Wind energy can produce revenue for those who pay up front

eds of towers and acres. 

There are five large wind farms in Oklahoma, according to the Oklahoma Wind Power Initiative. Corporate utilities companies like OG&E, Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority and Public Service Company of Oklahoma purchase the majority of the wind power generated by these farms.

When the scope is narrowed to small-scale production, there is less to be seen. The current state laws regulated by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission require investor-owned utilities to file a net billing tariff for power produced by customer-owned, small-scale production facilities rated at 100 kilowatts or less and producing no more than 25,000 kilowatt-hours per year. If the individuals meet all requirements, they can recoup the cost of their used electricity on a yearly basis, said Matt Skinner, spokesman for the OCC.

However, power companies such as OG&E are only required to pay the customer the equivalent of a wholesale rate.

"You don't get paid what OG&E sells it for. You get paid their avoided cost," Skinner said.
Add the initial cost in the tens of thousands, and Bergey said it would take decades to pay off the turbine. In short, the current lack of legislation providing provisions for tax credits makes installing a personal wind turbine not very economically efficient, even if the power is.

Bergey Windpower has sold and installed only one 10-kilowatt wind turbine in Oklahoma in the last 20 years. The $60,000 turbine can be expensive for the individual, but business owner Marc Heitz saw the windmill as an investment.

When Marc Heitz planned to move his Chevrolet dealership in Norman to a new facility on Interstate 35, he made sure the new building incorporated several environmentally friendly ideas. Heitz designed the building around "green" elements like skylights to fill the showroom with sunlight, windows that are specially treated and a cistern that collects rainwater for irrigation. But the most noticeable element is the 10-kilowatt Bergey wind turbine in the front lot.

"It's kind of become a landmark," said Ben Hayes, a new car manager at the dealership, of the 100-foot tower.

The 10-kilowatt turbine produces enough electricity to cover the cost of operating the dealership's lot lights, Hayes said. Marc Heitz Chevrolet could be an example for other business owners in Oklahoma.

"It's a matter of risk versus reward from a business standpoint," Hayes said. "We found the reward to being environmentally friendly greater than the risk."

Hayes said Marc Heitz Chevrolet is a pioneer in environmentally friendly businesses. He said it not only saved the dealership money through energy production, but it also helped drive traffic to the lot.

"We get people almost every day that come in just to ask about the windmill," Hayes said.

Increasing oil prices and the current political environment will eventually lead to strong growth and expansion throughout the wind power industry, Bergey said. He said both HB 2247 and SB 9 could not only provide tax write-offs, but also provide an increase in business and competition for his small company.

"It's a chicken and egg dilemma," Bergey said. "More people would buy them if they cost less, but they can't cost less until people buy them."

Bergey said similar bills were passed in 2006 and 2007, but failed in committee. He said budget constraints and opposition from certain state representatives are what eventually came into play.

In the 2009 legislative session, Bergey thinks the bills will finally pass and loosen the constraints on small-scale wind production, and he is not alone. Gumm sees eye-to-eye with Bergey and has been a longtime supporter of renewable energy efforts in Oklahoma, especially wind power.

"The technology will become more affordable, that's one thing," Gumm said, "and using our tax code to encourage good behavior and this development I think is a good policy for the state."

However, he thinks that tax credits by the state are not enough to maximize the wind power potential in Oklahoma. Gumm said a combination of federal subsidies and an increase in jobs in Oklahoma are the keys to driving wind power and the state's economy.

"Wind power is going to be limited until (incentives are passed), and if you add to it a federal tax credit, you have added incentive to buy the equipment," he said. "And, with the use of Oklahoma-built equipment, you are really maximizing your bottom line."

Rep. Gus Blackwell, R-Goodwell, is also a strong proponent for wind power in Oklahoma. He co-authored one of the failed bills recently, and he continues to argue in favor of more efficient power production and independence.

"At the present time, we have an abundance of wind, a natural resource, and it takes zero input cost, and if we can continue to develop it, it will help us solve one facet of the energy problem."

If HB 2247 or SB 9 pass this spring, Blackwell foresees an increase in small-scale wind-generated electricity, especially in schools, hospitals, small businesses and other entities facing a financial crunch.

"Especially in more rural areas," he said, "I see that small scale will definitely help provide cost saving and energy independence and continue to decrease the load we already have on the grid.

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