“We think Oklahoma's ratepayers could benefit by Oklahoma utilities locking in a long-term gas supply,” Roth, a former corporation commissioner, said after the meeting. “They obviously don't need to lock in their entire supply, but when we're at historic lows, why not lock in at least 10 years or more?”
In the meantime, OG&E has to deal with several environmental regulations to control emissions from its coal plants. Scrubbers are the most expensive option, OG&E said, but it may also look at retiring coals units or converting them to natural gas. Much of those costs would be passed on to customers.
“We're continuing to look out for customers' costs and that's the big reason why we are delaying the decision on scrubbers and we haven't gone forward with putting scrubbers on our units,” Howell said.
OG&E is working toward installing emissions-control equipment for regulations dealing with mercury and air toxic gases, as well as nitrogen oxide emissions. But it is waiting for a court review to deal with sulfur dioxide emissions, which federal regulators said interfere with visibility at national parks.
Coal plants criticized
The Sierra Club said OG&E should be doing more to emphasize energy efficiency and criticized the utility for relying on aging coal plants that are due for expensive upgrades.
“It is also disappointing that OG&E views cleanup requirements on its coal plants as hassles to be battled in court rather than an opportunity to better protect the health of Oklahomans,” said Whitney Pearson, associate organizing representative with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign.
OG&E said its customers will be responsible for more than $1.36 billion in transmission upgrades in the next decade to make the regional grid more reliable. The utility is a member of the Arkansas-based Southwest Power Pool, which organizes and plans electricity transmission in a nine-state area. Major transmission upgrade costs for the region are pooled among members.
Several meeting participants questioned OG&E on the cost estimates for those transmission upgrades. The estimates went from $61 million in 2011 to $147 million by 2021.
Howell said the pool has ramped up its transmission expansion plans and the revenue requirements should come down over time as the investments depreciate over the next 40 years.