Two-thirds of Oklahoma’s energy needs could be served by wind power by 2050 under an ambitious 50-state plan to transition to renewable energy by a Stanford University professor.
The state has a long way to go, since wind provided just 15 percent of the electricity generated in Oklahoma last year, according to data from the federal Energy Information Administration. And the plan could have difficulty gaining support in Oklahoma, with its longtime economic reliance on the oil and natural gas industry.
Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford, is the lead researcher for the The Solutions Project, a plan to transition from fossil and nuclear fuels to wind, water and solar energy. Jacobson presented his 50-state plan in February at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago.
“Drastic problems require drastic and immediate solutions,” Jacobson said when the plan was released last month. “Our new road map is designed to provide each state a first step toward a renewable future.”
Jacobson’s team of researchers previously presented detailed proposals for a transition to renewable energy for New York, California and Washington. The Solutions Project builds on those efforts for all 50 states. The board for the project includes renewable energy investors and some vocal opponents of oil and gas development, including “Gasland” filmmaker Josh Fox and actor Mark Ruffalo.
For Oklahoma, the plan envisions 65 percent of the state’s energy use coming from wind farms by 2050. Another 25 percent would come from two types of utility-scale solar plants, photovoltaic and concentrated solar power plants. The remainder would come from either rooftop solar panels or hydropower.
The changes are not just for the electrical generation sector; the plan also wants renewable energy for transportation, industry and heating and cooling. It relies heavily on energy efficiency measures to meet its goal. For Oklahoma, it expects energy efficiency to shave 35 percent off total energy demand.
Oklahoma currently has more than 3,100 megawatts of wind generation capacity, with more than 1,700 industrial-scale turbines dotting the landscape in the western half of the state.
To get to 65 percent wind generation, many more turbines would have to be built. The plan estimated 3 percent of the state — about 2,000 square miles — would be taken up by the space needed for new wind farms. Jacobson said much of that land also could be used for agriculture.
In Oklahoma, the plan estimated 57,600 construction jobs and 26,000 operations jobs could be created in a transition to renewable energy over 40 years.
Is it practical?
Transitioning Oklahoma’s economy entirely to renewable energy isn’t practical, said Cody Bannister, spokesman for the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association.
“By my calculation, 95 percent of their energy production comes from wind and solar,” Bannister said of The Solutions Project plan. “There are days in Oklahoma when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. Oil and natural gas will continue to be the primary energy sources in our state.”
Bannister said the state’s economy would suffer with the loss of high-paying oil and gas jobs if it went completely to renewable power. The state’s energy infrastructure would require massive investment to make a complete transition to renewable energy.
“The infrastructure for the past 100 years has been based on one fuel, and to completely change that would be impossible,” Bannister said.
Support could grow
In an email, Jacobson said public support for the plan would come when residents realize the fuel savings from large-scale renewable energy projects, as well as from a shift to more fuel-efficient electric cars.
“Oklahoma produced 15 percent of its electricity from wind in 2013, so the playing field is shifting under everyone’s feet,” Jacobson said. “Wind and solar both stabilize electricity prices because of the zero fuel cost, whereas fossil fuel prices keep rising.”
Whitney Pearson, the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal organizer in Oklahoma, welcomed the ideas from The Solutions Project.
“As the Sierra Club continues to work on replacing coal and prioritizing renewable energy sources to expand the clean-energy economy, it’s great to see another group pushing for renewable energy and highlighting the benefits it brings to Oklahoma,” Pearson said. “More renewable energy means cleaner air and water for Oklahoma.”
For more information on The Solutions Project, go to www.thesolutions