Oklahoma property rights at heart of battles over wind farm regulation

February 17, 2014 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

A proposed wind farm in Craig County in northeastern Oklahoma is the latest project to draw opposition and spur calls for tighter regulation from the Legislature over siting and permitting.

Last year, opposition to the proposed Kingfisher wind farm development in northern Canadian County and southern Kingfisher County led to bills being introduced that would have imposed a moratorium on wind development in central Oklahoma. The dispute also included a council recall election in Piedmont and lawsuits over a city ordinance categorizing industrial wind turbines as a public nuisance within three miles of the city limits.

A new kind of fight

The localized battles are different than land disputes in the early days of the wind industry in Oklahoma, said Jennifer Ivester Berry, an attorney and director at Crowe Dunlevy’s energy and natural resources practice group.

In the early 2000s, disagreement was over access to the surface between wind developers and oil and gas companies who had leased mineral rights, she said. Discussions over the next decade resulted in the Oklahoma Wind Energy Development Act, which went into effect in 2011 and established notice requirements for landowners and a process to decommission wind farms.

If there were opposition from certain landowners to a wind project, their concerns could usually be addressed by modifications to a lease agreement, Berry said. If landowners didn’t want to lease, the developers could work around them.

“If you had a large coalition of objectors, they tended to go elsewhere or redesign their project,” Berry said.

Berry, who has worked with wind developers and landowners, said many landowner concerns get worked out on an individual basis.

“The developers try to regulate themselves in terms of putting in their documentation that they’re not going to interfere with cattle operations or buildings,” Berry said. “The ones we’ve worked with go to great lengths to try to identify what’s going to be the least interference with the landowner’s use of the property. Most of these have been in these really remote areas where the only thing they’re bothering may be the cattle, and it’s not necessarily an in-my-backyard scenario.”

Now, with developments moving closer to suburban areas in central Oklahoma and reaching into northeastern Oklahoma, opposition to wind projects has grown.

Frank C. Robson, a commercial real estate developer in Claremore, said there are more than 50 landowners involved in the Oklahoma Property Rights Association. The group formed to fight a proposed wind farm by EDP Renewables North America in western Craig County.

“This is a David and Goliath battle,” Robson said. “The wind companies are Goliath, and we individual property owners out here are David. If we can’t get organized together, we have no chance whatsoever.”

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