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Wind Energy at OSU
Wind energy becomes OSU's main electricity source in Stillwater.
The wind that whips through the Oklahoma Plains now generates a lot of Orange Power.
Cowboy Wind Farm, near Blackwell, Okla., began providing electricity for Oklahoma State University’s campus in Stillwater in January.
“It’s very significant in our efforts to be a more sustainable green campus,” OSU President Burns Hargis says. “This wind farm actually went live on Jan. 1, and it’s now generating 67 percent of the energy used on this campus.”
Hargis, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. President Pete Delaney flipped ceremonial switches at a February event to mark the completion of the wind farm.
“Oklahoma State University in Stillwater is once again stepping up to be a great example to not only the rest of the state, but to the nation,” says Fallin, a 1977 OSU graduate with a degree in family relations and child development. “It is a wonderful opportunity to be here today, to flip a switch, and mark the significance of the Cowboy Wind Farm and what wind energy is going to do for this campus.”
Cowboy Wind Farm is the result of a 20-year agreement between OSU and OG&E that was signed in December 2011.
As part of the agreement, OSU also plans to phase out its 62-year-old on-campus cogeneration facility and construct a more efficient boiler and chiller plant. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission approved the contract in March 2012.
“We recognize that college students today want their universities to be good stewards of the environment,” Delaney says. “When you look around the country, it’s great to see Oklahoma State University taking that lead. There are very few universities that can say that nearly 70 percent of their energy is being funded by a wind farm.”
The 26-turbine wind farm has a total capacity of almost 60 megawatts. One megawatt powers about 250 homes.
OG&E contracted with NextEra Energy to build the Cowboy Wind Farm, located about 70 miles north of Stillwater and just west of Interstate 35. Construction was completed in December.
The addition of the Cowboy Wind Farm brings OG&E’s wind energy production to about 840 megawatts across seven wind farms in western and northwestern Oklahoma. Renewable energy now represents about 12 percent of OG&E’s generating capacity.
“We look forward to the future, to the type of students that OSU can educate and bring to the workforce; with their education powered by wind energy provided by OG&E,” Delaney says. “That’s an exciting prospect.”
The wind farm is the latest in a series of partnerships between OG&E and OSU. The utility funds professorships and scholarships for students pursuing renewable energy related degrees. OSU-Oklahoma City offers an associate in applied science degree in wind turbine technology that’s geared toward entry-level supervisory positions.
Fallin praises OSU and OG&E’s partnership as an example for others to follow.
“I’m proud that Oklahoma State University and Oklahoma Gas & Electric, one of the state’s oldest energy companies, are working to harness the potential of more homegrown wind energy,” Fallin says. “Investments in Oklahoma resources, such as wind and natural gas, help grow our state’s economy by keeping Oklahoma dollars in state while delivering the same value to consumers.”
OSU is an aggressive adopter of energy-efficiency efforts.
“The Cowboy Wind Farm is just another way OSU is showing its commitment to use our natural resources wisely and efficiently,” Hargis says. “As a land-grant university, we have a historic responsibility to lead the way in the area of sustainability. Natural gas and wind are two abundant natural resources in Oklahoma, and using them together to generate power for our Stillwater campus enables us to achieve a higher level of environmental stewardship while also supporting Oklahoma’s all-important energy-driven economy.”
Fallin calls OSU’s energy conservation program a model for other efforts in Oklahoma. Last year, the governor and Legislature directed state agencies to reduce their energy consumption 20 percent by 2022, with estimated savings of up to $300 million for Oklahoma taxpayers.
Fallin wants other state schools to follow OSU’s lead.
“Oklahoma State University is a great example of energy efficiency through many different things,” she says. “I actually went to all the other universities and said, ‘You have to emulate OSU. You can save money, too.’”
The addition of Cowboy Wind Farm has catapulted OSU to fifth place nationally in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Partnership rankings of colleges and universities.
OSU annually purchases 110 million kilowatt-hours of green power. It’s enough to offset the annual carbon dioxide emissions of nearly 15,000 passenger vehicles or the yearly electricity use of more than 9,000 American homes.
The rankings place OSU a spot ahead of the University of Oklahoma, which purchases about 97 million kwh. OSU’s use of green energy also places it at No. 43 in the EPA’s top-50 list of all green-energy purchasing organizations, including private Fortune 500 companies and local and federal government agencies.
OSU’s efforts are beneficial for the environment and future generations, Hargis says, as well as financially important.
