‘It feels good to breathe again’: Local opponents respond to news of Wind Catcher project cancellation after failed Texas vote
Wind Catcher has no more power in its sails.
On Friday, American Electric Power and its subsidiary Public Service Company of Oklahoma announced that they have cancelled the Wind Catcher wind power project after a failed vote in Texas delivered a fatal blow.
The Texas Public Utility Commission on Thursday unanimously rejected the project as proposed, saying it didn’t offer enough benefits for Texas ratepayers as structured.
“We are disappointed with the decision in Texas that resulted in the cancellation of the project,” PSO official Steven Pate said in a news release.
The $4.5 billion project centered on construction of a 300,000-acre wind farm – the largest in the United States – in Cimarron and Texas counties by international energy giant Invenergy. AEP and its subsidiaries would acquire the 2,000-megawatt wind farm and a 360-mile dedicated generation tie line to the Tulsa area, where it was to connect to the electrical grid for delivery to PSO customers in Oklahoma and Southwest Electric Power Co. customers in Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas.
Tulsa World attempts to reach Invenergy for comment on the future of the wind farm Friday afternoon were unsuccessful.
Preapproval for cost recovery from all four states involved in the project in a timely manner to qualify the project for energy tax credits was necessary for it to move forward, according to Nicholas K. Akins, AEP chairman, president and chief executive officer.
Arkansas was the first to approve it, and Louisiana followed. After repeated hearings, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission had yet to rule, but the project clearly faced hurdles.
“We are disappointed that we will not be able to move forward with Wind Catcher, which was a great opportunity to provide more clean energy, lower electricity costs and a more diverse energy resource mix for our customers in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas,” Akins said in the press release.
The announcement came just a few hours after dozens of local landowners attended a hearing in Creek County District Court, where the landowners were mounting a challenge against PSO in refusing the company access to survey their properties for the transmission line.
“So it’s over? It’s done? That is so wonderful. That’s excellent,” resident Marta Koenig said upon hearing the news. She learned that the line might cross her property and had attended the court hearing to learn what she could, even though she had learned that the line might not cross her property after all.
“People have organized in social media and all over. There was a man in the parking lot that at his own expense had made ‘No Wind Catcher’ signs, and he was just passing them out. I brought a couple home,” she said. “It was affecting so many people that I know.”
At the morning hearing the cases of unrepresented landowners were continued and would have been rolled in for hearing with those of several families who had hired attorneys. That hearing had been set for Monday afternoon.
Alan Weeks, one of the represented landowners, said he learned from his attorney Friday afternoon that the court case was withdrawn.
Weeks and his family have a 400-acre Creek County property that they have acquired and improved upon for 18 years. He said they were crushed to learn that the line might cut diagonally across their property.
“We’ve been waiting to exhale for a long time,” Weeks said. “It feels good to breathe again knowing that a place so special to us will remain undisturbed. It’s an awesome answer to many prayers.”
Greg Ganzkow of Bixby saw the result as one of awareness and community efforts.
As a small-business owner and director of land sales for Coldwell Banker, he had many existing and potential clients who were concerned and said he saw land deals fall through as a result of uncertainty about the line. His was one of several families who hired attorneys, started a No Wind Catcher Facebook page that had 1,200 members, and encouraged the Bixby City Council to oppose the giant generation tie line, which would have been the largest power line west of the Mississippi.
“I think Bixby really made a difference. It was one of the first big dominoes that went,” he said. “Bixby showed other communities, other people, that we could fight this. It surged the movement forward.”
He praised neighbors to the south. “Texas has tremendous backbone and immediately sniffed this out,” Ganzkow said. “In Louisiana and Arkansas they weren’t going to have the wind turbines and the big transmission line. They didn’t have much to lose, and it didn’t touch as many customers. In Oklahoma the whole thing was just so polluted with the campaign about how great it would be for everyone.
“This is just a really big win for the landowners and the people,” he said. “It was a David versus Goliath thing, and we really have the media to thank for listening to the David part of that David and Goliath battle, too.”
Americans for Prosperity-Oklahoma, the state’s largest free-market advocacy group, was an early opponent of the project and welcomed the news Friday.
“The project was a boondoggle from the beginning,” it said in a statement. “Thousands of activists and landowners from across Oklahoma spoke out against this project. Whether because of the cost, the impact to their property or the future impact to ratepayers, they were vocal in opposition to the project and their efforts were invaluable to help kill the project.”
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter also expressed concerns about the project from its first airing.
“I commend the Texas Public Utility Commission for its sound and sensible ruling,” he said in his own statement. “We have said from the beginning PSO failed on several fronts to qualify for pre-approval and cost recovery of this project, including its failure to comply with the (Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s) rules for competitive bidding, the inability to show a need for the generation capacity and unrealistic assumptions of ratepayer savings.”
Hunter said his office was not critical of the companies or wind power but the plan.
“PSO has proven itself as one of our state’s most valuable corporate citizens. We look forward to them continuing to provide quality service to thousands of Oklahomans for many years to come. We also look forward to working with them on future rate cases to keep customers’ rates reasonable, and PSO’s parent company, American Electric Power, attractive to investors,” he said.
Akins, of AEP, emphasized that the plan had always relied upon pre-approval and said the company will continue to grow in spite of this outcome.
“To realize the full benefits of Wind Catcher for customers, timely approvals were required from all jurisdictions so we could complete the project by the end of 2020 and be eligible for 100 percent of the federal production tax credit,” he said. “The strategic investments we are making in our regulated businesses will continue to support our 5 percent to 7 percent earnings growth rate. We are investing in a cleaner, smarter energy system for our customers and will continue to pursue opportunities to provide the new energy resources and technology solutions that bring value to our customers.”
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