A public-private partnership is pushing ahead with plans to build the nation's largest wind farm — the second largest in the world — in western Oklahoma.
The Wind Catcher Energy Connection Project is a collaborative venture by Invenergy, a global renewable energy design firm based in Chicago, Public Service Company of Oklahoma (PSO) and Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) which serves three states, including western Arkansas.
The wind project, scheduled to go on line in late 2020, will yield low-cost clean power as well as jobs.
Southwestern Electric Power Company spokesperson Peter Main says the Wind Catcher project will develop in two phases.
“One is the 2000-megawatt wind farm under development on the far western Oklahoma panhandle. The other is a dedicated generation tie line that will connect that project to the transmission system that serves SWEPCO and our sister company Public Service Company of Oklahoma.”
The new 350-mile-long, 765,000 kV power transmission line will be constructed
“And that’s where it’s interconnected to the transmission system that serves both PSO and SWEPCO,” Main says.
Invenergy plans to install more than 800 2.5-megawatt wind turbines.
“Invenergy is developing the wind farm on the Oklahoma Panhandle, on Cimmaron and Texas Counties," Main says, "which will cover 300,000 acres, leased by property owners to Invenergy.”
Arkansas Public Media queried Invenergy about construction status, which began last year, as well as environmental permitting, but received no response.
Wind farms sited in migratory flyways are known to harm birds and bats, which collide with turning turbine blades.
Invenergy's Wind Catcher press release makes no mention of wildlife protection strategies, but the facility will feature a state-of-the art GE wind turbine operating system manufactured here in the U.S.
Invenergy develops, owns and operates large-scale natural gas and renewable energy generation and storage facilities across Europe, Japan, and North America, primarily in the mid-south and northeastern United States.
The Wind Catcher project is expected to yield 8,000 direct and indirect jobs and $300 million dollars in property taxes over the next 25 years, according a utility press release.
“The total capacity for the wind farm is approximately 2,000 MW. SWEPCO's 70 percent share of the project is 1,400 MW, and Public Service Company of Oklahoma will have the other 600 MW.
Total capacity would be “peak wind,” or maximum megawatt output. Wind is intermittent, and speeds vary. Wind Catcher’s power will be integrated with the utility’s existing wind, coal and natural gas generation and transmission. But the project will also expand SWEPCO’s renewable portfolio by 20 percent.
Main says the project will also save customers more than $5 billion dollars over the life of the project because wind, unlike coal or natural gas, has no fuel costs.
“That’s going to drive down bills, and that will happen immediately at completion of this project,” he says.
In practical terms, customers using 1000 kilowatt-hours per month will see a 3.5 percent drop in electricity bills.
But investing in 70 percent share of the wind project will cost SWEPCO $3.2 billion dollars.
“The overall project is $4.5 billion dollars. That includes both the wind farm and the generation tie line.”
SWEPCO and PSO have filed applications in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Texas, seeking approval from the Federal Regulatory Commission and states to build the transmission line. Public meetings along the route will be held this autumn to secure 200-foot right of way lease agreements from landholders to erect as many as 1700 transmission line towers.
SWEPCO currently has 469 MW of wind energy in its portfolio through purchase agreements with wind farms in the Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, Main says, but this will be the first time SWEPCO and PSO will own a wind farm. And Main says SWEPCO is well position to take advantage of even more wind power, available in the bioregion, into the future.
“When you look at wind resource maps for the U.S. you see a focused concentrated area where wind resources are the strongest, where wind blows the most, over a sustained period of time,” he says. “And that area is far western Oklahoma.”
SWEPCO has a target goal of producing 2,000 MW of renewable energy by 2034 under the utility’s integrated resource plan.
This story is produced by Arkansas Public Media, a statewide journalism collaboration among public media organizations. Arkansas Public Media reporting is funded in part through a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with the support of partner stations KUAR, KUAF, KASU and KTXK and from members of the public. You can learn more and support Arkansas Public Media’s reporting at arkansaspublicmedia.org. Arkansas Public Media is Natural State news with context.