Oklahoma retracting wind energy incentives

Oklahoma in the early 2000s, looking to diversify its oil- and gas-dominated economy, sought to diversify, and offered the wind industry generous state tax incentives and access to inexpensive tracts of land.

The industry exploded from virtually nothing in 2002, to 7,495 megawatts of capacity in 2017, ranking it No. 2 nationally in installed wind capacity behind only neighboring Texas, The Associated Press reported.

But as the state's finances plunged into recession amid a downturn in the oil and gas industry roughly four years ago, lawmakers ended all state incentives for wind power and now are considering a new production tax on wind and even capping previously guaranteed incentives.

Anti-wind groups have aired commercials featuring former Republican Gov. Frank Keating admitting the incentives were a mistake, and former Dallas Cowboys and University of Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer decrying incentives as a "bad deal," AP reported.

A battle now is shaping up at Oklahoma's Capitol that includes opposition to wind from some oil-and-gas leaders and critics, including one Republican lawmaker who accused someone connected to the industry of tracking his car.

"We've been struggling with our state budget for four or five years now. It's been tough," said state Rep. Mark McBride, who claims a tracking device he found on his truck in December is connected to his opposition to the wind industry, AP reported. "Where's wind been? They've been fighting us every step of the way on trying to help out the state."

Mark Yates, who heads the Oklahoma Wind Coalition, has denied wind industry representatives are spying on McBride, Kallanish Energy understands.

There's no doubt Oklahoma's tax incentives have become more costly at a time state coffers have dwindled. A five-year property tax exemption on wind farms jumped from roughly $1 million in 2004, to more than $60 million in 2017.

A cash subsidy for wind production grew to nearly $74 million in 2016, according to preliminary estimates from the Oklahoma Tax Commission.

But all of those incentives have ended in Oklahoma, even as neighboring Texas and Kansas continue to offer property tax exemptions to lure wind industry projects to their states, AP reported.

Supporters of the wind industry in Oklahoma say much of the opposition is being fueled by the oil and gas lobby, which has long been one of the most influential at the state Capitol. The industry managed to secure a deep tax cut for oil and gas production just before prices collapsed, but lawmakers haven't yet had the political will to reverse it.

A broad package of tax increases that includes wind, oil and gas production is being pushed by some of the state's most influential business leaders and could get a final vote in the Legislature as early as this week.

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