Oklahoma grid operator says wind provided more than 60 percent of the power Friday

Source: By Jack Money, NewsOK • Posted: Tuesday, March 20, 2018

 A turbine that's part of a northern Oklahoma wind farm operates in 2017. More than 17,000 megawatts of wind power is dispatchable on the Southwest Power Pool grid. [Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman Archives]
A turbine that’s part of a northern Oklahoma wind farm operates in 2017. More than 17,000 megawatts of wind power is dispatchable on the Southwest Power Pool grid. [Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman Archives]¬†

You probably slept through it.

But if you were awake at 3:45 a.m., there was a better than six in 10 chance your light, television, phone charger or whatever electrical device you were using at that moment was using power generated by a wind farm.

The Southwest Power Pool, the regional transmission organization that manages the Great Plains’ electric grid, announced Friday it had set a wind-penetration record of 60.56 percent.

During that minute, wind supplied 13,928.94 megawatts of the 22,998.71 megawatts needed to provide power to customers of all of the utilities and other power distributors that operate within the pool’s 14-state coverage area.

A spokesman for the organization said Friday’s record is just one in a string of nearly a dozen that have been set just in recent months.

Undoubtedly, those records show the amount of wind-generated dispatchable power that’s fed into the grid continues to climb.

But other factors also played a role in setting Friday morning’s record, including powerful wind flows across generating stations throughout much of the region, plus a lower overall demand for electricity at the time because of unusually mild temperatures.

“This is the sixth or seventh record we have set just in the past 90 days or so,” said Derek Wingfield, with the Southwest Power Pool’s corporate communications division.

“Wind has grown very substantially over the last decade,” he said, noting that wind generation available for dispatch on the grid in 2008 was just more than 500 megawatts.

The amount of wind generated power available for dispatch now, he continued, is more than 17,000 megawatts. That makes up 20 percent of the 87,000 megawatts of generating capacity on the grid available at the start of 2018.

And, while it won’t all be built, there are studies underway within the pool’s operational area that are evaluating whether or not an additional 53,000 megawatts of wind power could be added in the future.

“A lot of those studies will get done, and then the requests will be withdrawn,” Wingfield said. “But that just gives you the sense of the potential that is still out there.”

Pulling it off

One key role the transmission organization plays is to use both human and computerized analytics to make sure power supplied across its 65,000 miles of transmission lines remains both dependable and as affordable as it can be for people within its operational area.

Reliability, Wingfield said, is the first thing the organization must achieve.

“As long as we have got wind on line that can serve the load reliably, and (it’s available) at low enough cost, it will be dispatched,” he said.

“And because the wind can stop blowing at any point, we have got to have other reliable resources online ready to be dispatched, also at a moment’s notice.”

Often, that source is electricity generated by a natural gas power generating station, since it can be quickly brought online.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner, filled a seat on the commission just as wind development was getting started. Roth said Friday the penetration record confirms to him that wind is achieving reliability and affordability standards.

“Wind projects are costing only a fourth or less than what it cost to bring those online a decade ago because the technology has improved. The price of production has come down,” Roth said.

“And, through the geographical diversity of the Southwest Power Pool’s footprint, the wind always is blowing somewhere” and that helps with the source’s reliability, he observed.

“That 60 percent getting dispatched Friday morning was the cheapest form of electricity on the grid,” he said. “And that’s good for consumers.”

Wingfield, meanwhile, said the growth of wind-generated power on the organization’s grid has surpassed expectation.

“Looking back 10 years ago, we wouldn’t have thought this was possible. We thought about 25 percent of wind penetration would be about all that anyone could handle reliably,” he said.

However, he added the additional growth ultimately was made possible through a build-out of transmission lines and the organization’s efforts to improve its load, reliability and pricing functions.

“It is impressive, and we are proud of all the different pieces that had to come together to enable that to happen,” Wingfield said.

Roth agreed, saying, “it has been exciting to see it grow since its beginnings.”