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Energy companies blown away by wind farm demand

September 15, 2006 - Adam Wilmoth - The Oklahoman

Oklahoma’s power companies continue to convert one of the state’s most abundant resources into environmentally-friendly electricity.

Construction is under way at Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co.’s Centennial Wind Energy Project near Woodward, which promises to more than triple the company’s wind offering. The first of the new turbines are expected to become operational early next month, and the project is scheduled for completion by the end of the year.

“Wind in Oklahoma has been a huge success,” OG&E spokesman Brian Alford said. “It’s something our customers told us they want. They like having that option and we’re excited to be able to bring more to our system.”

Demand for wind energy appears to still be growing. The state’s four major electric companies said they are considering more projects in the future, although no formal plans have been announced.

“There is a lot of buzz going on in western Oklahoma with different companies,” said Stephanie Buway, a graduate research assistant for the Oklahoma Wind Power Initiative. “I foresee an increase in demand. More and more people are seeing these wind farms, and more and more people are wanting them on their land, not only for the economic benefit, but also for the environment.”

As more projects have sprouted across the state, landowners have become more willing to have the turbines on their land, Buway said. Many now seek out the projects.

“More and more people I talk to say they are beautiful,” Buway said. “They welcome them.”

All four of the state’s major electric utilities buy electricity from local wind farms. The state’s three wind farms generate a capacity of 475 megawatts, making Oklahoma the No. 5 wind energy producer in the country.

OG&E’s newest project is a 120-megawatt facility near an existing wind farm that already provides 51 megawatts of power to the state’s largest electric company.

Unlike Oklahoma’s other wind projects, OG&E plans to own and operate the Centennial Wind Energy Project.

Even though demand is strong for windgenerated and other forms of renewable energy, other factors may make construction more difficult, said Drake Rice, director of member services at the Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority.

“The price of wind turbines has gone up substantially because of the interest,” he said. “There is a site available at our current wind farm for additional turbines, but the price of the turbines has increased substantially, making it no longer cost efficient.”

Besides the higher cost of wind power equipment, natural gas prices have fallen during the past seven months, reducing some of the economic benefits of wind-generated electricity. Rice, however, said the authority is looking into the possibility of adding more wind power at some point in the future, if such a move would be cost effective.

The state’s electric cooperatives report a similar situation.

“Wind power has been a good thing for our customers, the environment and our local economies,” said Carl Liles, director of enterprise management for Western Farmers Electric Cooperative. “Officially, I can’t say yes or no or when, but I think you will see some more wind on our system as our system grows and we learn how to integrate it into our generation mix.”

Public Service Co. of Oklahoma, the state’s wind power leader, said it likely will expand its system in the future. PSO has nearly 300 megawatts of power coming from its wind farms near Weatherford and Lawton.

“We have our eyes open,” spokesman Stan Whiteford said. “At some point, this state will reach a point of saturation. We don’t know what that is yet, but we have a feeling that it’s not close. We feel there is room for more wind energy resources and are looking for opportunities as they arise. At this point, we don’t have anything to announce, but I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point we do have something.”


Updated: 2016/06/30

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