City officials express opposition to planned power line route
BIXBY — The Bixby City Council voted Monday to hire the law firm Gable Gotwals to represent the city before the Oklahoma Corporation Commission in an effort to add its opposition to the building of the Wind Catcher Energy Project to the record.
The city plans to ask the commission to either deny preapproval of cost recovery or to stay a decision until Bixby residents can be heard.
“I’m not opposed to wind energy, but I can tell you I am opposed to this line,” said Bixby Mayor John Easton. “I really am opposed to how PSO has represented itself to the city of Bixby.
“No one on this council had any idea about this line, at all, until the meeting in May in Glenpool, on the night of a City Council meeting when none of us could attend. This is why we are going to the Corporation Commission to ask them to, please, represent us.”
He said the commission meets again on July 2, so “time is of the essence.”
The mayor opened a 5 p.m. special session Monday with an explanation that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission held meetings on the Wind Catcher project in January, before Public Service Company of Oklahoma hit a roadblock to building a huge power line across Osage County and began developing southern route approaches into Tulsa, including a route through south Bixby.
Wind Catcher involves a wind farm developed by Chicago-based Invenergy that would be the largest in the country, with 800 wind turbines covering parts of two Oklahoma Panhandle counties.
The farm would connect via the Wind Catcher Connection Project, a 360-mile to 380-mile 765 kilovolt line that would be the tallest and largest power line west of the Mississippi River.
PSO and Southwestern Electric Power Co. would provide the 600 megawatts of energy it would carry to customers in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas.
The estimated cost for the entire project, overseen by PSO parent company American Electric Power, is $4.5 billion.
The PSO share of the project under consideration by the Corporation Commission is $1.36 billion, or 30 percent. SWEPCO would own the rest and is seeking preapproval of its costs before various state regulatory bodies.
The company projects $2 billion in savings on “clean energy” over the life of the project and $300 million in tax revenues and job creation for Oklahoma communities.
PSO spokesman Stan Whiteford said Monday’s development was disappointing but that the company will continue to try to communicate the benefits the project could provide for people in Bixby and that, along the line, schools and communities have said they will value the tax revenues.
“We understand that siting infrastructure, whether it’s for a road, pipeline, cell tower, or transmission line, is difficult and sometimes controversial. And although a few opponents have raised objections, the vast majority of Oklahomans support Wind Catcher,” he said.
He added that since Bixby officials first raised objections to the project two weeks ago, PSO has reached out to the city to provide further details without success.
“We take exception to those opponents who have mischaracterized the project and used fear tactics to raise concerns and garner media attention,” he said. “The simple fact is that this project is good for PSO customers and good for Oklahoma.”
Vice Mayor Brian Guthrie said the company has not talked to the city about possible placement of a substation at 161st Street and Yale Avenue, which would be within 1½ miles of a new elementary school planned for 151st Street and Harvard Avenue.
“PSO claims to be a partner in our development, but they have not told us about the substation,” he said. “I think we need to slow this process down and be heard. It’s not fair to anyone along this route or in this city, or for the future of this city, not to be heard,” he said.
Resident Maurice Storm, who has been active with the No Windcatcher website and lobbying effort, testified that people simply don’t believe the claims PSO has made about the financial outlook for the project and that the company has not addressed other concerns, such as possible health risks of living near the lines and devaluation of adjacent property.
After the meeting, Easton gave Storm a stack of “at least 200 letters” delivered to the city and addressed to the Corporation Commission.