Is Wind Catcher project dying?

Did someone take the wind out of the sails of PSO?

In a move that some think will kill the $4.5 billion Wind Catcher wind farm in the Oklahoma Panhandle, the Texas Public Utility Commission voted Thursday to unanimously reject the project.

The commissioners indicated it doesn’t offer enough benefits for ratepayers as the way Public Service Company and American Electric Power Company have structured what would be the largest wind farm in the U.S.

“I don’t believe I could approve the PFD because I don’t believe it provides sufficient safeguards for the ratepayers,” said DeAnn Walker, chairwoman. “The costs are known. The benefits are based on a lot of assumptions that are questionable.”

The project needed approval from both Texas and Oklahoma in order to move forward. It had already received approval from utility commissions in Arkansas and Louisiana where some of the electricity would have been sent.

AEP subsidiary SWEPCO would own a 70% share of Wind Catcher, a 2-GW wind farm being built on 300,000 acres in the Oklahoma Panhandle. A 360-mile, 765-kV transmission line from the facility to Tulsa would ship the energy to SWEPCO’s grid and sister company Public Service Company of Oklahoma, which would own the other 30% of the project.

“They’re asking us for $4.5 billion in taxing authority against the people of Texarkana and Longview, said Commissioner Arthur D’Andrea during Thursday’s hearing. “It’s one thing when the story is ‘We need this generation to go forward’. But when the question is ‘We don’t need it, and we think it will lower the rates, and we think it’s a good deal and it’s a financial play’.”

He said the companies had a burden to show the taxpayers they have something to gain from the project.

“We’re extremely disappointed in today’s Public Utility Commission of Texas decision rejecting our Wind Catcher proposal,” said Melissa McHenry, a spokeswoman for American Electric.

“Barring any big concessions from AEP, it looks to me like it’s dead. Looks like curtains to me,” said one analyst.

It’s a project that met opposition also in northeast Oklahoma where Osage County leaders banned proposed massive electrical power line towers. Residents of Tulsa county opposed PSO’s plans to run the lines through some of their property.

Those residents also had the support of Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter who not only opposed preapproval requested of the Corporation Commission but the lines in Tulsa county too.

In February, a commission administrative law judge agreed with Hunter’s arguments and ruled the company failed to prove there was an economic need for the project. The judge also felt customers would shoulder too much of the economic risk.

Many observers believe it will spell the end of the project.