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Harnessing Oklahoma's energy

Source: 
The Lawton Constitution

Oklahoma is utilizing some of its most abundant natural resources to lead the the way in marrying clean and cost-effective energy for the rest of the country.

This summer, Western Farmers Electric Cooperative and NextEra Energy Resources announced they will construct one of the nation's largest combined wind, solar and energy storage facilities in Oklahoma. The project is possible by a power purchase agreement between a subsidiary of NextEra and Western Farmers, which has offices in Anadarko and Moore.

According to Bryan Garner, spokesperson for NextEra Energy Resources, the 700-megawatt combined project first of its kind in the Southwest Power Pool, the electric grid region that includes Oklahoma and 13 other states in the central U.S. covering 546,000 square miles.

"The benefit of this project - and what makes it unique - is it combines wind and solar energy and battery storage all at the same site," Garner said. "It's a very innovative idea."

Garner explained that though solar and wind energy is free and clean, it's not always reliable. That's where storing battery power comes in, filling in energy gaps around the clock.

"It's generating renewable energy, even when sun's not shining and the wind's not blowing," Garner said. "The facility starts to model what a traditional energy facility would look like."

Garner said Oklahoma has long been a leader in wind energy, and this project is a chance for the plains state to tap into its solar energy potential.

"To be able to also harvest Oklahoma's sun and to combine that with energy storage makes for an increasingly viable way to extend renewable projects like this," Garner said.

The Skeleton Creek wind, solar and energy storage project facilities will be in Garfield, Alfalfa and Major counties. Phillip Schaeffer, principal resource planning engineer for Western Farmers, said the wind, solar and energy storage facility's proximity to large transmission lines is ideal for sending power throughout the state.

In addition to providing better, cleaner power, Schaeffer said there are significant economic benefits that come with a project of this scale, from construction and operational jobs to millions of dollars in additional revenue for landowners and communities.

"It creates jobs ... it really does contribute to our communities throughout the state," Schaeffer said. "These are not small numbers."

David Sonntag, vice president of special projects for Western Farmers said the project will be a model for future facilities of the same function.

"That we can get a resource like this that makes sense economically and is environmentally friendly is excellent," Sonntag said. "It really meets our needs and will be a good way of meeting our needs in the future."

Garner said Oklahomans should be proud to have a facility like this in their state.

"Clean energy projects are really about preserving our environment for future generations," Garner said. "When you can have both cost effective energy and clean energy, that's really the answer to how we're going to consume energy in the future in this country.

"I salute Western Farmers for having a forward-thinking perspective to invest in this kind of technology. I think they're leading the way."

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