Tilting at Oklahoma's Wind Turbines

Tilting at Oklahoma’s Wind Turbines - March 20, 2016

State Representative David Perryman

“Just then they came in sight of thirty or forty windmills that rise from that plain. And no sooner did Don Quixote see them that he said to his squire, "Fortune is guiding our affairs better than we ourselves could have wished. Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them. With their spoils we shall begin to be rich for this is a righteous war and the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless." -- ‘The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha’ Part 1, Chapter VIII.

Miguel de Cervante’s 17th Century tale of misguided heroism involves a hidalgo, a nobleman without a hereditary title, but whose status has exempted him from taxes. The story’s specific hidalgo is Don Quixote, whose tax free status allows him to collect and read a rather large library of books of chivalry. Quixote’s literary diet of all things chivalrous transforms him from a rational man to a knight-errant seeking adventures with which to feed an insatiable desire to prove his own chivalric virtues.

So distorted is Quixote’s judgment that excursions with his faithful squire, Sancho Panza become crusades to right wrongs existing only in his own mind.

According to a 2002 survey of 100 world renown authors, Don Quixote was selected as the world’s best novel and gained 50% more votes than any other book, eclipsing works by Shakespeare, Homer and Tolstoy.

Twenty first Century Oklahoma now has its own version of windmill tilting as anti-renewable energy proponents assail wind turbines and the state’s tax policy associated with wind energy.

Earlier this month, a report in the Daily Oklahoman detailed a report that a group of oil and gas executives and industry leaders had formed the Windfall Coalition to campaign to end Oklahoma’s zero-emission tax incentive for the wind energy industry.

Quixotism is associated with a concept that ignores consequence or absurdity and the Windfall Coalition’s “altruistic” concern about Oklahoma’s budget certainly fits the bill as it refuses to discuss the hundreds of millions in annual tax credits, incentives and other tax breaks enjoyed by the oil and gas industry.

I co-authored a bill in 2015 forming a committee to review all tax credits and incentives. Unfortunately, it will be several months before an initial report is completed, and in addition to a likely third budget failure in this fiscal year, early projections for the 2017 budget indicate that a $1.3 billion hole will make next year worse than this one.

Oil and gas as well as wind energy need to be reviewed; however, attempts by the oil and gas industry and executives to abolish wind energy’s zero-emission tax credit without stepping up and putting its own credits on the table is less than genuine.

After all, wind energy has invested nearly $10 billion in the state in the past 15 years and annually returns millions of dollars to county government, school districts, career tech and more than $22 million each year to property owners according to a November 2015 State Chamber report utilizing OSU economists.

At the end of 2016, there will be only one Oklahoma tax credit remaining for companies that produce electricity using zero-emissions facilities, and despite that credit being scheduled for mandatory sunset over the next four budget years, the tax breaks for oil and gas go on and on and on.

Scores of school districts are enjoying new classrooms, state-of-the-art technology and safe rooms by virtue of revenue from the wind energy industry and those districts where wind turbines are located take less money from the school finance formula thereby freeing up state funds for use in school districts that do not have a wind energy presence.

All that said, clean, renewable wind energy provides 17 percent of the electricity powering our state, is currently Oklahoma’s cheapest form of electricity and will save Oklahoma ratepayers over $2 billion in fuel costs. The Windfall Coalition’s Quixotic crusade to joust Oklahoma’s clean energy turbines is less about Oklahoma’s budget and more about the profits of oil and gas executives, but don’t all causes claim chivalry?

Questions and comments are welcome. David.Perryman@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7401.