Economy, Energy, Natural Resources: Policy to People
Logan Layden is a native of McAlester, Oklahoma. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2009 and spent three years as a state capitol reporter and local host of All Things Considered for NPR member station KGOU in Norman.
The Oklahoma Water Resources Board uses the state’s good credit to secure loans for communities and rural water districts that need help paying for expensive upgrades to their water systems.
And at its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, the board approved a $50.3 million loan to the Norman in what Joe Freeman, chief of OWRB’s financial assistance division, calls the “largest single loan request” it’s ever acted on.
The money will be used to expand capacity at Norman’s wastewater reclamation facility from 12 million gallons per day to 16 million.
Norman’s number of water and sewer connections have increased by more than 18 percent over the past decade, putting too much pressure on the current wastewater plant, leading to an unpleasant odor and consent order from the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality. Continue Reading →
As small scale solar and wind power generation technology takes off, Oklahoma utility companies “want to get ahead” of a growing tend: Individual customers generating excess power and returning it to the grid. Senate Bill 1456 would allow utilities to charge a monthly fee to small generators. OG&E and PSO say there are infrastructure costs that need to be recovered, while opponents say it’s a money grab.
“This neither unfairly advantages or disadvantages a class of customers,” said PSO spokesman Stan Whiteford. “It levels the playing field where one customer class was subsidizing another.” Solar advocates and others said the bill protects utility profits by opening up another revenue stream for them. The number of OG&E and PSO customers who have distributed generation in Oklahoma is small, but the declining costs of solar panels and a federal tax credit could make the systems more attractive.
A federal production tax credit on renewable energy production keeps expiring and getting renewed by Congress, creating a lot of uncertainty in the wind energy industry. Still, by the end of 2013, there were two new wind projects under construction in Oklahoma, and the national trend was toward wind.
As The Oklahoman‘s Paul Monies reports, despite the tax credit being renewed at the beginning of 2013, it took a few months for the industry get going on new projects:
The pipeline of wind projects began to fill back up in the second half of 2013, and the year ended with more than 12,000 megawatts under construction across the country, the [American Wind Energy Association] said.
By the end of 2013, two wind projects were under construction in Oklahoma. Enel Green Power NA owns the 150-megawatt Origin wind farm planned for Murray and Carter counties in southern Oklahoma. TradeWind Energy Inc. started work on the 136-megawatt Mustang Run development in Osage County.
Many residents — and some members of the city council — didn’t know Norman’s drinking water is being used for hydraulic fracturing until The Journal Record broke the story in March about Texas-based driller Finley Resources tapping a fire hydrant near Franklin Road.
They had a chance to voice their concerns at a city council meeting April 8, and as The Journal Record‘s Sarah Terry-Cobo reports, Norman Mayor Cindy Rosenthal says she wants quick action to address the issue.
“We don’t really have guidelines in our ordinance that details how to deal with these bulk water meters,” Rosenthal said, “whether it is a developer using water for dust control on new construction sites (or) Girl Scout groups using them for car wash fundraisers.”
She said the city didn’t anticipate or develop policies to deal with high-volumn water sales for industrial operations such as drilling.
She said she asked the council’s finance and oversight committees to examine the bulk water rate structure, as well as the permitting process. The city might require future bulk water permits for drilling operations to be reviewed by the utility director and city manager, she said.
Rick Geisler, manager of Wah-Sha-She Park in Osage County, stands on the shore of Hula Lake.
When budget cuts led the Oklahoma tourism department to find new homes for seven state parks in 2011, two of them went to Native American tribes. Both are open and doing well, but each has faced its own difficulties in the transition.
Water levels at Lake Texoma are way down, and for many reasons: Long-term drought near the Red River’s headwaters, increasing demand from rural and municipal water systems, hydroelectric power generation, even the buildup of silt on the lake bed.
At a public meeting in the small lake community of Kingston, Okla., March 15, StateImpact’s heard frustrated residents asking about exactly how much water was flowing into the lake, whether the water downstream from the lake could be used as a municipal water source instead, and exactly how much water is being lost to drought and each type of use.
Water consultant and geologist Bob Jackman’s response to the audience was, basically: There ought to be a study.
Tom Buchanan (far left) and the rest of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board listening to a presenter at a meeting in October.
Tom Buchanan is the vice-chairman of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board. He’s also president of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau.
And a water advocacy group say that’s a conflict of interest now that the Farm Bureau is suing the OWRB over the maximum annual yield of the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer.
On Friday, Oklahomans for Responsible Water Policy released a statement calling for Buchanan’s resignation.
“Under Mr. Buchanan’s leadership, the Oklahoma Farm Bureau has filed suit against the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, other state and federal agencies, several Oklahoma towns, and hundreds of individuals,” the group wrote. “We have to ask how he can serve on a board that he has in fact sued.”
Representative Charles McCall’s bill to allow counties to impose a tax on sand and limestone mining operations that sell their product elsewhere didn’t make it through the full House by the March 14 deadline.
But McCall, R-Atoka, says he will try again next year.
“Unfortunately the measure will go no further this session … however it can and will be introduced next year,” McCall tells StateImpact. “The additional time will afford further education to the membership on this matter.”
As StateImpact reported in February, for years, south-central Oklahoma lawmakers have been pushing for a new tax — or at least a county option for a new tax — on companies that mine for stone and sand, particularly in the sensitive Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer. Continue Reading →
StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives. Learn More »