Big wind farm projected for Thomas area
Much of northeastern Custer County, already benefiting from strong oil and gas play spilling over from the STACK field west of Kingfisher, stands to get another economic boost from a huge new wind farm.
Kurt Hamburger, commissioner for Custer County District 2, said Thursday he’s had conversations with a Chicago-based energy company which plans to put in an approximate 240-tower wind farm that will cover a large area around Thomas.
“It will stretch from approximately three miles north of Weatherford to Thomas and west of Thomas over east of Custer City,” said Hamburger. It also will stretch east of Thomas well into Blaine County.
“Approximately 75 percent of the towers will be in Custer County and the rest in Blaine County,” said Hamburger.
To give an idea of just how large the wind farm will be, 240 towers would be about 2½ times the number in the Weatherford wind farm that was put in during the early 2000’s.
Also, Hamburger thinks the amount of electricity produced by each turbine will be about twice as much as that generated by the Weatherford towers. The electricity is of course sold to electrical companies and disseminated to homes and businesses.
“I think they’ll be about 2 megawatts,” said Hambur-ger. “That would be almost double in size the original Weatherford project. I think those are 1-megawatt.”
He said the company putting in the wind farm is Invenergy out of Chicago, Ill. Next Era, based in Florida, put in the one at Weatherford.
“I met with them (Invenergy) six weeks or so ago and got a rough rundown of the project,” said Hamburger. “They have been in contact with landowners about securing leases, starting probably in the spring.
“They’ll be leasing space to put up each tower. They’ll pay the landowners surface damages and crop damages for that space, just like the oil field companies. I believe they pay the landowners annually for the leases, although I’m not sure of that. ”
School districts of course are major beneficiaries of the wind farms. Hamburger thought this one should benefit in particular the Thomas-Fay-Custer district and to a lesser extent the Weatherford and Hydro-Eakly districts.
“It could be huge for those school districts,” he said. “They told me they had built a system in the Woodward-Fort Supply area and then sold it.”
Wind farms are starting to take up much of the open prairies in western Oklahoma. Hamburger said a different company already has towers south and east of Putnam, northwest of Thomas, and north to Oakwood.
He said Invenergy will have no turbines north of the South Canadian River.
“They must be good money generators,” he added. “Anytime you can take something that’s free (like wind) and make money out of it, somebody must be pretty smart. But that’s a huge investment.”
Hamburger said the counties’ general funds will get their portion of taxes from the wind farms, primarily from ad valorem increases, just like they do from oil and gas leases.
“There’s a road use agreement that’s negotiated before anything is ever done,” he added. “A value is put on the roads with the expectation they’re going to damage them and restore them to the condition they were in before. You go in from the start putting a dollar value on the roads, which is a huge help to the counties.”
Hamburger did not know when construction of the turbines in the new field would start.
“They’re still trying to acquire leases,” he said.
He added that he looked Invenergy up on the Internet and it showed the company has locations both in the United States and outside the country. He said one of the two representatives he talked with was based in Chicago and the other was from Colorado.
Of course, with something new there may be some undesirable aspects too.
“There’s been quite of opposition to one in the Hinton area,” said Hamburger. “The Town of Hinton tried to put a block with a five-mile radius around the town. Also, some people are not for a big obstruction on their land. Others look at it as a means of income.”
The Hinton wind farm has been on hold for several weeks because part of it lies in a space that’s been used for years by military aircraft as a training area. Attorney General Mike Hunter is representing the military and trying to get the farm there stopped.
Hamburger didn’t know exactly how landowners who get turbines on their property from the Thomas-area farm would be paid.
“Some companies pay so much per year for a lease plus a portion of the production,” he said. “I think the one at Weatherford just pays a set amount per year with a built-in adjustment every so many years.”