HINTON, Oklahoma – After weeks of effort to get a Florida-based energy company to stop building wind turbines that could pose a threat to the safety of pilots conducting low-level flight training in western Oklahoma, residents in the area say construction has finally stopped.
The halt in activity comes three days after Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter announced that he had reached an agreement, on behalf of the Oklahoma Strategic Military Planning Commission (OSMPC), with NextEra Energy to stop “construction of a windfarm along a route of airspace the United States Air Force uses for training” while the Department of Defense (DoD) completes a mitigation plan.
“At issue,” the AG’s news release stated, “is a windfarm currently being constructed west of Hinton by NextEra that the OSMPC claims violates an amendment to the Wind Energy Development Act that took effect earlier this year.”
Officials with NextEra say they are not violating the Act, and are fully complying with the agreement reached this week with AG Hunter.
The law went into effect in May and prohibits the construction of wind turbines without first having a “no hazard” determination from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) or a mitigation plan from the DoD, which the company must file with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC). Sponsors of the legislation say the intent was, not to prevent the wind industry from continuing to thrive in Oklahoma, but to protect what many see as the state’s most valuable military asset – its open airspace.
NextEra Energy, which has developed numerous windfarms in Oklahoma, filed plans for its Minco IV and V windfarms near Hinton in March, before the amended statute was on the books. But construction of the turbines didn’t begin until this summer, well after it was on the books; moreover, the FAA had not completed its study of the turbines at the time when construction commenced.
Local residents began complaining to state officials that NextEra was violating the law, documenting that NextEra was erecting Minco IV/V turbines and encroaching on a low-level flight route used by Sheppard Air Force Base to train U.S. and NATO pilots. News 9 first published a story on the alleged violation on August 30. One day later, the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission (OAC) and the OSMPC jointly sent a letter to NextEra requesting that the company cease and desist construction of all Minco IV/V turbines until it had obtained the required approvals from either the FAA or DoD.
NextEra did not cease and desist.
Complicating the issue was an opinion issued September 5 by the Managing General Deputy Counsel for the OCC’s Public Utility Division (PUD) concluding that the new state law post-dated commencement of NextEra’s Minco IV/V windfarms. As a result, PUD did not intend to pursue enforcement actions against NextEra.
Officials with both the OAC and OSMPC felt that PUD counsel misunderstood the requirements of the new law and thus formally requested, on September 11 and September 18, respectively, that the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office file an action “to enjoin NextEra from constructing any additional turbines in the Minco IV/V windfarm until it has complied with state law.”
While the AG’s office considered the request, NextEra continued to build.
Oklahoma Congressman Steve Russell, R-5th District, who has been working at the federal level to prevent interference with military training routes (MTRs), said NextEra’s actions were self-serving and would only weaken our national defense. “I just really have a problem with that, and I think it’s very, very sad for our country.”
Late last week, News 9 got wind of a possible agreement between AG Hunter and NextEra to stop construction while DoD officials worked with the energy company on a mitigation plan. That agreement came on Tuesday, October 2.
The news release stated: “Other than the steps immediately necessary to safeguard turbines currently under construction, NextEra will pause its turbine construction efforts pending a new determination of no hazard from the Federal Aviation Administration in the project areas west of the town of Hinton.” In addition, AG Hunter stated that, as part of the agreement, he would not take any legal action against NextEra while construction was stopped.
There was no further clarification, however, on what those safeguarding ‘steps’ would entail. Two days later, locals were still reporting frenzied activity in the area by NextEra’s contractor: “[T]hey are digging and pouring foundations like there is no tomorrow, putting blades together, nose cones on the blades,” wrote one person who lives and works near Hinton.
Made aware of the alleged activity Thursday afternoon, a spokesperson for the Attorney General said, “We continue to await a decision from the Department of Defense and work with our client to determine what actions will occur going forward.”
It appears, at least for now, no action will be necessary, as all construction activity has reportedly come to a halt.
Reached today through email, a spokesperson for NextEra Energy, Steven Stengel released the following statement:
“While we believe we are in compliance with state law, we have voluntarily agreed with the Oklahoma Strategic Military Planning Commission and the Oklahoma Attorney General to stop construction on wind turbines at a portion of our wind project west of Hinton through October 15 to give us time to work with the Federal Government to resolve its concerns with the locations of certain wind turbines. We are in full compliance with this agreement. Work necessary to safeguard turbines immediately under construction allowed under the agreement is complete. While we have halted wind turbine construction activities at the designated locations, construction activity associated with other aspects of our projects is continuing pursuant to our agreement.”
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