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Legislation putting a chill into wind energy prospects in Oklahoma, critics say

Legislation putting a chill into wind energy prospects in Oklahoma, critics say

A proposed three-year moratorium is needed to study the industry, lawmaker says.

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OKLAHOMA CITY — A proposed moratorium on wind farms east of Interstate 35 is having a chilling effect on a booming new industry, critics say.

But supporters of legislation calling for the three-year stoppage said the industry is relatively unregulated and more study is needed.

Senate Bill 1440 by Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman passed last week by a vote of 32-8 and heads to the House for consideration.

Bingman said the measure is a "work in progress" and will be modified. Most of the state's wind farms are in western Oklahoma, which has fewer people than other areas of the state where wind farms have been proposed, Bingman said.

"We have been writing oil and gas legislation and regulations for over 100 years and continue to do so," said Senate Floor Leader Mike Schulz, R-Altus, who voted against the bill. "I don't anticipate anything different in the wind industry."

But the passage of legislation in the Senate has already had a chilling effect on the industry, said Arnella Karges, State Chamber vice president of government affairs.

"Well, this bill just being filed in Oklahoma is already affecting people looking to do wind development," she said. "It affects their decision as to make new investment. It doesn't matter if it is east of I-35 or not."

Her organization will begin making its case to House leaders that the bill is bad for the state.

"This is one example of the Oklahoma State Legislature changing the game on businesses," she said.

Frank Costanza is executive vice president of the Kansas-based Tradewind Energy, which has two operating wind farms in Oklahoma and other projects in development.

"We would be very, very adversely impacted financially if Senate Bill 1440 were to pass," Costanza said, adding that hundreds of land owners benefit from the projects.

The industry has taken off in Oklahoma because the state has enacted policies that are more conducive and supportive of the wind industry than neighboring states, Costnaza said.

Those policies include a five-year property tax exemption and a production tax credit, he said.

EDP Renewables, based in Houston, has invested up to $700 million in its Blue Canyon Wind Farms in Carnegie, said Afton Kolbe, a development project manager. Projects in Carter and Murray counties are ready for construction next year, while two more projects in Grady and Craig counties are in the early stages, Kolbe said.

"It has a negative impact," she said of the proposed moratorium.

"Oklahoma has been a very friendly state. We hope to keep it that way."

The proposed wind farm in Craig County would have about 50 wind turbines, she said. Development began in 2009.

Claremore businessman Frank Robson is leading the charge for the moratorium and regulations. He has a neighbor who wants to put in a wind farm.

He said the issue is about large companies running over the property rights of individuals. One property owner might allow a wind farm, which could impact the lifestyle of the neighboring property owner, he said.

Statements that the proposed moratorium is having a chilling effect on the industry are a "scare tactic," Robson said.

He is concerned wind farms will hurt the habitat, impact health and not be attractive to those who chose to live in the country.

Robson is against subsidies for the industry, especially in light of the financial plight of schools.

Sen. Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, voted against the moratorium.

He said it went against his view of protecting private property rights.

He said he would be more interested in a bill to eliminate subsidies to the industry.

Jim Ratcliff lives in Vinita and was approached by a wind farm company. He declined, he said.

"We need some restrictions or some laws not only for the person who owns the land but for the next-door neighbor," he said.

Barbara Hoberock 405-528-2465

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