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Harnessing wind power won’t be a breeze  

State Secretary of Energy David Fleischaker has a vision for Oklahoma’s potential as a provider of electricity generated by wind.

“Oklahoma has the potential to produce wind energy to supply the rest of the nation just like we traditionally have sent oil to the rest of the country,” he said.

Wind has the potential to produce 25,000 megawatts of power in western Oklahoma, he said. Current production for the state utilities totals 12,000 to 15,000 megawatts. The U.S. can currently generate more than 10,000 megawatts of electricity from the wind, enough to provide power to 2.5 million average American homes, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, part of the U.S. Department of Energy.

“The immediate challenge is to build transmission infrastructure to send wind energy to end users in other states,” he said.

Paying for the wind power transmission infrastructure is a complicated proposition involving state and federal regulators, the Southwest Power Pool, wind farm owners, landowners, Oklahoma-based utilities, utilities in other states – many east of the Mississippi River – who would buy the wind power created in Oklahoma and end users.

“Our challenge is to encourage orderly development of this resource,” Fleischaker said.

The challenge includes fair compensation for Oklahoma resources.

“We do not want to deliver an industry that exports revenues out of state,” he said.

The formula to keep revenues in state includes landowners.

“There is a land rush in western Oklahoma for sites for wind towers and to develop wind farms,” Fleischaker said. “We want to educate the landowners so they get a fair share of the revenue for having wind turbines on their property.”

The number of turbines that can be operated on a section of land varies. Typically up to 12 750 kilowatt or six 1.5 megawatt turbines can be placed on a section of land, according to the Oklahoma Wind Power Initiative, a collaborative research project between the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University.

While terms vary, a typical land lease agreement pays the owner 2 percent to 4 percent of the gross annual turbine revenues, or approximately $2,000 for a 750 kilowatt turbine, according to the OWPI.

OG&E’s Centennial Wind Farm near Woodward, one of the few wind farms owned and operated by a utility, has 80 turbines generating 120 megawatts of power.
The Oklahoma City-based utility also has a 15-year contract to purchase power produced from the Oklahoma Wind Energy Center, also near Woodward, owned by Florida-based FPL Energy. The 34 FPL wind turbines generate 50 megawatts of power for the OG&E electric system.

Selling power generated by wind turbines in western Oklahoma in other states takes additional infrastructure, which requires investment.

“I would like to see the infrastructure burden shifted to those utilities that need the power,” Fleischaker said. “And that would be the utilities east of the Mississippi River.”

Possible federal legislation could help shift the cost of infrastructure to other states.

Fleischaker said he supports a proposal for a renewable electricity standard by U.S. Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M. Udall’s bill, which has been passed by the House, would require electric utilities, other than governmental entities and rural electric cooperatives, to provide 15 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources and energy-efficiency measures by 2020.

If the legislation is approved, utilities east of the Mississippi River producing electricity from coal would seek alternatives to meet the requirement for production from renewable energy.

“The logical choice for them is Oklahoma wind,” Fleischaker said.

The mandates to use renewable energy sources would encourage the eastern utilities to have contracts for Oklahoma wind power and that would help shift the burden of building infrastructure to them, he said.

The Southwest Power Pool, a regional transmission group with members in eight states including Oklahoma, has developed a formula for the infrastructure cost to be split between utilities and end users.

The SPP is pushing a wind power transmission system based in Oklahoma but extending into Kansas and Texas, he said.

“The system would capture the energy and send it east,” he said.

Rules are also needed to ensure transmission reliability.

“Who pays the cost for reliability is being debated now in the Southwest Power Pool,” Fleischaker said. “The question is how much of the cost is the burden of utilities and how much is socialized.”

Federal legislation limiting carbon emissions also could influence the infrastructure burden.

Carbon emission limitations would require the utilities using coal to produce electricity to buy clean energy – power produced from Oklahoma wind – to offset power produced from coal.

“The whole question about who pays for infrastructure is in flux,” Fleischaker said.
The potential for Oklahoma is great.

For 2006, Oklahoma ranked sixth among the states in installed wind power generation with 535 megawatts, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

“The National Renewable Energy Laboratory predicts that by 2030 Oklahoma will be the second-largest generator of wind power after Texas,” Fleischaker said.

Oklahoma’s wind energy potential would not be limited to selling electricity in other states.

“If we can grow to be the center of wind energy production, it makes sense for wind turbine manufacturers to be located here,” he said.

by David Page

The Journal Record

22 April 2008

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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