May 8, 2019

Governor approves bill that clarifies approval process for future wind development in Oklahoma

By Jack Money | The Oklahoman | May 8, 2019 |

Oklahomans are poised to harness the wind’s power to support the military.

Gov. Kevin Stitt on Tuesday signed House Bill 2118, which clarifies approval processes developers for wind farms in Oklahoma must follow to ensure needed federal approvals to protect low-level military training areas are obtained before construction on future wind projects can begin.

The needed federal approvals must be provided by the Federal Aviation Administration and the Military Aviation and Installation Assurance Siting Clearinghouse.

The measure, authored by State Reps. Charles Ortega, Mark McBride, Nicole Miller, Lewis Moore, Chad Caldwell, Robert Manger, Dean Davis, Ken Luttrell and state Sens. Gary Stanislawski and Michael Bergstrom, prescribes a straight-forward process, state officials said.

“What this does is ensure everyone is communicating,” said Grayson Ardies, deputy director of the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission, who worked on the bill’s language with legislators. “We are not trying to be overly burdensome here.

“We are just trying to get everybody to do the right thing to ensure that both industries can compatibly work together.”

House Bill 2118 updates existing law by adding language that prohibits a wind developer from building turbine towers or other structures that also need federal approvals until those have been issued and filed with appropriate authorities at both the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission and the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.

It also authorizes the Corporation Commission to assess an administrative penalty of up to $1,500 a day, per violation, against any developers who violate that prohibition and authorizes the corporation commission to take developers to court to stop ongoing construction work when a conflict exists.

It requires wind developers to make duplicate filings of information they provide to the FAA when seeking no flight hazard determinations from that agency to the aeronautics commission and to make additional filings with both it and the Corporation Commission if they submit updated plans to the FAA that changes turbine locations or heights.

The law previously required the aeronautics commission to notify the Oklahoma Strategic Military Planning Commission of proposed wind project plans so that it can notify local base commanders of those plans in turn, and the updated language shortened that reporting period from 30 to just 10 days.

The strategic military planning commission also is required by updated language to provide copies of notification letters it sends to the clearinghouse about pending wind farm plans to the aeronautics commission and wind energy developer, in addition to the Corporation Commission.

Officials said the updated language seeks to address a myriad of headaches wind farm project developers and regulators have encountered the past several years as continued industry growth impacted low-level military training areas in Oklahoma that bases here and in surrounding states historically had used.

Victor Bird, director of Oklahoma’s aeronautics commission, said Tuesday the intent of the legislation was to clear any confusion about how wind developers and regulators should go about getting permits for projects.

Bird said updates to the law a year ago required developers to get approvals from the FAA or clearinghouse, but didn’t make it mandatory to get both (however, the FAA routinely cleared wind project plans with the clearinghouse anyway).

These latest changes, he noted, clarify responsibilities of the state corporation, aeronautics and strategic military planning commissions in the approval process, as well.

“Military training air space is critical to the missions at Vance, Altus and Tinker Air Force bases and for our Air National Guard units,” Bird said. “We are ecstatic it was signed by the governor.”

Mark Yates, a vice president with the Advanced Power Alliance, said wind developers are pleased, too.

“We achieved a very good, balanced Oklahoma solution,” Yates said. “It protects the military basis and low-level training routes, but it also allows for further wind development.”

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