United States

United States

United States: Only wind left for Oklahoma utility - No new fossil through 2020

Wind power is taking over as the main source of new power in Oklahoma as the state's dominant electric utility realises it may have to wait a decade or more before nuclear or cleaner forms of fossil fuel generation arrive.

Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OG&E) will not add any additional fossil energy generation on its system until 2020. Wind generation will bridge the gap. "It's a stretch, but it's something that we believe, through aggressive demand-side management and with additional wind, that we can get there," says OG&E's Brian Alford. The utility recently acquired a 600 MW gas plant, but going forward it sees at least 700 MW of wind coming online the next two to five years, with more possible after that.

State regulator aversion to new coal power is proving a potent catalyst to utilising the region's rich wind resources. OG&E was denied permission to build a 950 MW coal plant last year at Red Rock. The decision proved to be the tipping point for the utility. If it was denied permission to raise its rates to pay for new coal, wind was the best alternative for coming years.

"We're looking at stretching that time horizon to allow for technology in traditional fossil generation areas like clean coal, more efficient gas - whatever the technology may look like, this allows that time to develop and provide us with greater alternatives," says Alford. The state legislature is also keen on nuclear, but it takes more than a decade to get a nuclear plant moving.

The 700 MW of wind to come online in the next few years will be delivered through a mix of arrangements including power purchase agreements (PPAs) with independent power producers, or utility-owned projects either developed by OG&E or acquired through build and transfer arrangements with wind developers. OG&E now has 170 MW of wind on its system, split between a 50 MW PPA with NextEra Energy's Sooner wind plant and the 120 MW Centennial wind plant owned by OG&E. A 100 MW wind plant has just begun construction, co-developed between the utility and the University of Oklahoma, which will use the project's green generation to offset the school's entire energy use.

OG&E is also preparing a 300 MW request for more power, which independents and utilities will compete to supply. The recently acquired 600 MW gas plant will help maintain the balance between variable wind supply and variable demand, providing a more dynamic generation source than coal to cope with the fluctuations. "We're all about this 2020 concept. We're an energy state, we're very dependent on traditional fossil generation, and this is going to be a stretch for us, but one we believe we can accomplish," says Alford.

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