With the approval of the state’s Public Service Commission, Alabama Power is set to bring in 404 megawatts (MW) of clean, renewable wind generated electricity from Kansas and Oklahoma. Not only is that enough to meet about 3% of customers’ power consumption with emissions-free electricity, the price Alabama Power will pay over a 20-year contract period is below that of what it would have cost the utility to produce the electricity itself, Birmingham News reports.
“The purchase was made because it is expected to displace more expensive energy for other sources that we have,” Alabama Power director of forecasting and resource planning John Kelley was quoted as saying. “This helps diversify our portfolio of supply. It is always good to not have all your eggs in one basket.”
Burning coal remains the predominant means of generating electricity in the US, the Southeast, and in Alabama. 58% of the electricity Alabama Power generated in 2011 came from coal-fired power plants. The utility’s fuel mix has been changing, however, as the costs of using cleaner natural gas and even cleaner renewable wind and solar power have come down significantly.
Gradually, but Surely, Wind & Other Renewables Catching On in the Southeast
In 1999, coal-fired power supplied 77% of Alabama Power’s electricity. That’s fallen to 47% as of mid-2012, Alabama Power spokesperson Michael Sznajderman told Birmgingham News’ Thomas Spencer.
At the same time, stricter environmental regulations aimed at reducing US carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as avoiding the high, socialized health, and other environmental risks and costs associated with coal mining and generating electricity from coal mean the cost of coal-fired generation has risen. By purchasing or generating electricity from wind power, Alabama Power avoids those risks, and secures electricity at a much more stable rate over the long-term, thereby insulating itself from the rising cost and higher volatility of coal and other fossil fuel prices.
Alabama Power’s 404 MW of wind power is to come from the Chisholm View Wind Project in Oklahoma’s Garfield and Grant counties, which is expected to begin operations in December, and the Buffalo Dunes Wind Project near Garden City, Kansas, which is due to come online in 2014.
Wind Power Development: Local Green Jobs, Big Economic Boost, Cleaner Air, and a Healthier Environment
TradeWind Energy’s Chisholm View Wind Project has a rated generation capacity of 235 MW, with 140 GE 1.6-MW wind turbines spread across some 45,000 acres. More than 150 landowners are receiving royalties from the project. That’s in addition to the local green wind energy jobs, incomes, and tax revenue the wind farm produces.
A 345-kilovolt (kV) Oklahoma Gas and Electric Transmission Line runs N-S directly through the project site. The high-voltage transmission line can deliver energy to North as well as South to load centers such as Wichita, Kansas and Oklahoma City, where interconnections enable the power to be delivered farther afield.
With a projected rated capacity between 200-405 MW, Lenexa, Kansas–based TradeWind Energy also owns the Buffalo Dunes Wind Project outside Garden City, Kansas. Due to be completed in 2014, GE 1.6-MW and Siemens 2.3-MW wind turbines or similar are being installed over more than 75,000 acres of tilled farmland, taking just 1%-2% out of agricultural service.
In addition to contributing substantially to the local economy by making use of local labor and materials, the project is projected to supply enough clean, renewable power for some 90,000 typical homes, offsetting approximately 900,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, 3,000 tons of NO2, and 4,200 tons of SO2.
A state environmental group praised Alabama Power’s decision, and also that of Georgia Power, which this past week announced it would purchase 200 MW of solar power. “We were pleased to hear about the recent wind purchase by Alabama Power and applaud the Alabama Public Service Commission for researching the project and ultimately approving it,” Alabama Environmental Council executive director Michael Churchman was quoted as saying.
“We also applaud Georgia Power for announcing this week a 200MW purchase of solar power,” he said. “Together, these kinds of projects will help offset negative impacts from fossil fuel electric generation and bring us closer to a clean energy future.”
Churchman also called on state government and power industry leaders to engage the public and do more to open up energy policy strategizing and planning. “There may not be one silver bullet to address all our energy concerns, but if you add energy efficiency and conservation and increased public involvement in the planning process for renewable purchases, we would really be moving toward a brighter future.”