OKLAHOMA CITY – The state of investment in Oklahoma wind power has renewable energy advocates “optimistic” about the upcoming legislative session, although two issues could affect wind power’s progress in the Sooner State.
Advanced Power Alliance Vice President Mark Yates said the renewable energy advocacy organization considers renewable power in Oklahoma to be in a good place and will be focusing on two main issues during the session – wind farm property tax valuation and a proposed mile-and-a-half setback from private use airports.
Property tax valuations have been at the center of a series of lawsuits between wind farm owners and county assessors in Comanche, Noble and Dewey counties, among others.
Out-of-state contractors hired by counties to perform appraisals use different methods to determine equipment depreciation, cost and whether assets can be considered intangible, causing inconsistency.
Protested tax payments are kept in escrow accounts during the lawsuits, keeping public schools and other institutions in limbo about the funding until a decision is reached. State Rep. John Pfeiffer is organizing meetings on the issue with counties and industry.
Yates said the challenge will be in determining a common methodology for the assessments and in implementation.
“It’ll be a collaborative effort. I don’t see this as a negative,” Yates said. “We’ve said all along we want to find a solution to this. It’s never a good situation when companies are in protest, we have lawsuits pending with the county. It creates uncertainty for everyone. … It’ll be something there will be a lot of conversation on and hopefully we can come to a solution.”
The APA is also following House Bill 3296, proposed by state Rep. Carl Newton, and Senate Bill 1302, proposed by state Sen. Roland Pederson. Although Newton said they did not work together on the bills, both propose, among other things, a requirement that wind farm structures have a 1.5-mile setback from private-use airports.
Yates said the setback would set a “dangerous” and “problematic” precedent.
In the past, companies have faced problems with claims of “shamports” – airports that do not actually exist and only function to impose regulation and thwart the development of wind farms. Currently, wind power developers approach landowners with private airports to reach agreements that their structures will not encroach. There has not been a problem with it, Yates said.
Then, there is the problem of protecting property of both landowners with private airports and landowners who want to host the wind turbines and the payments that come with them.
“It’s really a solution in search of a problem,” Yates said.
“The question really comes down to: Is the state willing to protect one (person’s) property at the expense of all the landowners around them? That’s where this is really an interesting issue to work on. It’s working right now without burdensome regulation.”
Both lawmakers said they proposed the legislation based on conversations with concerned constituents and included protections to ensure against the threat of “shamports” and support wind energy. They said they are willing to discuss things with the industry to “be fair to all the parties involved,” Newton said.
“If the companies were that agreeable, we wouldn’t need (the legislation). … This is more of a preventative thing. I love the wind industry. They have been very good in our area,” Pederson said.
Newton said he worked with a wind company doing business in his district that seemed agreeable to the setback.
Despite concern over the two issues going into session, Yates said things are going well for the industry.
State incentives for new wind projects ended, but companies continue to invest “large amounts of capital” in Oklahoma, showing their confidence in the stability of the wind market in the state. Many regulatory issues previously facing the industry have been resolved in recent years.
“I think some of the petty political fights we’ve seen over the last several years of pitting the energy resources against each other have gotten to a point where they’re quiet. … It’s exciting,” Yates said.
“We’re very optimistic about this session, I think it’s going to be a good one.”
Source: Journal Record