Nearly every seat was filled Thursday at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission's main courtroom as the agency took public comment on a cause filed by Public Service Co. of Oklahoma. The utility seeks preapproval to recover its costs associated to a large wind power and transmission project that will provide renewable energy to both its customers and those of a sister utility.
Environmental energy advocates joined Oklahomans who said they don't want to see a power line built on their properties to address the Oklahoma Corporation Commission Thursday on Public Service Co. of Oklahoma's Wind Catcher Connection project.
Wind Catcher Connection is a project that's building 800 turbines in the Oklahoma Panhandle and seeks to also build a dedicated transmission line to take the electricity to 1.1 million customers of PSO and its sister utility, Southwestern Electric Power Co.
PSO is seeking preapproval to recover its $1.36 billion in costs associated with the $4.5 billion wind farm and electric transmission project.
PSO estimates the Wind Catcher project would add another $78 million to customer rates in 2021, but its representatives also have said the utility expects those costs will be offset by comparatively lower energy costs and a federal tax credit for wind generation.
State rules traditionally have required utilities seeking preapproval for customer paid-for power upgrades to prove that new power is needed and to competitively bid projects to bring that power online.
But in this era where Oklahoma is one of the nation's leaders in generating affordable wind power, arguments Thursday centered on whether those absolutes are applicable.
"I would like to encourage you to find ways to make this project go forward," said Gary Allison, former director of the Sustainable Energy and Resources Law program at the University of Tulsa. "Oklahoma has one of the largest wind resources available anywhere in the country.
"If our own, local power companies can't harness it, then power companies from other states surely will."
Allison said he expected Wind Catcher would be PSO's low-cost alternative to generate power for its customers in perhaps as soon as a decade, or less.
Marilyn McCulloch, secretary of the Carrie Dickerson Foundation, echoed Allison's comments, adding the namesake of the foundation, Carrie Barefoot Dickerson (a leader of citizens' efforts to bar construction of a nuclear power plant PSO had proposed in the early 1970s) surely would embrace the Wind Catcher Connection.
"She wanted her supporters to write PSO and let it know that wind power would be a great way to replace and to promote clean, renewable, local energy for the state," McCulloch said. "I think our state needs a boost.
"In spite of the fact there are always costs for every plan, this idea will provide a lot of jobs to our state and a lot of tax dollars that we need."
Land owner's concern
But one land owner in Osage County told commissioners he is worried proposed power lines associated with the proposed project would be built adjacent to his home, based on recent information PSO released about the route it is considering.
"I have spoke to many people and studied it, and no one can tell me there won't be a risk to my boys or my wife," the man said. "I know the common good of the people overrides the good of one.
"But I also know PSO hasn't yet proved this project is essential and that there is a need. I believe this project should at least be slowed so that it can be done according to the proper rules."
Bill Newman, a Texas County property owner who said he worked with Clean Line Oklahoma LLC to help secure a route for a line it's involved in building, said the landowner's concerns were worth considering.
Newman said he hopes PSO would follow Clean Line's lead and take the time to negotiate the power line's future path with landowners in good faith.
"I'm a strong supporter of economic development," Newman said, "but I believe it is important that any development be done carefully and lawfully."
More than 100 people attended Thursday's hearing, and more than two dozen signed up to address the commission.
A hearing on the merits of the case is set for 8:30 a.m. on Monday before Mary Candler, an administrative law judge at the commission.