Wind Catcher could keep Northwest Oklahoma communities strong, local stakeholder says

Source: By Michaela Marx Wheatley, The Daily Oklahoman • Posted: Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Matt Gard, an Oklahoma farmer, still works the land that his family claimed during the Oklahoma Land Run. On Centennial Farm in northwest Oklahoma, he raises a small cattle herd, grows canola and wheat part of the year; milo and cotton the other half of the year.

At 55 years old, he has lived and farmed the ranch since 1982. His roots run deep.

“I feel privileged to live and work out here where my great-grandfather homesteaded,” Gard said.

He is among several landowners in the region, who have been carefully following Public Service Company of Oklahoma’s  Wind Catcher Energy Connection project – a massive wind energy project involving 800 turbines in the Oklahoma Panhandle and a dedicated power line to take the electricity to customers.

Potentially, some of his land could be affected – and turbines may become part of the landscape.

“Wind turbines don’t bother me. They are quiet. They are clean,” he said.

However, it is the economic impact that the project could have on his region that peaked his interest. He is a farmer first, but he has also long been involved in economic development aiming to keep the local communities thriving. After all, it’s where he and generations of his family grew up.

“It’s vital to keep our towns and communities strong,” Gard said.

The Wind Catcher Energy Connection project would be the nation’s largest wind energy facility and a dedicated generation tie-line to efficiently deliver the wind energy to PSO’s customers. PSO and its sister company, Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO), will partner on the $4.5 billion project.

Taxes generated and jobs created by the project could have a significant economic impact on the area.

PSO officials said that more than 4,000 Oklahoma jobs will be created as a direct result from construction of the project.  The project will also generate over $60 million in new tax revenues during construction and an additional $300 million in property taxes for schools and local governments over the time it’s in service.

“This has the potential to keep our churches full, our hospitals afloat and our schools open,” Gard said. “If you don’t have that your community crumbles before you know it.”

He also said money invested into the area will have a ripple effect.

“The multiplier effect for every dollar spent in a small community is phenomenal,” he said.

Moreover, it could help Oklahoma as a whole generate much needed revenue.

“We all have something to gain – not just us in northwest Oklahoma. It’s a revenue generator, money that circulates in the state,” Gard said.

Of course, not everybody is a fan of the project. Gard has heard many opinions, but he believes it is worthwhile for everyone to do a little research and learn more about the project. Better yet, study some success stories of similar projects and the impact they have had on the regions they were built in.

“We can learn a lot from these communities,” he said.

Wind Catcher is planned to go online in early 2021.  It will produce 2,000 megawatts of wind energy- including 600 megawatts for PSO customers.  It also includes a dedicated power line for delivery to customers, PSO officials have said.

PSO is investing in renewable energy and bringing cost savings to customers through the proposed Wind Catcher Energy Connection project. The wind farm and generation tie-line will deliver high-quality, low-cost wind energy that will save PSO customers more than $2 billion over the 25-year life of the wind farm.

“PSO is very excited about this extraordinary opportunity to significantly reduce costs for our customers by delivering clean, very low-priced Oklahoma wind energy,” said Stuart Solomon, PSO president and chief operating officer.  “At the same time, Wind Catcher will boost the Oklahoma economy, create thousands of new jobs and provide tax revenues for schools and local governments – all without any state incentives.  It will also add diversity to our energy supply, complementing our existing power sources, which include natural gas, coal, and energy purchases.”

The project is expected to lead to cost-savings and other benefits for PSO customers.

When Wind Catcher comes on line, it will be the lowest cost energy resource in PSO’s energy mix.  The dedicated power line ensures reliable, cost-effective delivery of the wind energy to the electric grid.

Customers will see savings primarily through a reduction in the fuel portion of their bills, beginning in 2021, PSO officials said. The project is subject to regulatory approvals in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas as well as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The utility is currently guiding the project through the pre-approval process of the project.