By Randall Turk

Transcript Business Editor

Wind, sun and moving water are more predictable sources of energy than than the oil and natural gas shipped to us from abroad.

That was the message delivered by Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner Denise Bode at an emerging energy technology conference Tuesday in Norman.

Bode, who chairs the Oklahoma Wind Power Assessment Committee, created by the Oklahoma Senate, released the committee’s findings during a panel discussion of wind power’s present and future benefits for the state. The annual conference occurred at the U.S. Postal Service Center for Employee Development.

“After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, we know it’s imperative to diversify our energy portfolio,” Bode said. “The hurricanes harmed the Gulf [petroleum] infrastructure and drove up market prices. It’s critical we look at renewable energy and set a framework for implementing the committee recommendations.”

While traditional electric power plants have useful lives of more than 40 years, questions arise about how reliable their supply of fuel will be, the committee maintains. “The sustainability of renewable resources is nearly infinite.”

According to the report, the price of hydrocarbon fuels is being driven up by environmental compliance measures needed to strip greenhouses gases and heavy metal pollutants from them, and by developing countries’ increasing demand for energy. “It is expected that fossil fuels will become even more expensive over time… Wind and other renewable energy resources have become attractive as an alternative to conventional electric generation because of their environmentally benign nature and increasingly competitive cost…”

The committee noted the state’s wind powered electric generation should grow to 474 Megawatts (MW) by the end of the year, and the U.S. Department of Energy estimates the state has 542 MW of undeveloped hydroelectric generation capability.

Among drawbacks to wind power: Wind is intermittent and the best sites for wind farms are remote, unserved by electric transmission lines.

The committee has made 11 recommendations to the Senate to develop and support wind power and other renewable energy resources:

• Governments in Oklahoma should purchase renewable energy from sources such as wind power, hydroelectric, solar and geothermal generation. This program is practiced in 20 other states.

• Legislation should be considered to establish “avoided cost” tariffs and net metering provisions for renewable energy purchases by all electric utility companies in the state. The federal government has regulations for utilities to purchase power from small energy producers such as wind turbines, photovoltaic, biomass generation and stranded gas. However, the state Corporation Commission regulates only investor owned utilities, not electric co-ops or municipal systems.

• The Legislature should authorize a study of the power transmission requirements for developing wind power and other renewable energy sources. The study could be funded by fees assessed electricity consumers. It would be conducted by the Southwest Power Pool, a group of electric companies serving the region. An advisory board would recommend priority projects and the level of funding for them.

• The state production tax credit (PTC) should be amended to aid in developing smaller wind power projects. The time frame for state PTC should mirror the federal PTC’s. “In Oklahoma, every time we get a state renewable tax credit it’s sunsetted,” Bode said. “We’ve had to renew it every two or three years. In this situation, a company can’t develop a business plan.”

• The Legislature should consider funding several small wind power and hydroelectric projects for any investor owned power company, municipal power system or rural electric cooperative.

• The state needs education programs about renewable energy for elementary and secondary school students. The recommendation includes a clearing house to provide teachers the tools to incorporate renewable energy into the curriculum. “We’ve got a fabulous energy education program developed by the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board [OERB],” Bode said. “Renewable energy would fit well with it.”

• Also sought are renewable energy degree and certification programs in state universities and a renewable energy research center.

• Collaboration between the Oklahoma Department of Commerce and the Oklahoma Wind Power Initiative is suggested to develop a statewide energy resource mapping project. “This is top priority,” Bode said. “We have a marvelous opportunity with the Oklahoma Mesonet to identify exactly where to put wind power and other renewable energy resources. It could be an economic tool to encourage investors.”

• A state “Earth Day” event would educate the public that “renewable energy is currently operational in the state and is not something available in the far off future.”

• The Corporation Commission should consider streamlining its review process for small renewable energy generators or small cogeneration projects.

• The Corporation Commission should also study the need for establishing uniform statewide “avoided cost purchase rates” for small renewable energy generators.

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