Regulators approve 'OU Spirit' wind farm plan

AP News
Posted: Nov 25, 2009 2:58 PM

The University of Oklahoma's plan to power its Norman campus with wind energy was approved Wednesday by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.

The three-member commission, which regulates utilities and the oil and gas industry, voted unanimously for the "OU Spirit" wind farm project. OU President David Boren unveiled the project last year and has described it as one of the largest renewable energy commitments by a public university in the U.S.

Boren's press secretary, Jay Doyle, said approval of the wind farm represents a major step toward the university's goal of purchasing all of its electricity from wind power by 2013.

"OU is proud to become a role model as a responsible steward of the environment," Doyle said.

OU officials have said the University of Oregon and New York University, a private institution, are among the national leaders in using power generated by renewable sources on campus. In Oklahoma, the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond made the switch to 100 percent wind power in April 2006.

Officials at OU, Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co., the attorney general's office and ratepayer groups had already agreed to the project, which involves the installation of 44 wind turbines near Woodward in northwestern Oklahoma. Half of the turbines will be generating electricity by the end of November and all of them will be operational by January.

Officials said the turbines will be capable of generating up to 101 megawatts of electricity for the OU campus. Currently, about 10 percent of OU's power is generated by wind.

The project will add about $1 to the monthly bills of OG&E consumers but will also save an estimated $9 million in the annual cost of natural gas and other fuels that power OG&E's electricity generating plants, officials said.

Andrew Tevington, deputy director of the commission's public utility division, told commissioners the project will help the state diversify its energy portfolio and lower its reliance on fossil fuels for generating electricity.

Tevington said Oklahoma is among the nation's top 10 states for wind energy potential but does not rank high in the amount of energy actually generated by wind.

He said the wind farm project will "give the state an economic shot in the arm." OG&E will invest up to $270 million in the project and provide a new source of income for property owners whose land is leased for the turbines and transmission lines.

In April, OG&E donated $3.75 million to the Oklahoma Wildlife Commission to mitigate the wind farm's loss of habitat for the lesser prairie chicken, a stocky ground-dwelling bird found in parts of New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.

The donation will allow the commission to purchase up to 10,000 acres to set aside as habitat in western Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Panhandle.

Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony said OG&E and other utilities are appropriately expanding their wind energy potential after determining that ratepayers endorse the use of alternative energy sources.

"The citizens of the state are supportive," Anthony said.