Oklahoma has long been known for its abundant reserves of oil and gas, but Norman-area lawmakers want to add wind power to the list of leading energy sources.
Already, 420 towering wind turbines in western Oklahoma provide about 3 percent of the state’s electricity, according to the Oklahoma Wind Power Initiative, a joint project of the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University.
Wind power advocates believe the potential contribution is much greater, particularly if the Legislature approves a proposed tax credit that would subsidize more than a third of the cost of purchasing and installing a small wind turbine generating system.
“We are very uniquely positioned to be a leader in wind power,” said state Rep. Scott Martin, R- Norman, one of the lawmakers supporting the measure.
That’s electricity to the ears of Mike Bergey, president of Bergey Windpower Co. of Norman. Bergey’s firm is the world’s largest manufacturer of small wind turbines used for homes and businesses, and would be among the biggest beneficiaries of the proposed tax break.
The wind power bill (HB 1387) would provide a 40 percent tax credit for the purchase and installation of small wind turbines as well as solar power equipment. The bill passed the House 89-11 last month and was approved last week by the Senate Finance Committee. It awaits consideration by the full Senate.
With small generating systems costing as much as $50,000 to purchase and install, the 40 percent tax break could entice more businesses and homeowners to take the plunge into wind power, advocates say.
“This is a relatively new technology, so the cost of some of this alternative energy equipment is quite expensive” said state Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, the bill’s principal author. The tax credit, he said, “makes purchasing and installing that equipment a whole lot more affordable for the average working Oklahoman to put in their house.”
Bergey Windpower has been manufacturing small turbines for 30 years, and most of its sales have been to customers on the East and West Coasts and overseas. Mike Bergey said he hopes the tax credit will encourage Oklahomans to buy his turbines.
“I think it will begin to launch a market locally for small wind systems,” Bergey said.
Martin thinks Bergey Windpower is on the cutting edge of alternative energy.
“I’m very proud to have a company like Bergey Windpower in Norman,” Martin said. “In a time when energy costs are rising, to have someone at the forefront of alternative energy in your own backyard is very exciting.”
Currently, Oklahoma ranks eighth in the nation in total wind power generation, but sixth in potential wind energy production, said Oklahoma Wind Power Initiative spokeswoman Stephanie Buway.
Some lawmakers are shooting even higher.
“It will make a difference in the long run if other states follow our leadership,” said state Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, R-Moore. “Honestly, I’d like to see us be No. 1 in wind power.”
Supporters of the tax credit said it is important for the state to help promote sales of wind power systems. The technology will become more affordable as the industry grows, particularly if the price of other energy sources continues to rise.
“The higher the cost of fuel gets the more this bill makes sense,” said state Rep. Bill Nations, D-Norman, one of the bill’s co-authors.
Terrill said another objective is to encourage energy independence, both at the national and individual level.
“We really need to start trying to free ourselves from some of our dependence on what is a finite and unstable energy source,” Terrill said. “I mean, who wouldn’t be interested in not having to pay for electricity?”
Bergey said it generally takes 20 to 30 years for small wind turbines to pay for themselves. But if Terrill’s bill is enacted, the pay-back period could be reduced to as few as 12 years, he said.
Besides its potential to save money, wind power is good for the environment. According to the American Wind Energy Association, one 1.5 megawatt wind turbine, like those used in a 98-turbine wind farm near Weatherford, offsets 2,700 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, and is the equivalent of planting 1.5 square miles of forest.
By Derek Stron
The Norman Transcript
State Capital News Service
8 April 2007
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