Environment, Education, Energy: Policy to People

As Wind Energy Moves Into Eastern Oklahoma, Resistance Turns Political

Joe Bush, owner of a ranch near Shidler, Okla., has signed agreements to lease land for two wind farms. Bush worries a 2014 bill that would impose a moratorium on some wind-energy projects would prevent the wind farms from being built.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Joe Bush, owner of a ranch near Shidler, Okla., has signed agreements to lease land for two wind farms. Bush worries a 2014 bill that would impose a moratorium on some wind-energy projects would prevent the wind farms from being built.

Oklahoma is one of the country’s top wind energy producers, and companies want to build more turbines across the state.

For many landowners, wind farms can be a financial windfall. But as wind energy moves into regions unaccustomed to turbines, opponents have taken the fight to the state Capitol.

Joe Bush grew up in Dallas, and he knows a lot about the energy business. During the frenzied 1980s oil boom, he worked as a tax accountant for a big petroleum company in Texas. After the bust, he started a new life as a cattleman on the ranch his grandfather built near Shidler, in northeastern Oklahoma’s Osage County.

Bush’s Tower Hill Ranch is named for the opportunity elevation has brought this family. Decades ago, AT&T leased land to build a microwave tower to connect long-distance telephone calls. More recently, Bush leased out land for cell phone towers. Bush hopes the next towers erected on the ranch will carry wind turbines.

”It is one of the windiest places around, and I hope they’re able to do the deal,” Bush says. “It’ll make me whole. It’ll make more money than cattle.”

Turbine nacelles for an wind farm project are collecting at a staging area in Osage County.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Turbine nacelles for a wind farm project are collecting at a staging area in Osage County.

County to Capitol

But the two wind farms planned for Bush’s ranch may never come. A measure being considered by the Oklahoma Legislature — Senate Bill 1440, authored by Sen. President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa — would impose a moratorium on new wind energy projects east of Interstate 35. The blackout would last until 2017, and the state would conduct wind energy studies in the interim.

Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, is the bill’s House sponsor. There are no wind farms planned for Sears’ northeastern Oklahoma district, but projects have been planned for neighboring counties.

Osage County could be home to a pair of 150-megawatt wind farms. St. Louis-based Wind Capital Group wants to build a 94-turbine farm called the Osage County Wind Energy Project, and Kansas-based Trade Wind Energy is planning a 16,000-acre site dubbed the Mustang Run Wind Project. In Craig County, EDP Renewables North America — a subsidiary of Lisbon-based Energias de Portugal — is planning to build a 59-turbine wind farm near Centralia.

“Wind should be the new oil for Oklahoma,” Bush says. “It’s good for the state economy, it’s good for the environment, it’s good for living things in Oklahoma. I don’t understand why the politicians aren’t really embracing it.”

Wind Resistance

A wind farm in Ellis County, Okla.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

A wind farm in Ellis County in western Oklahoma.

Wind energy is a newcomer to northeastern Oklahoma, but wind farm projects have met vicious resistance even in western Oklahoma, where they’re a lot more common. Currently, wind energy projects are relatively unregulated by the state, so local governments like the City of Piedmont have wrestled with rules and ordinances, and acrimony between those who want to sell leases and those who don’t want to live near turbines.

Wind farm opponents are often vocal and well-organized. In northeastern Oklahoma, landowners formed a group called the Oklahoma Property Rights Association to oppose wind farm development there. Rep. Sears says neither side has been shy about contacting him to share their concerns.

“I am all about property owners and property rights. But on the same token, this just isn’t a typical little building out in the backyard or on the prairie-side,” Sears says.

Decreased property values and the nuisance of living with the noise and flickering shadow caused by whirring turbine blades are among the top concerns voiced by wind farm opponents. And some worry about the impact wind farms could have on birds and other wildlife.

The potential threat that spinning turbine blades could pose to eagles spurred controversy last year in Osage County, particularly within the Osage Nation, which opposed Wind Capital Group’s effort to seek a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to kill up to 120 eagles during the lifespan of the wind farm.

Sears says landowners and lawmakers also worry there won’t be enough wind to sustain wind farm projects, which could mean turbines blocking vistas without generating royalty payments for landowners.

“The wind blows on the eastern part of the state, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t know if it blows enough to generate and hold profits for a wind power company,” Sears says.

A separate measure under consideration this year, SB 1559, written by Sen. Cliff Branan, R-Oklahoma City, would address some of those concerns by establishing setbacks and noise limits, as well as strengthening rules on turbine decommissioning. The 2014 legislative session is ongoing, so it’s likely the specific language of the wind energy bills will change. And, like all bills, there’s a possibility they might never reach Gov. Mary Fallin’s desk.

