Oklahoma's wind industry could benefit from proposed legislation

A proposed federal renewable electricity standard could put Oklahoma in position to sell its wind resources to states in need of renewable energy, officials said.
BY JAY F. MARKS Published: September 24, 2010

It often seems as if the wind never stops blowing in Oklahoma.

That could pay big dividends for the state as federal lawmakers consider a renewable electricity standard that would require utility companies to get a certain percentage of their power from renewable resources.

State wind advocates insist passage of legislation calling for increased renewable energy generation would pave the way for Oklahoma to sell its wind-power resources to utilities in other states, making wind turbines an even more common sight on the horizon.

"I've always called it the next oil well," said former state Rep. Curt Roggow, a lobbyist for the Wind Coalition.

"It's the next oil well out there for rural Oklahoma."

Oklahoma currently has 1130 megawatts of wind power, with another 400 megawatts currently under construction, according to the state Commerce Department.

That accounts for 5 percent of the state's generation capacity, which ranks Oklahoma 10th in the nation in that category, said Kylah McNabb, the Commerce Department's wind development specialist.

"We're very excited to see that," she said.

McNabb said the state's largest power providers have been committed to adding more wind to their generation portfolios, even before Oklahoma lawmakers passed a renewable energy goal this year.

She said the new legislation should boost wind development more in the future.

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What about when wind is calm?

There has to be a backup plan as more wind is added to the power portfolio of Oklahoma and the nation.

Wind is an intermittent resource, so utility companies must rely on some other power source to generate electricity when the wind is not blowing.

Oklahoma Energy Secretary Bobby Wegener said wind and natural gas work well together in that regard.

Wegener said Colorado tried to use coal as a backup to its wind power, but that destroyed the efficiency of coal plants while increasing emissions.

The coal plants were not built to be turned off and on, but gas-fired plants are more flexible, he said.

Wegener said the best-case scenario is for those industries to promote each other as they try to grow.

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