Harnessing the wind for energy on the horizon for Oklahoma

Monday, April 15th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma is ``where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain,'' but that wind is not being harnessed commercially to produce electrical power. This could change if some state and business leaders have their way.

Texas, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado, along with 18 other states, have commercial wind-power projects.

Pacific Northwest Laboratory, a government-sponsored wind energy research group, ranks Oklahoma 8th in the nation for wind energy potential.

Jaime McAlpine, president of Chermac Energy Corporation in Edmond, is a petroleum engineer by training, but he is betting on the wind.

He said the risks involved in developing wind energy are similar to the risks in the oil field.

``Being in the oil and gas business I know there are a lot of risks, but if you think it will work you just go out and prove it,'' McAlpine said.

``We see wind as a potential resource and hope to be one of the companies to capitalize on that potential.''

McAlpine said his company is working on several projects, primarily in northwestern Oklahoma. He plans to start construction next year on a plant with turbines that will transform the energy of the wind into electrical power.

One barrier is getting the energy from the wind farm to the power grid.

``Developing wind energy requires a lot of development in rural areas and these rural areas just don't have the transmission lines. This is one of the highest negatives aspects in developing projects,'' McAlpine said.

Building those transmission lines to interconnect with the power grid is the responsibility of the developer.

Without figuring in the cost of transmission lines, there is a price tag of a $1 million per turbine. Even a small project would likely cost more that $100 million, McAlpine said.

``This is a long-term investment that we have been working on for at least three years,'' McAlpine said.

Tim Hughes, project director of Oklahoma Wind Power Initiative, said Oklahoma has great natural resources and has excess generation capacity with coal and gas, which presents a problem with developing wind energy.

The Oklahoma Wind Power Initiative, funded by a grant from the federal government that is funneled through the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, investigates and promotes wind energy resources in the state. Their goal is to provide resources and economic information to policy makers, land owners and potential wind energy investors, said Hughes.

In order to overcome the dependency on coal and gas a state or federal policy is needed to stimulate wind development, said Hughes.

Troy Gagliano who specialized in renewable energy policies for the National Conference of State Legislatures agrees with Hughes.

Texas, Kansas, North and South Dakota are all developing wind farms because of legislative action, Gagliano said.

In Texas laws were passed requiring electricity retailers to include a specific amount of renewable energy in the total resources they use to generate electricity.

This has encouraged development. Texas is now projected to surpass California as leader in this type of energy resource, Gagliano said.

In Kansas, the Legislature passed a law exempting commercial wind farms from all property taxes.

Commercial wind farms not only conserve energy they also provide additional income for farmers when they lease their land for wind turbine placement.

``Legislators pay attention when land owners find out they get paid to have turbines on their land, so the word is starting to spread throughout rural communities,'' said Gagliano.

While the Oklahoma Legislature voted down legislation in March that would require utilities to purchase a certain amount of their energy from renewable resources, like wind energy, that is still a part of the national energy bill that has yet to be passed and approved in Washington, said Paul Renfrow of OG&E.

``We oppose the approach of such mandates ... but would rather toe test the water and by not jumping in see what the true market might be,'' Renfrow said.

One way of ``toe testing'' being used by OG&E is filing a request with the Corporation Commission for a rate structure for those who would be willing to pay extra for wind produced energy.

``We are thinking that there are people who would be interested in paying for wind energy in increments,'' said Renfrow.