Frank Keating: SB 888 a step in the right direction

As published in The Oklahoman, April 29, 2018
When I was governor in 2001, the wind industry made many promises. It promised us jobs but very few have been produced. It promised to manufacture here, but manufacturing is done out of state. It promised money for schools, but education as a whole is suffering and the industry refuses to help.

The wind industry’s claim that we have a moral obligation to honor our promises to them is nonsense when you consider it hasn’t honored one of its original promises to Oklahoma. The tax credit was designed to give a jump-start to a wind industry in its infancy in Oklahoma. It was sold as a low-cost way to broaden our already robust energy and economic development program. What was promised to cost the state less than $2 million annually when I was in office, has soared to estimates of $930 million over the next 10 years.

Industrial wind has been presented many opportunities to help find solutions to fix Oklahoma’s budget gap. When asked to participate in the Step Up plan and HB 1010XX to support education, these multibillion-dollar companies based outside of Oklahoma threatened to sue and file bankruptcy.

Private equity firms, international companies and Wall Street banks fund these wind farm operations and they have no vested interest in the future of Oklahoma, other than to harvest our natural resources and tax incentives. It’s time to stop taking money away from education, roads and services Oklahomans need, to write checks to this wealthy industry. For example, did you know that wind subsidies for one turbine exceed the starting salary of an Oklahoma teacher, even with the pay raise?

Senate Bill 888 will be heard in the Oklahoma Senate this week. The measure ends cash payments to wind companies for the energy they produce. This means Oklahoma taxpayers will stop paying them for energy they already sell on the free market. They still get to stockpile the credits for up to 20 years from the date they are earned and operate virtually tax free in Oklahoma. Other subsidy programs, including ad valorem and sales tax exemptions, remain in place, and the industry is still not required to pay a wind production tax. In fact, Oklahoma Tax Commission records show that taxpayers actually paid 80 percent of wind’s ad valorem taxes in 2017. The industry is deferred from paying those taxes for the first five years. Because of a tax loophole, Oklahoma is required to reimburse school districts and counties for that lost revenue. This year, lawmakers are struggling to find an additional $94 million to pay for those ad valorem exemptions granted prior to July 2017.

Oklahoma’s wind policy has warped into a scam costing taxpayers millions to the detriment of other publicly funded services. I’m dismayed that taxpayer money has been spent so recklessly and it is our duty as citizens and policymakers to end corporate welfare for wind. SB 888 is a step in the right direction.

Keating, a Republican, served as governor of Oklahoma from 1995-2003.

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Please contact your local senator now to let them know you support this common-sense approach to curb taxpayer-funded wind payouts.