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March 27, 2014

Wind $$$: More than $1 billion from industry

OKLAHOMA CITY — The wind industry has contributed more than $1 billion in Oklahoma in just under a decade, according to a study unveiled by wind energy proponents Wednesday. Much of that benefits rural Oklahomans, the study found.

The Wind Coalition, a nonprofit group that encourages developing wind resources in the south and central United States, commissioned the study and unveiled it under the looming threat of a House vote to ban wind farm development east of Interstate 35 for three years.

The study found the state’s 26 operational wind farms — developed between 2003 and 2012 — added more than 1,600 full-time jobs to Oklahoma’s economy. They pay more than $22 million per year in royalties to landowners.

As property tax abatements expire, an estimated $43 million in taxes will be funneled annually to cities and school districts due to improvements made by wind developments, the study found.

The study did not consider wind farms constructed since 2012.

Garfield County has one wind farm already operational and another planned. Chisholm View Wind Farm has 140 turbines in Garfield and Grant counties. Chisholm View Phase II will be 32 turbines near Breckinridge.

“It’s amazing what it’s done for rural Oklahoma,” said state Rep. Don Armes, R-Lawton. “The cows do better in the shadow of these wind towers.”

The study by Economic Impact Group LLC, an independent consulting firm, demonstrates the industry has had a statewide economic impact and wind energy is no longer “alternative energy,” said Curt Roggow, director of The Wind Coalition Oklahoma. About 15 percent of the electricity generated in Oklahoma comes from wind power.

“Oklahoma possesses a considerable wind resource, the benefits of which accrue beyond lower energy prices to consumers,” Roggow said.

Armes, who touted the benefits of wind power and its economic impact, said Wednesday he does not expect a Senate bill that would freeze wind farm development east of I-35 for three years to pass the House. Supporters of Senate Bill 1440, proposed by Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, have expressed concern that the industry is relatively unregulated.

“We’re opposed to any kind of moratorium on wind development,” said Roggow, a former state representative from Enid.

In a statement, Bingman said his bill is a work in progress and discussions continue.

“We appreciate the investment the wind industry has made in Oklahoma and the economic impact,” he said.

The Wind Coalition study did not examine impacts on property values or the noise and shadows created by the wind farms. Opponents of wind development allege that it devalues property and causes nuisances.

Among those leading the push for regulation are the Oklahoma Property Rights Association and Claremore businessman Frank Robson. In a statement, the group said it hasn’t had time to review the study but continues “to support sensible laws to protect property owners from the potentially negative long-term effects of industrial wind energy.

“We aren’t against the development of wind energy,” the group said. “But as it stands today, wind companies can do what they want, when they want and how they want with no regard for the impact to the people of Oklahoma.”

The group also said the wind industry is thriving because of “significant state subsidies,” and wind developments benefit from a five-year exemption on property taxes.

Flanked by wind developers and state officials, Michael Teague, the state Secretary of Energy and Environment, said that Oklahoma is No. 6 in the nation in wind-energy capacity. Wind farms produce about 15 percent of the state’s energy — enough to power about 770,000 homes, according to the study.

“We’re going to continue to see more wind projects,” Teague said, adding that technology makes it possible to harness wind power in eastern Oklahoma, even though the wind isn’t as strong there as it is in the western part of the state.

Roggow said information developed by the study will help policymakers and elected officials understand the importance wind energy has in the state and forecast its potential impact.

“As this industry grows, it is important to understand the economic impact wind energy has on Oklahoma now and the potential it has to meet our future energy and economic needs,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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