Company Behind Osage Wind Project, 'Benefits Are Far-Reaching'
OSAGE COUNTY, Oklahoma - There's a new view across the prairies of Osage County as one-by-one wind turbines are going up.
We've heard from the opposition, but now the company behind the project is speaking for the first time.
“Wind energy is competitive, it's renewable and Oklahoma has a lot of it, so it's a wonderful resource that Oklahoma's blessed to have,” Enel-Green Power Regulatory Affairs Director, Jeff Riles said.
But as with anything, there are folks who are not happy about the Osage Wind Project, but the energy company said the benefits are far-reaching, environmentally and economically.
The Osage Nation has been fighting for years to stop construction.
The tribe said the turbines will pollute the land and disturb ancient burial grounds, but Riles said the developers researched thoroughly before construction began.
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“Are there specific sensitivities? Are there artifacts? Are there archeological issues that we should be concerned about? And through that process determined that there weren't any that were significant to the Osage Nation Historic Preservation office,” said Riles.
Osage County is unique because the tribe owns all the mineral rights in the county, but Riles said it isn't tapping into a mineral resource. Instead, he said the company is doing traditional-type construction work, similar to putting in a foundation for a home.
“What we do is we erect turbines, that turbine harnesses the wind that blows and that turbine spins and through that kinetic process, it generates energy,” Riles said. “We don't disturb the mineral estate, we certainly aren't mining or taking any of the resources from beneath the surface of the earth.”
Those against wind farms said the towering turbines will harm wildlife, like prairie chickens and bald eagles.
Oklahoma's first wind project went up in 2003 and Riles said the developer's research shows little impact to wildlife.
“In Oklahoma, there has not been a single eagle that has been killed as a result of these developments and we certainly don't anticipate that being a problem going forward,” Riles said.
Riles said the 84 wind turbines will generate enough electricity to power 60,000 homes each year. He said with each tower that goes up, the average consumer's electric bill should go down.
On top of that, Riles said wind farms are also saving the environment from harmful gas emissions.
“A lot of talk right now is going on about carbon, methane; none of those attributes exist with wind generation. It's completely clean, it's completely something that there's no impact to the air” said Riles.
There is, however, a great economic impact to surrounding communities.
With about 300 construction workers helping with the project, the small town of Shidler is booming with new business.
“We've seen a huge business increase since about, I'd say, two or three months of just non-stop serving food and windmill guys and all the other companies that are coming in,” said Shidler Country Store employee, Christine Walker.
Riles said the benefits stretch past the mom and pop shops and into the local school districts, which are expected to see a substantial payout from the project's property taxes.
“I'm so excited about it. I think it's gonna help our little school out and our little community,” Walker said.
The construction is being done in phases, so the turbines won't start generating energy until the entire Osage Wind Project is complete, which is expected to take up to a year.
In the next few years, TradeWind Energy hopes to start construction in Osage County on a 68-turbine wind farm known as The Mustang Run Project.