“We’re saving money,” he says. “Hopefully, that’s translating into a better bargain for our students here at OSU.”
Story by Joe Wertz, StateImpact Oklahoma
This story was provided by StateImpact Oklahoma, an ongoing collaboration between NPR and several of the state’s public media organizations, including KOSU. Visit StateImpact Oklahoma at www.stateimpact.npr.org/Oklahoma.
A version of Joe Wertz’s story was first broadcast on KOSU last year. The story has been updated for its publication in STATE magazine.
Listen to KOSU anytime, anywhere, through the live audio streams at www.kosu.org. In central Oklahoma, tune your radio to 91.7 FM or in northeastern Oklahoma to 107.5 FM.
The amount of wind energy has increased dramatically during the last decade, along with the number of wind farms around the country and in Oklahoma.
The industry is building more turbines than it can maintain, officials say, and Oklahoma is working fast to fill the job gap.
Wind is as Oklahoman as oil and natural gas.
Culturally, it’s part of the state’s identity. Economically, it has big potential as a clean-energy commodity.
More than 40,000 wind turbines were working in the U.S. at the end of 2012, according to the American Wind Energy Association. Once constructed and calibrated, wind turbines need regular maintenance during their 20 – to 25-year lifespans. And there’s a shortage of qualified technicians, AWEA spokeswoman Ellen Carey and state wind-energy officials tell StateImpact.
The state’s first commercial wind farm began production in 2003; 17 wind farms now operate in Oklahoma, says Kylah McNabb, a wind energy development specialist at the state Department of Commerce.
Oklahoma’s wind farms are clustered in the western half of the state, most near Woodward, Elk City and Lawton, where the wind energy potential is the greatest.
But the U.S. wind industry has suffered blows in recent years.
Nationally, wind energy capacity hit a peak in 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Low natural gas prices, cheap wholesale electricity and a global financial crisis took the wind out of the industry’s sails in 2010, “a trying year” that brought big reductions in new wind farms, according to researchers at the Department of Energy.
Wind energy — like most emerging industries — is expensive and capital-intensive. Buying land and building and erecting turbines is part of it, but wiring up often-isolated wind farms to the electric grid often requires new, transmission-grade power lines, costs that customers ultimately help underwrite in their electric bills.
Despite the 2010 slowdown in new wind power projects, overall wind power capacity increased in 2011, according to research compiled in the Department of Energy’s most recent Wind Technologies Market Report.
That 2011 report predicted “sizeable increases” in capacity through 2012, but uncertainty over a federal tax incentive may have impacted wind energy development.
The tax incentive — a 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour credit on energy produced by new operations during their first 10 years of production — is important to the wind industry, and uncertainty over its renewal was cited as a major factor in stalled projects and layoffs, including 167 workers who lost their jobs when wind turbine tower manufacturer DMI Industries closed its Tulsa, Okla., plant.
The federal tax credit even became an energy-policy political football in the 2012 presidential campaign — Republican Mitt Romney wanted to let it expire; President Barack Obama vowed to renew it — and the incentive ultimately received a one-year extension in January.
State-level tax credits for the wind industry are among those being scrutinized by legislative panels tasked with evaluating the effectiveness of economic incentives and reducing spending.
Rivalry Never Ends
Oklahoma is moving up the charts. In 2012, the Sooner State ranked No. 6 in the nation for wind-generation capacity, up from No. 8 in 2011, American Wind Energy Association data show.
Texas is tops when it comes to wind energy capacity and had more than 12,000 megawatts installed at the end of 2012, according to the AWEA.
By 2030, Oklahoma could be the second-largest wind power generator in the U.S., officials at the Department of Energy and state Department of Commerce say.
Oklahoma schools would like to train students for many of those maintenance jobs, both in the state and with companies that own wind farms in other states, but it’s unclear how many wind technicians are actually needed.
McNabb and other industry officials say one technician is needed for every 10 wind towers. Education officials say it’s more like one for every four.
OSU-Oklahoma City offers an associate in applied science degree in wind turbine technology that’s geared toward entry-level supervisory positions.
At a February event celebrating the completion of Cowboy Wind Farm, which generates 67 percent of the electricity used at OSU’s Stillwater campus, Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. President Pete Delaney spoke of the importance of providing qualified people to work in the wind energy business.
OG&E funds endowed chairs, professorships and scholarships at OSU.
“Cowboy Wind Farm is just one element in our partnership in support of Oklahoma State University and its mission,” Delaney says. “We need a really bright, well-educated, technically proficient and diverse pool of upcoming leaders.”