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Sweeping down the plains


Oklahoma stands on the frontier of alternative energy as more global companies locate wind farms in the Sooner State.

Brendan Hoover April 20th, 2011

Late last year, Acciona Energy began construction on the Dempsey Ridge Wind Farm located in Roger Mills County, a 132 MW facility consisting of 66 2.0 MW wind turbines located over 10,888 rural acres.

The project will create enough clean energy to power 46,000 homes and avoid the emission of approximately 339,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from conventional power plants, said Lisa Leipzig, project development manager for Acciona Energy North America.

“Sustainability is core to how we do business,” Leipzig said. “We’re excited to be bringing another project to fruition in Oklahoma. It’s a state that understands energy and has welcomed wind energy development.”

The wind farm, located 15 miles west of Acciona Energy’s 123 MW Red Hills Wind Farm, will be the company’s sixth in the U.S. and its third in Oklahoma. The company also has a stake in the Blue Canyon Wind Farm located in Comanche and Caddo counties in southwest Oklahoma.

The Minco Wind Energy Center, a 62-turbine, 99 MW facility owned and operated by NextEra Energy Resources, the nation’s largest wind power producer, went online last December, and a second phase is planned.

The Minco wind farm is one of five the company is currently operating or building in Oklahoma, spokesman Steven Stengel said.

The state ranks 11th in the nation in existing wind power capacity and eighth in potential capacity, according to the state Department of Commerce.

Economically friendly?

The price of wind power has dropped 90 percent in the past 20 years, according to the state commerce department, which promotes the development of alternative energy through its State Energy Office.

The state’s largest utilities, Public Service Company of Oklahoma and OGE, have both made wind power a part of their respective energy portfolios, in addition to power plants fueled by coal and natural gas.

OGE currently operates 420 MW of wind power as part of its 6,000 MW total generating capacity. Two new projects should be completed this year, and wind power will then account for 10 percent of that total, spokesman Tim Hartley said.

“Every wind power project we do has the customer in mind first,” Hartley said. “If it makes economic sense for our company, obviously we have a responsibility to our shareholders to do that. But if it doesn’t make sense for the customer, we’re not going to do that.”

It’s difficult to determine the exact number of OGE wind-power subscribers, due to a complicated mix of ways the electricity is disbursed and accounted for, but demand is high, Hartley said.

The University of Oklahoma has agreed to purchase 100 percent of its OGE-supplied electricity from renewable energy sources by 2013.

However, the economics are not all in wind power’s favor. Natural gas is cheaper to produce than wind power and competitively priced with coal, said Mike McDonald, chairman of the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association.

McDonald said there is a “bias against fossil fuels” at the federal level. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, some alternative energies received as much as 200 times more subsidies in 2007 than oil and natural gas for energy not related to electricity production.

“All we’re looking for is a level playing field,” McDonald said.

Transmission is another concern.

With most of the state’s wind power resources in northwest Oklahoma, power lines must be built to carry the electricity to population centers.

The Southwest Power Pool, a regional transmission organization mandated by the federal Energy Regulatory Commission to ensure reliable supplies of power, identified $4.5 billion in transmission expansion needs across its ninestate region, which includes Oklahoma.

Member utilities would share the cost, passing it onto customers.

Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner Jeff Cloud said five priority projects were singled out, including several in Oklahoma. One project, a 345 kV line, has already been constructed between Oklahoma City to Woodward, and the next leg is from Woodward to Guymon, Cloud said.

Going forward, utility companies will have to rely on a variety of energy sources, including natural gas, coal and wind, Cloud said.

“The problem with wind is, it’s not considered base load. It’s intermittent,” Cloud said. “It could be the hottest day of the year, for instance, when you need electricity, and the wind is not blowing.”

Though federal renewable energy mandates have not yet been installed, as energy experts predicted after President Obama’s election, the Oklahoma Legislature in 2010 passed a bill that set renewable energy production goals for state utility companies at 15 and 20 percent by 2015 and 2020, respectively.

“Oklahoma does not have a mandate, and one of the reasons for that is, we think, that we’ve been a leader for matching customer demand with renewable energy supply, without the government having to be involved,” Hartley said. “We’re doing it the old-fashioned way, through supply and demand in a free market.”

Environmentally friendly?

According to the American Wind Energy Association, in 2007, wind energy in the U.S. reduced carbon dioxide emissions by over 28 million tons, the equivalent to taking almost five million cars off the road. On average, each MW of wind energy — the amount produced by two wind turbines in one hour — reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 1,200 pounds.

However, a rise in bird and bat mortality rates has been blamed on the wind power industry.

 
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