Members of Oklahoma’s Corporation Commission on Monday heard from Public Service Co. of Oklahoma’s regulatory vice president and dozens of Oklahomans who either support or oppose the proposed Wind Catcher Energy Connection project.
They listened to the testimony as part of their consideration of an application PSO has filed with the commission that seeks preapproval to recover from ratepayers its costs related to the $4.5 billion project.
If approved, the utility would be allowed to recover about $1.4 billion in costs to buy 30 percent of the 2,000 megawatt Wind Catcher farm being built in Oklahoma’s Panhandle.
Along with co-owning the generating facility with its American Electric Power sister company, Southwestern Electric Power, the two also propose building and operating a 360-mile line that would carry electricity from the farm into the grids they operate that distribute power to their customers.
Utility regulators in Arkansas and Louisiana have approved Southwestern’s plans for the project, while Texas regulators are considering it.
A commission administrative law judge who considered PSO’s proposal has recommended the commission deny the utility’s request.
The judge recommended denial because the utility did not seek competitive construction bids for the farm and because that work had started before PSO filed its request.
While PSO estimates its 545,000 customers would see a rate increase of about $78 million in 2021 if the cost recovery were granted, it also maintains that lower energy costs and connected federal wind production tax credits would offset that increase.
The company also has stated it believes its ratepayers would financially benefit from the project during its 25-year life because of affordability forecasts for wind energy, compared to other sources of power.
Plus, the utility also has filed two joint stipulation and settlement agreements before the commission that it states include additional safeguards it believes would protect its customers.
One agreement proposes capping costs to ratepayers for the project at 103 percent, guarantees the project would qualify for 100 percent of federal renewable energy production tax credits available when the farm’s construction started in 2016, guarantees average net power generation and proposes requiring PSO to review the project’s benefits to ratepayers after 10 years.
The other agreement proposes supplementing Wind Catcher power with energy generated by a combined-cycle natural gas power plant owned by Oneta Power LLC.
Numerous parties, including Oneta, support PSO’s settlement proposals.
But the Oklahoma Attorney General and the commission’s Public Utility Division continue to oppose them. So does the Windfall Coalition, a political organization seeking to have power produced by wind taxed the same way as other energy resources are in Oklahoma.
On Monday, the commission also approved intervention requests filed on the application by the city of Bixby and some Bixby-area residents who are concerned about the project, too, though commissioners were informed those parties had reached an agreement with the utility to adjust the proposed power line route to help them.
They also heard testimony on Monday from numerous landowners who expressed concerns about potential impacts proposed lines might have on their property values or on the health of their families and livestock.
Many said they were having difficulties getting their questions answered by the utility or the land rights company it is using to acquire right of way.
“Eminent domain is a pretty ugly thing,” said Tom Hicks, who told commissioners he owns land in Creek County that could be impacted by the line’s construction and operation.
“Just remember the little guy, here.”
Near the end of Monday afternoon’s hearing, Commission Chairman Dana Murphy told the audience she appreciated the effort many members made to travel to Oklahoma City to address the commission about the Wind Catcher proposal.
“One thing … that kind of strikes me is the disparity that has been asserted by different landowners on how they have been treated,” Murphy said. “I hope there can be some efforts by the company (PSO) to address those concerns.”
The commission will reopen its hearing into the proposal at 9 a.m. Tuesday, officials said.
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