TradeWind Energy representative speaks to Kiwanians

Roseanne McKeeJ-C Correspondent
TradeWind Energy representative speaks to Kiwanians

Bill Sweeden, a representative of TradeWind Energy Inc., spoke to the Pawhuska Kiwanis Club on Sept. 10 about the latest news about the wind farm construction in Osage County.

His brother Joe Sweeden had been the original liaison for the wind farm, but after Joe resigned to work on the pipeline, Bill asked to be involved.

“I started out just volunteering because I believed in the concept. … It’s something I firmly, firmly believe,” Bill Sweeden said.

Thereafter, the company contracted with him to work locally on their behalf.

Sweeden explained that he has been a supporter of wind energy for a long time.

“Several years ago, I contacted the wind farm people because I thought it was a great idea,” he said.

Sweeden explained how his upbringing had led him to believe in conservation.

“My background my entire life has been in agriculture. Using all the assets you have and not depleting them is pretty much what agriculture is all about. I was raised that way by my parents and grandparents and for us it’s a way of life.”

During his presentation, Sweeden described the benefits to all parties involved: “Landowners are paid to have the wind turbines on their land.”

For wind energy companies, the state offered tax incentives to construct a wind farm in Oklahoma.

“They’re getting a rebate for constructing the wind farm, but they’re not actually getting a dollar from the government. They’re just not having to pay the full taxable amount for a few years until they absorb the construction,” Sweeden said.

Explaining what will happen to the electricity generated, Sweeden said, “It will feed into a grid.”

Each turbine collects enough electricity to power 400 houses, Sweeden added.

In response to the concerns of some, Sweeden said, “I’ve heard people say, ‘well, [the energy produced] is not for here.’ But you can’t put electricity in a bucket. It goes into the grid with electricity from other sources and goes to the Grand River Dam Authority and other purchasers. Then it turns around and comes right back out to consumers as part of the overall supply. For every megawatt we supply with wind energy, that’s another one that won’t have to be supplied from less green sources such as coal.”

Sweeden acknowledges that wind energy is just part of the solution to meeting energy needs.

“I think we should use everything we’ve got to the utmost without depleting or destroying it. Wind energy is just one piece of the pie,” he said.

Construction is already underway at the site.

“Right now there are about 20 guys working over there near Burbank,” he said.

Several landowners have willingly entered into agreements to have the wind turbines on their properties.

“They didn’t have to get an injunction to be on the property. They were invited,” Sweeden said.

The wind farm has already begun to stimulate the local economy, Sweeden said.

“They’re buying large amounts of supplies locally. There’s about 20 guys on the payroll right now. The construction crew, the guys who are actually going to build the units, are actually going to start sometime in October.

“It’s going to take the better part of two years and during that time we’ll have as many as 100 people moving in and out on site.

“When it’s over, there will be ten or twelve guys working out there on the maintenance crew. When was the last time Osage County got 12 new jobs doing anything? This is a big boost for the community,” Sweeden explained.

One local school district will also benefit.

“The Shidler School District is going to get tax revenue annually once it’s in operation. It’s going to help stabilize that school system,” he said.

Asked why only Shidler Schools would benefit, Sweeden explained: “The wind farm is only benefiting Shidler School District because it is located within that school district and the assessments are within that school district.”

Later Sweeden added, “I’m personally hopeful that the wind farm business will expand in Osage County, so that other school districts can benefit.”

Describing the long-term viability of the wind farm, Sweeden said: “I’m not an engineer, but I’m told that the projected life of this project is somewhere between 25 and 45 years. And the technology evolves. The units will be in operation for years. Once we get the grid system in place, even when they wear out they’ll likely be replaced by newer more efficient units. I think the wind farm is here to stay.”

Although the oil and gas industries have primarily been associated with Oklahoma, the state is already a major producer of wind energy.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration website (last updated 3/27/14): “In 2013, Oklahoma ranked fourth in net electricity generation from wind, which provided almost 15 (percent) of the state’s net generation.”

Oklahoma’s ranking in crude oil production, excluding federal offshore areas, is fifth nationally, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration website.

Since this project was conceived, several other wind farms have been planned without legal objection.

“A wind farm in Kay County has tribal governments as the partners,” Sweeden added.

