Oklahoma wind moratorium bill dies

The lower house in Oklahoma’s legislature will not take up a Senate bill that would have imposed a three-year moratorium on wind farms in the eastern third of the state, effectively killing it this session, Energy Secretary Michael Teague tells Recharge.

“That bill died in the House,” he says, referring to Senate Bill 1440, which passed there by a vote of 32-8 in early March. Wind supporters had warned that the legislation would have had a chilling effect on sector investment and expansion.

With some of the nation’s best wind resource and favorable state policies, Oklahoma has been one of the most active wind states in recent years. It now has 26 wind farms totaling 3.134GW nameplate generation capacity representing more than $6bn investment.

Proponents of the bill had argued that the industry has grown rapidly and needs regulation to protect property rights of individuals whose lifestyles are affected by neighbors hosting wind turbines.

Critics note that property rights have not been much of an issue in western Oklahoma which has relatively few inhabitants. But that is changing as the industry moves more into the eastern half of the state.

“The problem is you get closer to populated areas. We are having a lot of concerns with siting,” Teague says, referring to local officials. Governor Mary Fallin’s administration supports the industry as part of its “all-of-the-above” energy strategy.

Last Thursday, the Osage County Board of Adjustment in northern Oklahoma voted to deny an application from Kansas-based developer TradeWind Energy for a permit to build a wind farm near Pawhuska.

Teague notes that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which regulates oil and natural gas, has no jurisdiction over surface rights.  “Nobody at the state level in Oklahoma regulates surface property rights,” he says.

Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman requested the Corporation Commission hold hearings to listen from all stakeholders – property rights groups, the wind industry, electric utilities, businesses that want to see renewable energy included in their portfolios and others.

“The Corporation Commission does this very well for utility rates. We take advantage of the structure they have. Give everybody a chance to talk about it and produce a report at the end of the hearings. Then see where we go from there,” he says.