Most Oklahomans would support phasing out the state's coal-fired power plants and using more renewable resources such as wind for electricity, according to a poll commissioned by the Sierra Club.
The poll, released Thursday, also found more than 70 percent of respondents would support paying a “few dollars per month” for energy efficiency programs if it meant lower electricity bills in the future.
“By an overwhelming majority, voters in Oklahoma want their state to use more clean energy,” said Grace McRae, polling and research strategist with the Sierra Club. “Oklahomans are proud of their state's clean-energy economy, and they'd like to continue their leadership in this space.”
Oklahoma had 2,000 megawatts of wind-power capacity installed at the end of 2011, enough to power more than 500,000 homes. The state ranked eighth in wind-generation capacity, according to the Wind Technologies Market Report by the federal Energy Department.
Nearly seven out of 10 poll respondents said Oklahoma utility companies should invest more in wind power.
None of the Sierra Club polling questions mentioned natural gas as a possible replacement fuel for coal. Recent low natural gas prices have pushed several utilities across the country to switch from coal to gas for generation. Low natural gas prices can make it harder for wind to compete on fuel costs.
The Sierra Club has faulted Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. for not following the lead of the state's other large electric utility, Public Service Co. of Oklahoma, in phasing out its coal-fired plants. PSO announced earlier this year it would retire its last two coal-fired generating units at the Northeastern Station plant near Oologah in two stages: one in 2016 and the other by 2026.
The poll continued the Sierra Club's criticism of OG&E with a question about how the utility should address pending regulations on emissions. When asked if OG&E should install pollution-control equipment or phase out its coal plants, 45 percent of those polled said the utility should retire the coal plants. Another 34 percent opted for pollution-control equipment, while 21 percent weren't sure.
Whitney Pearson, state organizer for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, said the poll shows Oklahomans support a transition away from coal and toward clean-energy alternatives.
“Oklahoma is lucky to have an abundance of natural resources available right here at home, unlike other states that are making the decision to transition off coal,” Pearson said.
Brian Alford, OG&E spokesman, said the poll leads to incomplete conclusions.
“The answers aren't as simple as phasing out coal generation or natural gas generation and replacing 100 percent with wind or solar,” Alford said. “We all know how hot it gets in Oklahoma, and wind doesn't blow just a whole lot in the summer. We're using more and more electricity as a state, and meeting that demand requires multiple options.”
Stan Whiteford with PSO said the utility has signed up 669 customers in its WindChoice program, which started in March 2011. The program allows customers to pay an extra $1.72 for 100 kilowatt hour “blocks” of electricity generated by wind. PSO has more than 520,000 customers in the state.
The poll also touched on energy efficiency, with 72 percent saying they would strongly or somewhat support paying a little more for utility energy efficiency programs. Another 25 percent said they wouldn't support higher bills for that purpose.
“Energy efficiency is about eliminating waste out of the system. It's not about sitting in a cold, dark room — it's about sitting in a comfortable room that uses power in a smarter way,” said Temur Akhmedov, energy solutions business developer at ES2 in Oklahoma City.
Alford said OG&E has been a leader on smart-grid technology and continues to sign up customers to its Smart Hours program, which allows customers to alter their usage during more expensive, peak-demand times.
“They are saving money and helping to reduce demand on the system,” he said. “We don't want to have to build new incremental generation until at least 2020, and these programs will help get us there.”
About the recent poll
The Sierra Club poll surveyed 500 registered Oklahoma voters on Aug. 25-27. It had a margin of error of 4.3 percentage points and was done by Public Policy Polling of Raleigh, N.C.