A developer building two wind farms in west-central Oklahoma has agreed to halt its work to stop potential litigation, for now.
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter announced Tuesday that his office, representing the Oklahoma Strategic Military Planning Commission, negotiated the agreement with Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources.
The agreement pauses work NextEra subsidiaries were doing to develop the Minco IV and Minco V wind farms, located near the town of Hinton.
Contractors had been working to build turbine towers that haven’t yet received required flight hazard clearances from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.
Federal regulations don’t prohibit work from proceeding as those clearances on a site-by-site basis are sought, provided structures at each pending location reach no higher than 200 feet above ground.
If a determination is granted, the developer can complete the construction. If a determination is rejected, the developer is required to remove what has been built.
However, a change made to Oklahoma’s Wind Energy Development Act by the Legislature earlier this year added language that prohibits a developer from starting to build turbines until clearances for each structure is secured.
Critics of NextEra’s plans have asserted they believe many of the turbines planned as part of the two projects could potentially interfere with airspace used by military bases for training operations.
They’ve argued the developer has been violating the state’s law, and that the company needed to shut down construction work on the projects or be subject to fines.
In a release issued on Tuesday, Hunter stated the negotiated agreement provides an opportunity for NextEra to work with the strategic military planning commission and defense department to get the clearance requests answered.
“We appreciate Attorney General Hunter’s good faith negotiations … helping to protect one of the military’s most valuable assets,” Michael Cooper, the strategic military planning commission’s chairman, stated in the release.
“The airspace used for training is critical to our national defense and to the mission of our state and nation’s military installations. We thank NextEra for recognizing this,” Cooper added.
John DiDonato, NextEra’s vice president of development, said his firm agreed to the work stoppage to show its commitment to work with all stakeholders as it develops its projects in Oklahoma and in other states.
“We are confident this process will strengthen our line of communication, leading to a better future for the partnership between the state and NextEra,” DiDonato said.
While Hunter’s negotiated agreement will keep the strategic military planning commission out of court, officials said Tuesday it is unclear whether the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission also will halt its plans to sue NextEra.
Members of that organization’s board voted in September to sue the developer, using outside attorneys if necessary, to stop the project’s construction until necessary clearances were obtained.
Victor Bird, director of the commission, said late Tuesday he was pleased by the announcement.
“It is promising that NextEra is going to cease construction” until the issue is resolved, Bird said. “Our interest always has been focused on one issue: aviation safety, military and civilian.”
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