Jeff Clark: Wind Energy Boosts Oklahoma Economy

Originally published in the Tulsa World.

“When the wind comes sweeping down the plain” is no longer just a signature lyric from Oklahoma’s famous state song. It is synonymous for what Oklahomans once thought of as just an annoying component of Mother Nature. Since 2003, the signature Oklahoma winds have enjoyed a renaissance thanks to their development as a leading generator of electricity, and their many economic and environmental attributes.

As wind developers and advocates gathered at the state Capitol recently for Wind Day, their focus was raising awareness of wind power as a thriving contributor to Oklahoma’s energy portfolio. Wind energy provides 15 percent of Oklahoma’s electricity — enough to power one million homes — while creating jobs and providing millions in royalties and tax revenue to counties, school districts and landowners. Wind power is abundant, affordable, clean, reliable, and perhaps most importantly in drought-stricken Oklahoma, consumes no water. It also allows Oklahoma to be more energy independent while growing the economy and providing home and business owners with notable utility savings.

The progression of wind development directly correlates to Oklahoma’s proactive business incentives; however two anti-wind development bills, Senate Bill 498 and Senate Bill 501, currently being debated at the state Capitol, threaten to upend Oklahoma’s competitive advantage within the wind development market. To avoid this, legislators should analyze what Oklahoma has received for its investment since 2003.

More than $6.1 billion of capital investment from the wind industry has found a home in Oklahoma over the last 12 years. Quality jobs have been created amounting to over $340 million in labor income. Over $40 million in sales and property tax revenue goes annually to county governments and school districts while landowners benefit from $30 million in yearly royalty payments. Factor in the minimum 20-year lifespan of a wind farm, and the economic result is monumental across Oklahoma’s economy.

Maintaining energy prices at a cost-efficient level for homeowners and commercial consumers is paramount to long-term economic stability. The cost of wind energy is low; however more importantly due to its renewable status, its price is stable and will never rise. Three Oklahoma utilities have taken notice. Oklahoma Gas & Electric’s 2011 wind power purchase is estimated to save its customers over $1 billion by completion of the contract. The 100 megawatts of wind power purchased by The Grand River Dam Authority in 2013 will save its customers $50 million, and Public Service Company of Oklahoma’s purchase of 600 megawatts last fall will save its customers $53 million in the first year alone and over $720 million total.

Wind power is vital to Oklahoma, and its economic prowess is only going to increase. The state has been a strong partner and I urge the legislature to maintain Oklahoma as a prime wind development site. County governments, communities, school districts and Oklahoma landowners all recognize the long-term economic and environmental impact of this valued natural resource. Wind Day provided another opportunity for wind energy advocates to inform state leaders of the same attributes of this prospering industry.

Jeff Clark is executive director of the Austin-based The Wind Coalition, an advocacy organization representing Oklahoma wind developers.

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