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Feds say wind farm owes millions for turbines in Osage County; wind farm attorneys disagree

Three wind turbines against a cloudy gray sky.
Wind Energy Technologies Office
U.S. Department of Energy

A federal judge says a wind farm must pay the Osage Nation for illegally mining on Osage land, but the court hasn’t decided how much. At closing arguments this week, federal prosecutors argued those damages are more than 500 times as much as the wind farm’s attorneys say it should owe.

Three interrelated companies — Enel Kansas, Enel Green Power North America and Osage Wind — leased land in 2010 to build 84 wind turbines. The lease covered 84,000 acres of surface land in Osage County, not the earth and minerals underneath. But the companies dug huge holes at the base of each turbine and used some of the excavated rocks as backfill.

In 2013, the Osage Minerals Council sued. They say this counts as mining, which requires a permit the wind farm never applied for. After 10 years in court, a federal judge agrees. Late last year, she ruled the companies must pay the Osage Nation damages, but the court hasn’t determined how much those are worth.

This week, attorneys presented dueling estimates before the judge. The wind farm’s lawyers argued they only owe around $69,000. But the U.S. Attorney’s Office says it’s more like $38 million, according to a report from the Tulsa World.

The judge will decide how much is owed now that attorneys have made their closing arguments.

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Graycen Wheeler is a reporter covering water issues at KOSU as a corps member with Report for America.
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