Proposed Wind Turbines Trigger Debate In Osage County

Monday, March 21st 2011, 4:13 pm
By: News On 6

Craig Day, News On 6

OSAGE COUNTY -- More green wind energy could be on its way to Green Country. Several companies hope to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to build wind turbines on the tall grass prairie in Osage County.

Wind power could mean a windfall for some landowners and the area economy, but not everyone is thrilled with the idea.

The tallgrass prairie is one of the most scenic places in Oklahoma and one of the windiest, too.

Two companies hope to harness the wind, which means one day the look of the picturesque area near Foraker, west of Pawhuska, could change, with the addition of hundreds of giant wind turbines.

Some aren't exactly blown away with the idea.

"You have to show me that this is going to be feasible," Linda Heskett, an Osage County resident, said.

Heskett is one of a number of people who brought their concerns to the Osage County Commission meeting as the commissioners took up a proposed wind energy ordinance.

The ordinance sets guidelines for wind turbines in Osage County, specifying things like proximity to homes, access roads, lighting and blade heights.

Heskett thinks the ordinance is too broad and more study is needed.

"How it's going to impact the producer, how it's going to impact the rancher, how it's going to impact the Osage tribe?" she asked. "There are a lot of feet you can be stepping on."

Bob Hamilton with the Nature Conservancy agrees more study is needed before an ordinance is passed and the electricity-generating turbines are built.

"It's a tricky kind of difficult issue for the Nature Conservancy.  We are a conservation organization," Hamilton said, "so we are tremendously supportive of all alternative types of energy production. Our concern comes down to more less, location, location, location."

Right now those locations are near Foraker and south of Shidler, the highest elevation in Osage County.

Hamilton is concerned wind turbines could impact the beauty of the tall grass prairie and may be harmful to wildlife.

"The bigger concern is kind of the fragmentation effect that it brings to the landscape, especially for some of our native wildlife species, like our grassland birds," he said.

Commissioners ended up tabling a vote on the wind energy ordinance, so Osage County can double check to make sure it doesn't interfere with state wind turbine regulations.

These turbines would be located on private land, not on the tallgrass prairie preserve which is operated by the Nature Conservancy.

The Osage County Commission will take up the wind energy ordinance again within the next few weeks.