The ranks of the wind farm opponents include Oklahomans who own land near Bush’s ranch in Osage County. Bush thinks aesthetics alone are fueling his neighbor’s protests.

“Really what it boils down to is he doesn’t want to see it,” Bush says. “It’s new.”

Rep. Sears says he hasn’t seen a wind turbine up close, but he’s among those Oklahomans who aren’t wild about the way they look.

But Bush says the state shouldn’t prevent him from making money from the resources his ranch provides, and his neighbor shouldn’t have any say over what he does with his private property.

“I don’t tell him what to do with his ranch,” Bush says. “I should be allowed to put up a turbine. If he doesn’t want to see them — don’t look. I think they look cool.”

StateImpact Oklahoma is a partnership among Oklahoma’s public radio stations and relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online.


  • Annie

    Our country is in dire need of energy resources that can replace the polluting and limited supplies of nonrenewable resources. What’s wrong w/using renewable? People in this country have become litigation happy!! especially Republican run OK. Think of the pocket book, think of the kids’ futures. Some changes take time to get use to but we do. Government needs to change and think of the good not just the old ways!

    • MFehrens

      You need to do a bit more research into industrial wind turbines. Every country in the world where wind turbines are built by the thousands actually have seen their CO2 emissions go up in the past 5 years. (Denmark, Germany and the UK) Why? Because concrete is a huge CO2 emitter and each base of an industrial turbine uses on average 800 tonnes of concrete. A study by Forbes shows that wind energy uses 10 times the resources and materials of ANY other power source for each kw produced.

      Contrary to the propaganda put out by the wind industry (which people buy into without any research), wind energy is not clean, not green and definitely not free.

      Again — in EVERY area where wind energy has been embraced, energy poverty has become a way of life — Germany, the UK and Ontario (Canada) are three regions where people pay more for their electricity than, in some cases, their mortgage each month. In Germany in 2012 800,000 households were without power because they could no longer afford their electricity bills. According to the Auditor General of Ontario, the reason Ontario has the highest power prices in North America is because of wind turbines.

      I encourage you to start doing some homework and NOT on a pro-wind site like AWEA, etc. That’s like going to a cigarette manufacturer’s site to find out the negative effects of their product.

      Don’t be so easily duped by something just because they call it ‘green’. That’s a money-making catchword that billion dollar corporations have figured out will make them tons of money. And that’s all that wind turbines do. Make money for the rich.

      • cowboy in OK

        It is interesting how truth and logic goes out the window when people get emotional about an issue. My gifted and talented class at Drumright was the first grioup to tour a wind farm in Oklahoma in 2004. My physics class built two woking wind generators from recycling parts from various machines. IF concrete could breath perhaps it might put out CO2. Limestone actually absorbs CO2 as it forms. Guess what concrete is made from? Right. I teach chemisry and physics and have fun readinnng the faulty facts put out by activists against wind farms. I can tell you which coal fired plants are idling turbines to backup wind farms when the winds die down. Hydroelctric is the greenest source of power, and windpower is #2. Coal is by far the dirtiest but only slightly cheaper than wind. The worst part of coal exhaust is the heavy metal content, but all we hear about is CO2. Wow

    • Laura Griffin

      I’m sorry Annie. But your conceptions about wind energy are greatly misguided and quite frankly — wrong. Wind turbines have been around for 2 decades now and they’re still inefficient, unreliable, very costly and have a devastating impact on the environment and ecologies.
      Please do some reading up on this topic. Wind energy is not as green as it’s touted to be. The only thing green about them is the billions being made by international corporations at the expense of the middle class, elderly, poor and disabled on fixed incomes. In other words, it makes the rich richer.

  • 1983

    this is such an exciting prospect! how shameful that the government is attempting to prevent people from using their private land as they wish!!

  • Laura Lee O’Neil

    Let’s call it what it is: This is just another land grab (UN Agenda 21) like the attempt to gain state land from Cliven Bundy in Bunkerville, NV. These land belong to the state, and not the Feds. It’s sad to see that so many are in favor of this takeover in Osage County. Wake up, Americans, before it’s too late and we’ve lost our great country!
    As for needing wind farms, NOT! We have oil, natural gas and coal resources as yet untapped, as well as hydro-power. We are fed so many lies under the guise of ‘sustainability’… Do your own research, people!

    • dmikelyn

      Bundy is a rip off artist and a crook. If he lived near you he would have his cattle grazing on your land, and telling you that it is his right as he is a “better caretaker of the land”. Grow up lady. And try to loose some of the anger.

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