TradeWind sticking with plans

Mike ErwinJournal-Capital
TradeWind sticking with plans

Tradewind Energy is pushing ahead with plans for two wind-farm developments in Osage County as it awaits a ruling on an appeal of a recent decision which denied the company a permit needed to build one of the projects.

The Lenexa, Kan.-based energy firm will soon be stepping up construction activity at its Osage Wind site, where work has been underway “for quite some time,” Aaron Weigel, the director of project development for TradeWind, said last week.

“We are moving full steam ahead,” Weigel said. “If you drive past on Highway 60, you can see that there are roads being put in right now … and we intend to start erecting turbines this year.”

Located less than 15 miles west of Pawhuska on approximately 8,500 acres of leased prairie land, Osage Wind calls for around 95 high-rise turbines to generate power for a 150-megawatt capacity facility, said Weigel, who spoke about both of TradeWind projects during a June 24 meeting at the Pawhuska Community Center.

Mustang Run, the other wind farm proposed by the company, would be located on a 9,400-acre leased tract (just east of the Osage Wind project) and would involve around 68 turbines. Construction is expected to begin within 18 months at the Mustang Run site, Weigel said.

The combined footprint of TradeWind’s industrially-scaled facilities in west central Osage County would extend more than five miles east of the State Highway 18 junction near Burbank, according to site plans provided by the company. The turbines (propelled by blades 90-feet long on 200-feet high steel towers — would be located to both the north and south of U.S. 60.

A consortium of ranchers, conservationists and Native Americans has joined together to oppose the Osage County projects. The Osage Nation led the fight against the Osage Wind proposal in 2011 and has been spearheading the efforts to deny issuance of a conditional-use permit that would allow the construction of Mustang Run.

While wildlife endangerment — particularly in regard to eagles and prairie chickens — has been a primary cause for concern among the wind-farm antagonists, another argument has been raised in regard the effect the projects would have on U.S. Highway 60’s classification as a federally-recognized “Scenic Byway.”

Mustang Run was turned down for the needed permit May 8 in a vote by the Osage County Board of Adjustment. Board officials told representatives of the energy company that the Mustang Run site “was not appropriate” for the wind-power facility.

The following week, TradeWind filed an appeal of the decision in Osage County District Court, claiming Mustang Run was wrongfully denied the conditional-use permit — which is required under a wind ordinance passed by the county in 2011.

Osage Nation officials filed a district court appeal of another decision made by the Board of Adjustment. On the same night the conditional use permit was denied to the Mustang Run, Osage Nation attorneys asked the board to reconsider its 2011 decision which granted a permit for the Osage Wind project. The board voted to deny that request.

The Osages have since filed suit in district court seeking to have the permit revoked for Osage Wind, which was owned by a St. Louis energy firm (the Wind Capital Group) at the time it gained approval. Two years later, in August 2013, TradeWind agreed to purchase the still-undeveloped project from Wind Capital — although the deal was completed only recently.

Filing of the appeal by TradeWind prompted Osage County District Court Judge M. John Kane to recuse himself in the case. The recusal was based on the fact that Kane family members had previously negotiated with TradeWind over right-of-way the company sought for servicing the project.The energy company is requesting an expedited ruling on its appeal.

On May 19, the case was reassigned from Kane to Rogers County District Judge Dynda R. Post. Post conducted a pre-trial status conference last Wednesday in Claremore. A trial date for considering the TradeWind appeal has not yet been scheduled.

Energy produced by Mustang Run would be sold to Oklahoma’s Grand River Dam Authority, while Osage Wind’s current power-purchase agreement is with Missouri-based Associated Electric Cooperative, Inc. Contracts call for the projects to continue for 20 years.

Officials for TradeWinds indicated they will be scheduling additional public meetings in the area to keep citizens apprised about upcoming developments with the projects.

“We want to let everyone know that it’s coming,” Weigel said last week, stressing that the benefits of the wind-energy facilities will be “unlike anything the region has ever seen.”

“These projects are going to be good for the schools because they’ll generate tax dollars,” Weigel said. “The community will be excited about them.”

During construction, the projects are expected to generate at least 250 new jobs in the county, the TradeWind official said, adding that, once operational, the sites will bring around 25 permanent jobs to the area.