A lively question and answer session with members of the Kiwanis Club followed Sweeden’s presentation.

Sweeden was asked the cost of the individual wind turbines. Sweeden said he did not have exact figures but that “they have invested almost a quarter of a billion dollars in this project.”

Asked the size of each unit, Sweeden responded: “The turbines themselves are roughly 400 feet tall from the top of the arc. There will be from 75 – 90 [units].

At the top of the arc they’re about 400 feet and I think that’s about the same as the cell towers and radio towers we have on every hilltop.

To get to the top of the turbine, he said, “There is a ladder and a safety harness.”

The turbine blades are “around 260 feet in diameter,” Sweeden said. “In the court process the objection was that there would be birds killed.

Sweeden said, “We have a permit issued by the wildlife commission to take a small number of eagles per year without penalty. TradeWinds has been overly cautious and most experts say the impact on the wildlife and ecosystem will be minimal.”

Sweeden was asked about the size and existence of an electronic field around the wind farm.

“I don’t have any numbers on a field. It’s something I’ve read a little bit about, but I think it will be extremely minimal,” he said. “All of the electrical lines on the site will be underground, and won’t go above ground until they reach the transformer station and go into the big east/west gridline.”

An audience member, Kiwanian Nancy Woodyard, asked Sweeden to clarify when Shidler Schools would begin receiving funds as a result of the wind farm, because she had been told such funds would not be given until the state’s tax credit for the wind farm had elapsed. Sweeden said he could not confirm this.

Woodyard said, “It also came to my attention this year that Blackwell had a hard time ending its school year because funds from a wind project over there did not come in a timely fashion.”

Sweeden responded that he was not aware of this.

“I will tell you that the Shidler Superintendent is one of our biggest fans,” Sweeden said. “And it’s been extremely well received by the community over there.”

“I was just curious, because if they don’t get any funds until the tax credits are used up — that’s ten years away,” Woodyard inquired.

Sweeden said, “I don’t think that’s correct on this project.”

Kiwanian Dr. Landon Berry, superintendent of Pawhuska Public Schools, explained that the ad valorem reimbursement fund is the source of such payments, and that it is not unusual for these payments to be received the following school year.

Kiwanian Joyce Ward said that Shidler school district has already gotten some funds from the wind farm project and they have bought activity buses with them. Sweeden confirmed this.

Sweeden said: “The City of Pawhuska has been promised a cash gift just for being there and this was before I came on board. They’re really trying to be a good neighbor in the community. When the dirt work gets caught up, they’re going to bring some equipment and start working on the ballpark out by the fairgrounds as volunteers.”

Another Kiwanian asked if there would also be a gift to the Pawhuska Public Schools. Sweeden said, “no.”

Berry confirmed, “We have talked to them about this and tried to negotiate it with them, but it is not happening at this time.”

Berry explained how tax revenue translates to funds for school districts. Basically, $1 million in the state aid formula would be about $1,300 to Pawhuska Schools. Basically, before you get any state aid, your chargeables are deducted. The more local money you have, the less state money you’ll get, Berry said.

“One of the good things about the revenue from the wind farm is that it will be stable. You can count on it,” Sweeden said.

“But it will expire, won’t it?” Woodyard asked.

“My understanding is that as long as their assessing them, they’ll get it,” Sweeden said. “It’s based on the kilowatts of the turbines.”

Next, Sweeden was asked where the power generated would go.

“The main trunk line that runs through Bartlesville and goes all the way to Missouri. This is the one they’re feeding into. It goes to GRDA (Grand River Dam Authority) and divides out from there. I went on a site tour and it’s very impressive,” Sweeden said.

In his concluding remarks Sweeden said, “Some people I’ve seen object to the damage of our prairie ecosystem without realizing the history of the Burbank oil field. There are pictures of that oil field when there’s not a blade of grass left, because they did it all with horses and teams and no environmental concerns whatsoever.

“During this project they pulled up so much scrap iron out of the ground that they had to hire someone to come in and process it and haul it away. There are concrete pillars from the old derricks that are still sticking up out of the ground.”

“That was before the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency),” Woodyard said.

“The lead company is TradeWind Energy. General Electric is also invested in the project. Enel, Italy’s largest power company and Europe’s second listed utility, is also involved.