On March 12th, the Oklahoma Senate passed Senate Bill (SB) 1440, which places a moratorium on new wind farm developments in Oklahoma east of Interstate 35.[i] This bill would effectively limit wind farm developments to only the western half of the state, significantly decreasing the potential for future wind farm development and diversification of Oklahoma’s energy portfolio.
As a state, Oklahoma has aggressively been pursuing an “all of the above” energy policy, which calls for integration of traditional fossil fuels such as natural gas and oil in tandem with newer renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.[ii] While Oklahoma is often considered an oil and gas state with large drilling operations bringing in billions of dollars worth of production and additional billions in royalties[iii], 15% of Oklahoma’s energy is produced through wind power, making Oklahoma the state with the seventh highest amount of wind power generation as a percentage of total electricity generated.[iv] Most of Oklahoma’s wind production takes place in the western, less populated area of the state.[v]
Many people would question the logic behind the moratorium when they find out that Oklahoma, a state with ample wind resources and a dedication to a diversification of its energy portfolio, is close to legislatively chilling private sector wind energy production in the state. The answer, however, isn’t very clear. Proponents of the bill have offered a number of justifications, including that a moratorium is needed in order to regulate an essentially unregulated industry, comparing wind energy development to that of oil and gas, which has been the subject of supervisory legislation and regulation – such as environmental permitting – for over 100 years.[vi] Other supporters have said that the wind resources make the project cost prohibitive.[vii] However, this justification is based on a map delineating areas of economically justified wind resources that was written in 2008, not based on current technology updated to reflect improvements in efficiency. An additional justification is to separate wind farms from the more heavily populated cities and towns of eastern Oklahoma.[viii]
Critics of the legislation, including landowners and residents of eastern Oklahoma, are upset with the prospect of a moratorium that would hinder job growth and prevent locals from collecting royalties on new wind farm installations.[ix] While proponents point to the 2008 report on Oklahoma wind sources, critics point to private wind companies who are champing at the bit to invest in eastern Oklahoman wind farms.[x] It seems unlikely that profit-driven private companies would desperately try to invest in projects that are economically unviable, as suggested by proponents of the bill. Private sector investment rarely ever flocks to areas of technical infeasibility.
While the actual justifications and underpinnings behind the bill and its massive legislative support may be opaque, the effects remain clear. As gas production in the Caney Shale continues to boom and new wells are continuously spudded, wind production will become a smaller proportion of the Oklahoman energy portfolio and economy. SB 1440 will be up for vote in the Oklahoma House of Representatives in the coming weeks, so only time will tell if these effects will materialize.
-Liam O’Sullivan is a General Member at MJEAL. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors only and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Michigan Journal of Environmental and Administrative Law or the University of Michigan.
[i] Ryan Gentzler, Wind power in Eastern Oklahoma: Not in my backyard?, Oklahoma Policy Institute, Mar. 18, 2014, http://okpolicy.org/wind-power-eastern-oklahoma-backyard-guest-post-ryan-gentzler
[iii] William Crum, Measuring the economic impact of oil and gas in Oklahoma County, News OK, March 28, 2014, http://newsok.com/measuring-the-economic-impact-of-oil-and-gas-in-oklahoma-county/article/3947992
[iv] Joe Wertz, Oklahoma Moves Up the Ranks by Adding More Wind Energy to its Electricity Mix, NPR: State Impact, Mar. 6, 2014, http://stateimpact.npr.org/oklahoma/2014/03/06/oklahoma-moves-up-the-ranks-by-adding-more-wind-energy-to-its-electricity-mix/
[v] Barbara Hoberock, Wind Energy Moratorium Sought, The Okie, Mar. 17, 2014, http://www.theokie.com/wind-energy-moratorium-sought/
[vii] Ryan Gentzler, Wind power in Eastern Oklahoma: Not in my backyard?, Oklahoma Policy Institute, Mar. 18, 2014, http://okpolicy.org/wind-power-eastern-oklahoma-backyard-guest-post-ryan-gentzler
[viii] Barbara Hoberock, Wind Energy Moratorium Sought, The Okie, Mar. 17, 2014, http://www.theokie.com/wind-energy-moratorium-sought/
[ix] Associated Press, Legislation to restrict wind farms progresses under fire, Muskogee Phoenix, Mar. 16, 2014, http://www.muskogeephoenix.com/statenews/x787219637/Legislation-to-restrict-wind-farms-progresses-under-fire