Cliff Branan: Oklahoma doesn’t need or want the massive Wind Catcher project

Tulsa World

1/25/17

One of the country’s largest utility companies wants to build a $4.5 billion wind farm and transmission line at the expense of customers in Oklahoma and three other states.

Ohio-based American Electric Power and its subsidiaries, including Public Service Company of Oklahoma, concede that the project is not necessary to meet the region’s generation needs. The companies hope to collect a bounty of federal tax credits for the project, while selling it as way to cut customers’ electric bills.

But PSO’s customers don’t support the project, as Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter’s office and the Oklahoma Industrial Energy Consumers have asked the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to reject it. Commission staff oppose the project also, while the Osage Nation, some Oklahoma landowners and regulators in Texas and Arkansas have expressed reservations about it, as well.

Hunter’s office asked the commission in December to dismiss PSO’s request to proceed with the project and recover costs from ratepayers. That request was denied, leading to seven grueling days of expert testimony this month before an administrative law judge.

The attorney general’s office, which represents utility customers in such proceedings, argues that PSO did not comply with the state’s competitive bidding rules on the project or request preapproval of the Wind Catcher project before starting construction, as required by Oklahoma law.

The Wind Catcher project would add about $1.4 billion to PSO’s authorized $2.024 billion rate base, but the attorney general’s analysis revealed that the project’s stated benefits relied on unrealistic and unreasonable assumptions, including the notion that natural gas prices will rise significantly over the life of the project.

Higher natural gas prices would be a boon to Oklahoma as the nation’s No. 3 gas producer, but futures markets do not support PSO’s projections for how Wind Catcher could lower its fuel costs.

Experts retained by the Attorney General’s Office determined that the total economic impact of the project actually amounts to a net cost of at least $320 million to PSO customers, rather than the $996 million in savings claimed by the utility.

PSO has more than half a million customers in Oklahoma who can’t afford that kind of increase in their electric bills for a project that is not even needed.

This crescendo of expert analysis and testimony makes it clear that Wind Catcher is not in the best interest of Oklahoma or other states where electric customers are being asked to bear the financial burden of this project.

We don’t need 800 wind turbines on the horizon in western Oklahoma or a 350-mile high voltage transmission line dividing Oklahoma farms and communities.

There is no reason for PSO customers to invest $1.4 billion in a project that AEP’s own discredited model shows would save them less than 1 percent on their electric bills in Wind Catcher’s first year of operation.

The Corporation Commission should unanimously reject this project to protect Oklahoma ratepayers.

Cliff Branan is a former Republican member of the Oklahoma State Senate. During his tenure, Branan served as Assistant Majority Floor Leader and as Majority Whip.

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