Walmart Stores, Inc. and Sam’s West, Inc.,” a SWEPCO press release said.
While the project was determined by the APSC in Arkansas to be “in the public interest,” PSO on Tuesday still was awaiting a decision from Oklahoma Corporation Commission for preapproval of the company’s request to allow PSO to charge ratepayers to help fund the project and recover an anticipated expenditure of the $1.36 billion.
Matt Skinner, with OCC, said Tuesday a decision has yet to be made by OCC, and there isn’t an estimated time anymore for when one will be made.
The main parts of the agreement approved by APSC include guarantees agreed to by SWEPCO comprising of a cap on construction costs, qualification for 100 percent of the federal Production Tax Credits, minimum annual production from the project and other commitments, according to the company.
SWEPCO said the project will save its customers more than $4 billion over the 25-year life of the wind farm. The company said customers will see savings mostly through a reduction in the fuel portion of their bills starting in 2021.
If completed, Wind Catcher will be the largest single-site wind project in the United States. The wind farm is under development by Invenergy in Cimarron and Texas counties in the Oklahoma Panhandle. SWEPCO and PSO will purchase the facility at completion, which is scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2020.
In addition to awaiting OCC’s approval, Wind Catcher is subject to approval of SWEPCO’s applications in Louisiana and Texas, and also the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Wind Catcher has stirred both controversy and support since its inception. In February an OCC administrative law judge filed a 136-page recommendation against preapproval of the project. On Feb. 23, PSO filed an exceptions report against the judge’s recommendation.
A number of leaders and others in Northwest Oklahoma have expressed support for the project, while other leaders and numerous landowners set to have their properties impacted by the power line have voiced concern and opposition. Some concerns voiced by those against it include concerns about health, noise and property value loss.
In late April and early May, letters were sent by from a law firm representing PSO to about two dozen landowners who have refused access to their property for environmental surveys. According to those receiving the letters, PSO is threatening to file an injunction if the landowners didn’t allow officials on their properties to do environmental surveys by May 4.