NORMAN — A month after completing the switch to using renewable energy, the University of Oklahoma's electric bill hasn't gone up noticeably, the school's facilities director said.
Brian Ellis, the university's director of facilities management, said savings from energy efficiency upgrades have offset the premium the university pays for wind power and increases from campus growth.
The university signed an agreement with Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. in 2008 to buy all of its purchased power from renewable sources by the beginning of this year.
As a part of that agreement, OG&E built the OU Spirit Wind Farm, a 10,000-acre farm near Woodward.
The farm features 44 wind turbines and produces enough electricity to power the equivalent of 25,000 homes.
Under the deal, OU agreed to buy its power from OG&E. With that purchase, OU receives renewable energy credits at the rate of one credit for each 10,000-kilowatt-hour block of power, OG&E spokeswoman Kathleen O'Shea said.
Those credits may then be traded or sold.
OU receives about 85 percent of the renewable energy credits generated by the farm, O'Shea said.
The university pays a premium for those credits. But that cost is offset by savings from the university's energy efficiency program, which includes replacing exterior lightbulbs to reduce wattage, upgrading air-conditioning systems and installing motion detectors on campus vending machines to allow them to shut down when not in use.
When OU officials signed the agreement with OG&E in 2008, about 10 percent of the university's power came from renewable sources. The university began phasing in its renewable energy plan over a five-year period, with 90 percent of last year's purchased power being made up by wind power, he said.
Today, OU buys about 85 percent of its power from OG&E, Ellis said. The university generates the remaining 15 percent of its power on campus.
The university has two natural gas-fueled power plants — a plant at the corner of Jenkins Avenue and Felgar Street that dates back to 1947, and a second at the corner of Jenkins Avenue and Lindsey Street that was completed in September.
The new plant isn't fully operational, Ellis said, but university officials hope it will allow them to shut down the old plant in the next five years. Ellis said he expects the new plant to be more efficient than the one built in 1947.
“Obviously, technology has changed quite a bit since then,” he said.
The transition to wind power hasn't caused a noticeable change in how the university operates, Ellis said. However, it could help the university weather another spike in energy prices such as the one the nation saw in 2008.
Ellis said he thinks OU's wind power initiative is a model that could be used elsewhere. He noted that Oklahoma State University recently launched a similar agreement with OG&E to build the OSU Cowboy Wind Farm near Blackwell.
“It's shown that wind power can be a viable option in this state,” Ellis said. “For the long term, it is going to be beneficial for us.”