Oklahoma on-pace to become No. 3 wind energy producing state

Source: By Paighten Harkins, Tulsa World • Posted: Friday, August 26, 2016

So much wind sweeps through Oklahoma’s plains that the state — while currently ranked fourth in its capacity to produce wind energy — is on pace to overtake No. 3 California in installed capacity by the end of the year.

Data from the second quarter of 2015 shows Oklahoma has more than 1,000 megawatts of wind capacity under construction, said Hannah Hunt, a senior analyst with the American Wind Energy Association.

Installed wind capacity is essentially the amount of energy wind turbines could harness if operating at a theoretical 100 percent, Hunt said.

Once that construction is completed, Oklahoma is set to climb a spot on the list, behind only Iowa and Texas, Hunt said.

In 2015, Oklahoma’s installed wind capacity was 5,453 megawatts coming from 2,915 wind turbines. The wind capacity is 912 megawatts less than second-ranked Iowa and 209 megawatts less than third-place California, according to data from the American Wind Energy Association.

Texas is the nation’s top wind state, with an installed wind capacity of 17,911 megawatts.

Oklahoma’s ranking might be further bolstered by the Plains and Eastern Clean Line transmission project, which the U.S. Department of Energy approved in March and is the country’s largest clean energy infrastructure project.

An estimated 2,000 more wind turbines will be built in the Oklahoma Panhandle for the project, contributing about 4,000 more megawatts, said Mario Hurtado, executive vice president of Clean Line Energy Partners.

That energy will be sent east into Arkansas, Tennessee and elsewhere through 700-mile direct current transmission line. The wind energy produced in Oklahoma could power over 1 millions homes in areas that either don’t have the infrastructure to produce their own wind energy or don’t have the ideal topography to support wind energy, Hurtado said.

As far a wind energy supportive topography, Oklahoma has more than enough — and it shows in Oklahoma’s wind generation rankings.

Although Oklahoma is ranked fourth in installed capacity, it’s actually the third in terms of wind energy generation, Hunt said.

In the panhandle, the wind blows steadily and at fairly high speeds for most of the year.

“Especially in the western part of the state, there’s some of the best wind resources in the country — and actually in the world — and that’s because of the elevation, topography of the southern great plains area,” Hurtado said.

Past and future of wind energy in Oklahoma

Oklahomans have been harnessing wind energy since settlers arrived in the late 1800s, when windmills were used to help pull water from underground aquifers.

It’s been in the past 12 years, though, that Oklahoma has become a player in the utility scale wind energy field, according to a November 2015 State Chamber of Oklahoma report on wind energy impacts.

In 2015, wind energy accounted for 18.4 percent of Oklahoma’s total energy production. That’s enough to power about 1.3 million U.S. homes, according to data from the association.

Because of the abundance wind resources, Oklahoma is poised to become a national leader in wind energy production.

“Practically, the limiting factor for Oklahoma’s wind power development is not its wind resource, but rather the capacity of its transmission grid to convey that power to market, and the market for wind power itself,” according to the report.

If prices for wind energy continue dropping and companies focus on transmitting power from rural communities to more densely populated areas, it’s likely Oklahoma’s growth as a wind-energy producing won’t be stymied, Hunt said.

Even then, however, it’s unlikely Oklahoma will surpass Texas as the nationwide leader anytime soon. And Hunt contends that isn’t an issue.

“I think it’s probably more helpful to consider the benefits that wind is providing and its ability to still grow in Oklahoma rather than compare it to Texas,” he said.

Some of those benefits, Hunt noted, include job creation and adding more sustainable power to the established energy grid.