Western Farmers Electric Cooperative has entered into an agreement with NextEra Energy Resources to build the largest combined wind, solar and energy storage project in the country. Journal Record editor Russell Ray discusses how this project could impact Oklahoma and potential challenges these companies could face.
Katelyn Howard: You’re listening to the Business Intelligence Report, a weekly conversation about business news in Oklahoma. I’m Katelyn Howard, and joining me is Russell Ray, editor of The Journal Record. Now today I want to revisit a topic we discussed earlier this year which is renewable energy. In March, a national nonprofit trade association released a market report that ranked Oklahoma in the top 10 for solar energy potential, but near the bottom for utilizing that potential in 2018. But now that seems to be changing. Your reporter Daisy Creager writes that Western Farmers Electric Cooperative recently announced that it entered into an agreement with NextEra Energy to build the largest combined wind, solar and energy storage project in the country. Can you start by telling us where these projects will take place and when they are expected to be up and running?
Russell Ray: Well, this is a hybrid power plant that NextEra is building for Western Farmers. This is a big trend in power generation today. A hybrid power system uses a combination of technologies to produce clean, consistent power. It can be a combination of solar and natural gas. It can be wind and energy storage, or it can be a combination of pumped storage hydro and wind. In this case, NextEra is building a 700 megawatt project that uses wind, solar PV and energy storage. It will be the largest power project of its kind in the U.S. The wind farm will be up and running by the end of this year. The solar array and the energy storage project, which will use lithium-ion batteries to store power, will be done by the end of 2023. All of these projects are being built in an area near Enid.
Howard: And NextEra had already announced plans back in March to build the wind farm you're referring to.
Ray: That's right. The Skeleton Creek wind farm is expected to generate more than $54 million in property taxes and pay $57 million to landowners over the 30-year life span of the project.
Howard: In the article, WFEC’s Vice President of Special Projects Dave Sonntag says the cooperative will need this additional power within the next five years to meet demand. So how much electricity will these projects produce?
Ray: Well together, the projects would produce enough electricity to power more than 177,000 homes each year. The solar project would have a capacity of 250 MW. Output from the battery storage facility would be up to 200 MW, and the wind farm will produce up to 250 MW.
Howard: Commercial-scale solar projects and energy storage are a novelty in the state. And as I mentioned, the scale of this particular project would make it the biggest in the country. What potential challenges do WFEC and NextEra face?
Ray: Well, the energy storage project and the solar project still require approval from regulators. These are very large projects, but one source told us it will serve as a pilot for the state to gauge its impact on the grid and how grid managers coordinate supplies to meet peak demand.
Howard: And as battery storage becomes more cost effective, the industry is trying to figure out the best way to pair it with solar and wind power.
Ray: That's right. Energy storage has become much more cost effective over the years. It’s on a path to mainstream use in the U.S. Energy storage is no longer confined to a handful of states like California and Ohio. The cost still needs to come down though, and there are still concerns about safety when it comes to battery storage, but energy storage adds a lot of flexibility for power producers. When energy storage is paired with wind and solar, it essentially means those projects will be better equipped to provide power on demand, and that’s the whole goal here. When the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, these hybrid plants can still produce power. It’s also important to note that this will be the first commercial-scale energy storage project in the state, which is surprising in light of Oklahoma’s vast supply of wind power.
Howard: Russell Ray is editor of The Journal Record. It was great talking with you today, Russell.
Ray: My pleasure Katelyn, thank you.
Howard: KGOU and The Journal Record collaborate each week on the Business Intelligence Report. You can follow us both on social media. We're on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter: @journalrecord and @kgounews. This conversation, along with previous episodes of the Business Intelligence Report, are available on our website, KGOU.org. For KGOU and the Business Intelligence Report, I'm Katelyn Howard.
The Business Intelligence Report is a collaborative news project between KGOU and The Journal Record.
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