Oklahoman: Energy Solution Truly May Be Blowing in the Wind

Sep 05, 2009
In The News

"Oklahoma! Where the wind comes sweeping down the Plain.”

Who would ever have thought that line from the famed Rodgers and Hammerstein song could be a hint to the solution for our energy troubles?

In the 1970s, the United States imported 24 percent of its oil. That number now has reached 65 percent and the experts say it is growing. U.S. dependence on foreign oil reserves is an undeniable threat to our national security, authorities say. Today, virtually all scientists agree that global warming is threatening our life-sustaining planet. Most also agree that the use of carbon-emitting energy products has at least contributed to this threat.

In our troubled economy, most people are concerned about keeping their jobs if they are employed or getting one if they aren’t. At the beginning of 2001, unemployment in Oklahoma was at 3.2 percent. As of this summer, that rate has risen to 6.5 percent. While most everyone would agree that these are issues that our state will have to face, the solution is not so obvious. Lately, however, more Oklahomans have been hailing wind energy as a solution, or at least a way to improve all of these problems.

Scientists believe that Oklahoma boasts enough potential wind resources to supply 9 percent of the country’s electricity needs. This makes Oklahoma a very important battleground state in the fight for clean energy.

Republican U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin, the former Oklahoma lieutenant governor an announced candidate for governor, has been very vocal about America’s dependence on foreign oil.

According to Fallin, the U.S. spends an estimated $700 billion dollars on foreign oil annually. This represents not only a threat to the national security, but also to the economy, she said.

She believes that it is important to encourage all forms of alternate energy, including wind energy. This could create more jobs and keep more American dollars in the U.S. economy.

In 2007, a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy showed that utilizing the wind capacity in the Great Plains, spanning from northern Texas to the border of Canada, would create 138,000 new jobs in its first year, with more than 3.4 million additional jobs over a 10-year period.

U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne, is a major proponent of wind energy. He says that “as the ninth largest producer of wind energy in the country, we have only begun to tap our ability to produce this renewable and clean fuel.”

Besides lowering energy costs, wind energy “provides an additional source of income for many of Oklahoma’s farmers and ranchers.”

Most of Western Oklahoma, in particular the Panhandle, boasts excellent conditions for wind farms, Lucas said. The economies in areas with wind projects prosper from landowner lease payments as well as tax benefits.

Large wind farms are operating in several areas, such as north of Lawton, in Rogers Mills County, near Weatherford and around Woodward, to name a few.

According to U.S. Rep. Dan Boren, D-Muskogee, “Oklahoma has a long and proud history of contributing to our nation’s domestic energy supply;” and, wind energy can help to “extend that legacy for decades to come.”

Even the Bedlam rivalry is being put on hold to get Oklahoma in on the action. The Oklahoma Wind Power Initiative is a joint project between the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University to promote the development of wind energy. It provides information on wind energy development to policy makers, land owners, and regular citizens in order to form a network of clean energy proponents.

But, not every one views wind energy as the cure-all some hail it to be.

Beyond labeling wind turbines an “eyesore,” some people argue that they can hurt the land on which they are installed. With a concrete base 33 to 35 feet deep, and blades 126 feet long, the turbines pose a valid concern, some say. Beyond fearing for the terrain and natural wildlife, some believe that windmills could lower property values.

Others fear that the “whooshing” noise caused by the blades could affect the health of people living near windmills. Some report that the low frequency noise can cause loss of sleep, irritability, and ringing ears. These problems have been dubbed, "Wind turbine syndrome.”

Perhaps a more concrete issue is cost. With installation, a commercial wind turbine costs around one million dollars, not to mention that an increase in wind power would necessitate thousands of miles of new high-voltage transmission lines. While getting the electricity created by wind power to the grids is a problem that only time and money can solve, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 worked to “to increase private sector investment in high voltage lines by decreasing the depreciation period for these lines to 15 years,” according to U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, an advocate for the bill.

The incentive seemed to work.

“Last year, OG&E announced the construction of a high power line from Oklahoma City to Woodward, with plans to eventually connect with Guymon,” Inhofe said. The new lines could take OG&E’s wind production from 170 megawatts to 770 megawatts. As important as these new lines are, it will take a lot more new construction for wind power to solve our energy crisis. First District U.S. Rep. John Sullivan, R-Tulsa, says that getting electricity that generates to the grid could remain a problem for years to come.

Though he advocates wind energy, he does not think that it will be a quick fix. He supports an “all-the-above” plan which uses not just wind energy, but also oil, natural gas, nuclear, and solar energy.

U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, agrees that an “all-the-above” plan is our best bet. He thinks that wind energy, along with other clean and renewable forms of “American-made energy production”, can help us to attain “energy independence.” U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, advocates the “Pickens Plan.” This plan concedes that the U.S. might not be able to free itself completely from foreign oil, but it can do a lot to lessen the dependence.

Wind energy is a great and renewable energy source, particularly in northwest Oklahoma, Coburn says. He says that in addition to supporting wind energy, the U.S. needs to do more to increase the demand and uses for environmental-friendly natural gas as a substitute for oil. The U.S. needs to transition to using wind power and natural gas to power vehicles and produce electricity, he says.

While wind energy may not be the perfect solution, it can help to alleviate three of the major problems our country faces, Oklahoma congressional delegates say: dependence on foreign oil, global warming and unemployment.

With its “sweeping plains,” Oklahoma has the potential to be a pioneer in the clean energy movement, they say.

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