Planning for the last few miles of the 380-mile Wind Catcher Connection power line is proving to be the most contentious.
Bixby residents have organized and, as a result, on Monday at 5 p.m. the Bixby City Council is holding a special meeting to explore further options in how it might approach the Oklahoma Corporation Commission about dismissing Public Service Company of Oklahoma’s application for pre-approval of the Wind Catcher project, including an agenda item that proposes hiring attorneys Gable Gotwals to represent the city.
Two weeks ago the council opened an adjacent room for its regular meeting to host at least 200 people who oppose a proposed route that would take the giant power line across south Tulsa County, through western Bixby, north to the PSO station on the Arkansas River near Jenks.
At that time, the council voted to ask the city attorney to draft a letter of opposition, which drew a standing ovation. That letter was approved June 11. Now councilors are set to discuss more options.
“We want the Corporation Commission to dismiss the filing,” said Greg Ganzkow, a Bixby real estate agent and organizer of the No Wind Catcher website and Facebook page.
“We’re representing at least 500 to 600 landowners in this fight and we’ve had numerous contacts from people out in Beaver and Garfield counties who are wishing us luck because they feel like they’re already screwed out there, it just ripped through them so fast.”
Wind Catcher involves a wind farm being developed by Chicago-based Invenergy that would be the largest in the country, with 800 wind turbines covering parts of two Oklahoma panhandle counties. The farm would connect via the Wind Catcher Connection Project to the electric grid at Tulsa via the tallest and largest power line west of the Mississippi. It would carry 600 megawatts to customers primarily in Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas, but in Oklahoma as well.
The total estimated cost for the entire project, overseen by American Electric Power is $4.5 billion.
The PSO share of the project before the Corporation Commission is $1.36 billion, or 30 percent. Its sister AEP utility, Southwestern Electric Power Co., would own the rest. They are seeking pre-approval of their costs before various state regulatory bodies.
PSO spokesman Stan Whiteford said the company is continuing to reach out to people in Bixby and surrounding areas on “study routes.”
“The council already indicated they are opposed, but we just want to make sure we have the opportunity to talk to all the people in Bixby so they have a chance to understand that 7,000 PSO customers in Bixby stand to benefit directly from reduced rates and also that Bixby schools will benefit with several million dollars from (property) taxes related to the project,” he said.
The route for the line still has not been finalized but “we are anticipating that any time now,” he said.
A preferred northern route that would have crossed Osage County and ended near Sperry was opposed by the Osage Nation, so southern routes were explored beginning in January.
A proposed southern route that follows a path along the Cimarron Turnpike north of Stillwater, south toward Mounds and then north toward Tulsa is the proposed path drawing the most resistance.
The company has an option to purchase a parcel between 151st and 161st streets south between Yale and Harvard avenues to possibly erect a substation, rather than running lines to the PSO plant on the Arkansas River south of Jenks, Whiteford confirmed.
“We recognize certain landowners have concerns and we are trying to address those with them and will continue to respond to any and all questions and inquiries about the line route,” he said.
Ganzkow said the possible substation site raises more alarms because it would be too close to a planned new Bixby Elementary School at 151st Street and Yale Avenue.
Ganzkow said Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter expressed like thinking to the group.
Hunter’s office has questioned the project from the beginning, with objections over how PSO parent company American Electric Power approached the project and with questions about its claims of savings for the state’s ratepayers.
While AEP projects a net savings of hundreds of millions for ratepayers, Hunter’s office believes the projections based on tax incentives and natural gas price projections are off and it would instead cost “north of $300 million,” he said.
“I want to make it clear I have great respect for the Oklahoma utility, which is confined by AEP and its decisions with regard to carrying out the project,” he said.
Hunter said he met with Bixby representatives and is “very sympathetic” to their concerns about what the right-of-way for the power line means to the city and its residents.
“I can appreciate their ongoing frustration with respect to eminent domain questions and the effect the line might have on the city,” Hunter said.
Whiteford said PSO will continue to reach out to residents, rate payers and government officials. The Corporation Commission is to meet July 2-3 to discuss settlement agreements PSO reached with Walmart and Oklahoma Industrial Energy Consumers.
“We want to make sure people don’t lose sight of the opportunity for a $4.5 billion investment in this state that can save customers $2 billion over the life of the project and raise $3 billion in tax revenues. That kind of thing doesn’t come along ever day,” Whiteford said.
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