Helped by a year-end surge of completed wind projects, Oklahoma is well ahead of schedule for a state goal for renewable energy capacity.
The state's renewable energy goal, passed in 2010, called for 15 percent renewable energy by 2015. Oklahoma came close to meeting that mark in 2011, with 14.5 percent.
More than 1,100 megawatts of wind power capacity came online last year in the state. Much of it was driven by a rush of projects spawned by uncertainty over the expiration of a crucial federal tax credit for electricity generated from renewable energy. Congress then extended the wind production tax credit until the end of 2013.
Oklahoma now ranks sixth in the nation for wind energy capacity, according to the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group. The state was in eighth place in 2011.
An Oklahoma Corporation Commission report on the 2012 status of the renewable energy goal is expected in the next few weeks. The 2011 report showed more than 2,750 megawatts of renewable energy capacity and another 165 megawatts that came from energy efficiency measures adopted by utilities.
At least two bills at the Legislature, including one by Senate Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, would have upgraded the renewable energy goal to 20 percent by 2020. Both failed to get a committee hearing this year.
Spokesman Nathan Atkins said Bingman wanted to hold onto the bill and work on it during next year's session. Bingman's Senate Bill 555 included a provision allowing exports of renewable energy outside the state to count toward the proposed percentage.
Oklahoma is one of eight states to have a renewable energy goal. Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have renewable energy standards, which have come under criticism by conservative policy groups for forcing utilities to install renewable capacity at the expense of consumers.
The American Legislative Exchange Council has model legislation called the Electricity Freedom Act for lawmakers to introduce in states with renewable energy mandates. The model legislation calls the standards “essentially a tax on consumers of electricity” that distort the market. It has been introduced in at least five states this year.
Oklahoma Secretary of Energy Mike Ming said Oklahoma's renewable energy goal works better for the state than a mandate. A combination of wind resources, federal tax credits and planning for future transmission all helped boost renewable energy development in the state, he said.
Ming credited planning at the regional grid operator, the Southwest Power Pool, and the construction of an Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. transmission line from Woodward to central Oklahoma as key parts in meeting the goal ahead of time.
“Not only can we build projects economically — and getting more so all the time — but those projects can get their power injected into the grid,” Ming said. “The SPP (Southwest Power Pool) planning process put us way ahead.”
Ming said Clean Line Energy Partners' planned high-voltage, direct-current transmission line from the Oklahoma Panhandle to Tennessee will help future wind development, too. The Plains and Eastern Clean Line project would link wind farms in the Panhandle to utilities in the southeastern United States where wind resources are scarce.
“The Clean Line project could export a whole lot of power out of the Panhandle, which is kind of an untapped resource right now because the infrastructure hasn't been there,” Ming said.
The state's renewable energy goal is an economic development tool that shows companies the state is serious about the industry but not heavy-handed, he said. Efforts to roll back mandates in other states could be related to pressure from utility customers and regulators.
“In some states where the wind isn't as economically viable as ours, you could have a situation where you're forcing a solution when the wind is not really that economically competitive with the alternatives,” Ming said. “You may get more pushback in those states when their electricity prices start to reflect that. ... It's a good feather in Oklahoma's cap that we've been able to do this without a mandate.”