Oklahoma ranks as one of the top leaders in the nation in wind energy, according to new U.S. Department of Energy reports.
In 2016, Oklahoma ranked second nationwide in annual installed wind capacity, with 1,462 megawatts (MW). Oklahoma trailed only behind Texas, according to the report, which also stated the state ranked third in the country in cumulative installed wind capacity, at 6,645 MW, ranking behind Iowa and Texas.
Oklahoma also ranked fourth in the nation in percentage of in-state generation of electricity, making it just one of four states that produced more than 25 percent of its in-state electricity generation from wind in 2016.
"Oklahoma is now in the top five in the country in terms of jobs in wind energy," said Patrick Gilman, the Energy Department's program manager for Wind Energy Modeling and Analysis. "More than 5,000 people in the state are employed in the wind industry, so the number of projects installed directly correlates with jobs and economic development."
With massive improvement in wind energy technology and development in the last decade, costs have reduced significantly, making wind energy far more affordable than it used to be, Gilman said.
Wind energy is fairly recognizable in the Enid area, too, with a massive NextEra Energy wind farm near Breckinridge. The wind farm has 57 turbines that produce 98.1 MW of energy, serving the Grand River Dam Authority as a customer.
The Breckinridge farm is one of 13 operational NextEra wind farms in Oklahoma, with another 13 in development.
"We see a really good future for wind in Oklahoma. Oklahoma's got a tremendous wind resource. We've been doing business in the state since 2003 I believe, and we love doing business here in Oklahoma," said Bryan Garner, a spokesman with NextEra Energy.
The Breckinridge wind farm was acquired from TradeWind Energy in August 2014. Garner said wind projects like the Breckinridge farm can provide several benefits to a community such as Enid.
He said one big benefit is for the landowners who participate in the project and lease their land to be used as a host for a wind turbine. While ranchers and farmers are at the mercy of weather and commodity prices, he said the wind provides a reliable source of income, giving landowners regular payments during the 30-year span of the wind project.
"Over the life of the Breckinridge project, we estimate that landowners will earn a collective more than $37 million to be a part of this project, so it contributes a tremendous amount of money into the community," Garner said.
Additionally, he said the 30-year project will generate an estimated $23 million in additional tax revenue for the community.
Aside from money for local landowners and the tax revenue, wind projects provide a good job opportunity. Garner says for construction of a new wind farm, around 200 construction jobs are created, and afterward each site has anywhere from eight to 12 positions for full-time jobs.
Jarrod Beckstrom, NextEra Energy Site Manager for the Breckinridge wind farm, said his site has seven full-time technicians and himself. There also are two high-voltage technicians who cover the region and visit their wind farm often.
He said their last job opening had more than 80 applicants, and that all of their workers are from rural Northwest Oklahoma.
"I think it's attracting a lot of young talent and a lot of people from rural Oklahoma," Beckstrom said.
In fact, wind tech jobs are the fastest growing jobs in America. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, wind turbine service technician jobs had a 108 percent increase in the last year, with the closest following occupation at a 42.7 percent increase.
However, there also have been recent concerns that the wind turbines throughout western Oklahoma may compromise low-level military training routes used by pilots from Vance and Altus Air Force bases, among others.
On a bigger, state level, Gilman said Oklahoma is leading the charge in small wind turbines as well. Bergey WindPower, based in Norman, is in the nation's top three of small wind turbine manufacturers, and a leader in small wind turbine research and development. He said the company has been researching with the Energy Department on developing its next generation of small turbines, which will generate nearly double the energy of its current flagship model at around the same cost.
"Oklahoma has been a leader in the small wind space for a very long time, so I think that's a really cool thing," Gilman said.
On a national level, the wind energy market is booming and expanding more than ever before. The Department of Energy reports also said that 14 states now get more than 10 percent or higher of their electricity from wind.
"I think there's a significant pipeline of wind energy under construction contracted in the US over the next several years," Gilman said. "I think the trend of states getting additional electricity from it (wind) is likely to continue."
Garner said wind production is a big point of pride for Oklahoma, and the local communities that play host to wind projects.
"It's clean renewable energy that I think the state can be proud of. No emissions, no use of water, no air pollutions. This is homegrown energy using Oklahoma's very own wind resource in creating something the state can benefit from both economically and in clean energy, so I think that's a source of pride for the community as well," Garner said.
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