Oklahoma legislative leaders look to impose more restrictions on blossoming wind industry

Energy Associated Press

With wind energy production in full swing in Oklahoma, legislative leaders are looking to impose some new restrictions on the booming industry.

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The Senate Energy Committee approved a bill Thursday by Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, to require planning for when wind farms are decommissioned and set minimum distances from places like schools or airports. The bill also requires wind developers to provide certain public notice before the giant turbines can be erected.

Bingman said details are still being worked out, but that Oklahoma's Secretary of Energy and Environment Michael Teague is negotiating on language with lobbyists for wind developers and a coalition of landowners.

"It seems like there's some consensus among the industry," Bingman said. "There are a few modifications some people would like to make, but overall I think they're on board with these setbacks and rules."

Oklahoma rolled out the welcome mat for the wind industry a decade ago with lucrative tax incentives and a lax regulatory environment, but as the number of wind farms has skyrocketed, so too has the concern among landowners, especially in more densely populated areas in eastern Oklahoma.

Some of those concerns were aired during a House committee meeting this week that touched on plans for the construction of a major electricity transmission line that would connect wind farms in the Oklahoma Panhandle to consumers in the South and on the East Coast.

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Rep. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw, said many of his constituents fear the Plains & Eastern Clean Line project could use federal eminent domain law to acquire property from landowners.

Bingman's bill, and a similar measure in the House, would prohibit the construction of towers within one-and-a-half miles of an airport, school or hospital. It also would require wind companies to have bonds in place to cover the potential costs of taking down the structures and to provide notice to nearby landowners and hold public meetings before construction could begin.

The Legislature also is considering separate bills to scale back some of the tax credits the state offers to wind producers.

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Senate Bill 808: http://bit.ly/1LLt2Zb