The Oklahoma Attorney General and the director of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission's Public Utility Division stated in a regulatory filing late Monday they remain opposed to Public Service Co. of Oklahoma's request to obtain preapproval to recover costs to build the Wind Catcher Connection project.
However, Attorney General Mike Hunter and Brandy Wreath, director of the utility division, did include a list of stipulations they could agree to as part of the filing, asking for the commission's elected members to require those as part of any deal where the utility is granted the preapproval it seeks.
Hunter said his goal remains to guarantee Oklahomans are protected from potential financial harm.
“Our position has been clear from the beginning ... this project does not meet the requirements for preapproval and cost recovery," Hunter stated in a release issued by his office after the filing was made.
As for the proposed stipulations, Hunter stated they would "add necessary provisions to safeguard customers by holding them harmless from exorbitant fees and will give money back ... if warranted, regardless of the project's performance.
“We want to ensure the potential burden that comes with this project is not placed on the backs of hardworking Oklahomans," he continued.
Monday's filing comes less than three weeks after the utility announced it had reached a proposed settlement agreement in the case with the Oklahoma Industrial Energy Consumers organization — a frequent and active interested party in electric utility-related cases that go before the commission.
In that proposed agreement, the utility stated it had agreed to cap costs at 103 percent, or $1.399 billion.
The filing by the attorney general and public utility division, on the other hand, asks for PSO's Wind Catcher Connection costs to be capped at 100 percent, or $1.36 billion.
There also likely are other differences between stipulations included as part of the attorney general and public utility division's proposed settlement, versus those included in the proposed settlement the utility reached with the Oklahoma Industrial Energy Consumers organization.
- Operational and maintenance costs for Wind Catcher and an associated 360-mile-long line that would carry 600 megawatts of power from the Panhandle wind farm to Tulsa's west side and into PSO's grid.
- Federal production tax credits and how utility customers would be compensated for those.
- Net power generation guarantees.
- Off-system energy sales.
Hunter also asked that the utility work with northern Oklahoma landowners that potentially could be impacted by Wind Catcher Connection's proposed power line to "ensure the concerns of each Oklahoman are heard, considered and addressed."
"We will continue to work with (elected commissioners and the commission's) public utility division to ensure customer protection, even if this project goes forward,” he stated.
PSO Spokesman Stan Whiteford said utility officials had seen the filing made by the attorney general and commission's utility division staff.
"We are disappointed they continue to hold that same position — that they don't see the value in what we think is a reasonable project."
The Wind Catcher Connection project involves a wind farm being developed by Invenergy that, if built, would consist of 800 wind towers powered by 2.5-megawatt wind turbines built by GE Renewable Energy. The farm's footprint would cover parts of two Oklahoma Panhandle counties.
PSO would own 30 percent of the project, while its sister American Electric Power utility, Southwestern Electric Power Co., would own the remainder. PSO and Southwestern are seeking preapproval of their costs to participate in the project before various state regulatory bodies.
While PSO estimates its 545,000 customers would see a rate increase of about $78 million in 2021 if cost recovery were approved, it also maintains that lower energy costs and the federal wind production tax credits would offset that increase.
The company also has stated it believes its ratepayers would benefit during the 25-year life of the project because it forecasts wind electricity would be more affordable than alternatives during that time.