Energy policies should communicate Oklahoma is open for business
Oklahoma wind’s positive impacts on our state are well-documented: more than $12.3 billion invested, more than 8,000 home-grown jobs and $22 million paid annually to farmers and ranchers in the form of land-lease payments, in addition to myriad other benefits. What’s more, wind energy is infinite, and its reliability has helped steady electricity costs and lower utility bills for citizens statewide.
As special session marches on, there’s no doubt our state legislators have their work cut out for them – we’ve got a historic budget hole to fill. However, we must be careful not to make decisions in a panic today that will permanently damage our state’s long-term economic health.
When other industries were forced into hiring freezes, wind energy was hiring. When drought struck Oklahoma’s farmlands, wind energy was there to supplement farmers’ and ranchers’ incomes with land-lease payments. When rural schools started suffering without resources, wind energy companies hand-delivered school supplies. Additionally, the industry is projected to pay in excess of $1.2 billion in property taxes through 2043 directly funding public schools.
However, with stakes high at the state Capitol, anti-wind special interests, lobbyists and some legislators are targeting wind energy yet again, calling for punitive measures that would place an unfair burden on this industry, even after wind energy has given up every industry-specific tax incentive. It’s important Oklahomans and our elected officials know the truth so they can protect themselves from rampant misinformation about an industry that’s invested so much in our state.
The latest threat from the anti-wind lobby surrounds Oklahoma’s manufacturing sales tax exemption, which enables any company operating in Oklahoma that applies for a specific permit the opportunity to take advantage of this exemption to offset its operation costs for purchases of machinery and equipment, energy and tangible personal property used in design, development and manufacturing. These special interests want to single out wind energy and keep them from claiming this exemption, even while all other manufacturing industries – including other members of the energy industry – are still able to participate. It just doesn’t make sense.
Exemptions like these are common and proven tools for attracting outside business investment and keeping existing business investment in a given area. Energy projects across the spectrum are known for being very capital-intensive, and often millions have been spent and countless jobs created before oil and gas companies start drilling or wind companies install turbines.
Punitively removing one industry from this exemption’s benefit only stands to drive wind energy investment to friendlier states, taking their jobs, landowner payments and taxes with them. And the risk of losing investments to neighboring states is real. Developers warn me that such a repeal would be a self-defeating step, as dollars leave the state. It is estimated that wind in Oklahoma would then be 30-50 percent more expensive than in Texas, Kansas and Nebraska. Further, Oklahoma will miss out on new investment opportunities with our Southwest Power Pool expanding to include Colorado and Wyoming, as the SPP buys electricity on low price alone. Now is not the time to drive energy investment out of Oklahoma.
We must start thinking long-term, showing diverse industries that Oklahoma is open for business. As our elected officials gather next week for special session, I’ll be calling my legislators asking them to support wind energy and keep wind investing in Oklahoma. I hope you’ll join me.
Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.