Wind farms possibly coming to Osage reservation

Growing up on the Osage reservation one could hear the steady thumping of oil wells late into the night, and the occasional coyote. Now with the planning of two 150-megawatt wind farms west of Pawhuska and east of Shidler, the steady thrumming of wind turbines might be joining the fray.

TradeWind Energy of Lenexa, Kan. and Wind Capital Group of St. Louis, are hoping to build two wind farms totaling 300 megawatts, or about 185 1.6 megawatt turbines. The turbines will be between 360 feet and 426 feet tall from base to tip of blade, or about 55 to 120 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty, base and pedestal included, according to the Tulsa World.

The wind farms will be located on private ranches, most notably near the Nature Conservancy’s Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, home to one of the country’s last stretches of untouched prairie. The project could cost up to $300 million and includes a lucrative federal tax credit of $22 per megawatt hour of electricity produced over the next 10 years that will expire Dec. 31, 2012.

A three-page wind farm ordinance, which has been protested by the Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, ranchers and the Nation, was passed unanimously April 4 by Osage County commissioners. The OCC said companies have the right to erect the wind farms and they don’t have the legal authority to stop them, according to the Tulsa World.

The plans for the wind farms have been ongoing, and hotly debated, for three years and the Red Eagle administration was just made aware of the situation shortly before the last public hearing on the subject at the Pawhuska-Osage County Planning Commission March 14. Protesters of the ordinance wanted stronger protection to protect breeding grounds for prairie chickens and eagles as well as tribal burial grounds and minerals owned by the Nation.

To move forward with the project the two companies must now contract to sell the electricity to a utility company. Neither company has a contract yet. Another possible hitch: the Osage Nation owns the mineral rights beneath the surface of the land planned for the wind farms and the Nation has not been consulted up to this point.

“The Osage Nation has not been a part of the development of [the proposed wind farm] ordinances and this administration was not informed about it from the county government officially,” said Chris White, executive director of governmental affairs for the Nation. “[Chief John Red Eagle’s] position: he does not believe this project will go forward without the participation of the Osage Nation.”

The Osage News spoke with White before the OCC passed the ordinance April 4.

At the last public hearing March 14, representatives from the Nation voiced their concerns on the impacts that could result from the wind farms and wanted language put in the ordinance that would address tribal concerns.

“They didn’t accept any input, they allowed everyone to stand up and talk but they didn’t accept any input,” White said. “The main crux of the matter is whether or not the Osage Nation is a part of this. Right now we don’t believe the proposed ordinances to go before the commission are strong, at all . . . there is hardly any legislation at all in the state that addresses wind farms.”

White said the Chief’s Office supports alternative energy but doesn’t necessarily believe the Osage reservation is the best place for 300 wind turbines. He said possible Osage entities/ services that could be impacted are:

·      Osage minerals estate, the wind turbines could go as deep as 20 feet into the Nation’s mineral estate

·      Economic endeavors of the Nation, now or in the future could be jeopardized

·      Osage tourism could suffer due to the unsightly wind turbines

·      Osage burial grounds could be affected. Wind turbines are built on ledges and cliffs where Osage burial sites are commonly found

·      Osage historical sites such as trails and camp sites could be affected

·      Osage natural resources

·      Neighbors in the area

·      Development of minerals by the Nation. The wind farms could hurt oil and natural gas production

·      Scenic Byway, which is the beautification and restoration of Highway 60

·      Visual impact

Wind ordinance

Tulsa World

The ordinance consists of one page of definitions and two pages of rules governing access to turbines, their color, lighting and signage. The rules require turbines to be at least 1,000 feet from an occupied home unless the homeowner consents to have them closer, and requires wind companies to maintain wind farms in "a good condition acceptable to the Osage County Commission," as well as to maintain and repair county roads impacted by wind farm construction and maintenance. It also sets a permitting fee of $1,100 per megawatt, or $165,000 for the two proposed wind farms with a combined investment of $300 million.

[Editor's Note: This story was updated for clarification April 7, 2011.]