As they await a decision from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, planners behind a wind power project that would be the largest in the country this week heard complaints from concerned residents but also gained statewide industry support.
Public Service Company of Oklahoma on Wednesday announced four other energy companies had signed on with settlement agreements to join Walmart and the Oklahoma Industrial Energy Consumers, which signaled their support in late April.
Wind Catcher is a $4.5 billion project that includes a 300,000-acre wind farm to be built in Cimarron and Texas counties with a 360-mile transmission line and two substations that will connect to the power grid at Tulsa. The wind farm would be the largest in the U.S. and the power line would be the largest west of the Mississippi. It would supply power to PSO customers in Oklahoma and Southwestern Electric Power Co. customers in Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana. PSO’s share of the project is $1.39 billion.
A decision on the project’s cost-recovery plan is pending before the Corporation Commission, which last held a hearing on the subject March 14.
“The Corporation Commission encouraged us to get more settlement agreements, and we are continuing to pursue those,” said Stan Whiteford, PSO spokesman.
Signing on in support of the project this week are the Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority at Oklahoma City, Tri-County Electric Cooperative in the Panhandle, Dallas-based Gridliance Holdco LP subsidiary South Central, and Oneta Power LLC of Broken Arrow.
“Essentially the agreement gives them assurances that they will not be disadvantaged in some way,” Whiteford said.
Items in the agreement include a new purchase power agreement with Oneta for 300 megawatts of low-cost natural gas energy and capacity beginning in 2022, as well as a commitment to issue a Request for Proposals for more capacity, that PSO will not provide retail electric service in Tri-County’s territory, and provide GridLiance the option to construct, own and operate any future Panhandle interconnecting facilities that PSO might have the right to pursue.
While the power companies penned their support, residents of Bixby gathered Tuesday at the City Council to hear a presentation on the scope of the project from PSO representatives and to voice their concerns about property values and damage to expansion opportunities if the connection line is routed to the PSO plant on the Arkansas River near Tulsa through south Tulsa County.
Greg Ganzkow, a small-business owner and organizer of the No Wind Catcher Facebook page called out the company on assurances that power lines do not affect property values and asserted his own view that property values far outside the 200-foot easement of the lines are affected.
“I would like everyone in this room to stand up if they would like to live near or under power lines,” he asked the room.
“Our goal was to just explain to the council why we think this is an important project and how communities benefit from the (property taxes). We know there were a lot of passionate people there and honestly concerned people, many wanting to get more information,” Whiteford said.
Bixby Mayor John Easton told the PSO representatives that the southern route plan would cripple city expansion to the south.
“You’re pulling the rug out from underneath the future of this city,” he said.
The council ended the meeting with applause from the room on a unanimous vote to ask the city attorney to draft a letter in opposition to the project to be sent to the Oklahoma attorney general and the Corporation Commission, which would be voted upon at its next meeting.
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