Yes, Oklahoma. Long before the Green New Deal was a twinkle in the eye of renewable energy advocates, the US gave birth to hundreds of rural electric cooperatives. In the 1940s these member-owned organizations lit up the vast swaths of rural America that investor owned utilities had left in the dark. Today, RECs are still going strong. Their service territory encompasses 70% of the US land mass and they serve 12% of all electricity customers.
And now, they are coming for your gas peaker plant.
Hybrid Renewable Energy Beats Gas
CleanTechnica has taken note of a trend that should give natural gas stakeholders the willies.
Until recently, gas was the main force taking a sledgehammer to coal’s share of the US power generation market. Now renewable energy is beginning to compete against both coal and gas in some markets on cost.
Utilities can also leverage new energy storage and grid management technology to smooth out peaks and valleys in output for wind and solar farms, and account for spikes in demand as well.
That demand-side aspect is important. Gas stakeholders have made the case that new gas “peaker” plants are the most efficient way to add an extra jolt of power to the grid during periods of high demand, but new technology is letting the air out of that argument.
One development that could accelerate the trend is the emergence of hybrid wind and solar power plants, with wind and solar providing daytime energy, and wind holding down the fort at night.
A hybrid wind and solar power plant is a tricky engineering act in terms of systems management. Nevertheless, the nation’s first such renewable energy project is already under way in Minnesota, deploying GE’s “WISE” technology.
A Triple Hybrid Renewable Energy Power Plant For Oklahoma
The Lake Region Electric Cooperative is the force behind Minnesota’s first-of-its-kind hybrid project. That brings us to the new Oklahoma project, which is also under the umbrella of an REC.
Last week, the Western Farmers Electric Cooperative (WFEC) and NextEra Energy Resources announced plans for a new hybrid wind and solar project in Oklahoma, aimed at squeezing a proposed new gas peaker plant out of contention.
The project includes an energy storage element, which is why they are calling it a triple hybrid power plant. In a press statement, WFEC’s chief executive officer, Gary Roulet, explained:
“With the price of wind and solar energy lower than ever, we are now able to pair it with battery storage to make more affordable, renewable energy* available to customers for more hours of the day – even when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining.”
Roulet also noted that his REC is “always looking for ways to better serve our customers with reliable, low-cost and environmentally-friendly energy.”
Somewhat ominously for gas stakeholders, the new hybrid project is the first of its kind for WFEC’s regional grid provider, the Southwest Power Pool. Southwest serves a total of 14 states in its 546,000 square mile (1,414,133 sq. km) service territory. If all goes according to plan, the new triple-hybrid plant could be the first in a series.
WFEC itself has a service territory that encompasses Oklahoma and New Mexico, and seeps into parts of Texas and Kansas. Also, it is a provider to 21 other member RECs, plus Altus Air Force Base among other customers.
WFEC is not shy about toting up the impact of the new plant on its energy profile, billing it as the largest of its kind in the US. The wind element clocks in at 250 megawatts through the previously announced Skeleton Creek Wind Farm. Its companion plant, Skeleton Creek Solar, adds another 250 megawatts.
A 200-megawatt, four hour battery energy storage element rounds out the three-part project, which will sprawl over Garfield, Alfalfa, and Major counties in Oklahoma.
The asterisk in Roulet’s statement refers to WFEC’s entire renewable portfolio, including renewable energy credits. When the hybrid power plant is completed, WFEC expects its own generating capacity to reach 521 megawatts of solar and 955 megawatts of wind by 2023, with another 270 megawatts of hydropower for good measure. All in all, “nameplate” renewable energy capacity will account for about 50% of WFEC’s portfolio.
When You’ve Lost The Farmers…
Lakeland and WFEC are not one-offs. The nation’s rural electric cooperatives are becoming part and parcel of the renewable energy revolution.
Despite contractual issues and other obstacles, RECs are beginning to embrace renewable energy at a rapid clip. Wisconsin is another state where some interesting activity is taking place.
That’s a little off-track from the coal-friendly policy espoused by the White House. Nevertheless, the Trump* administration is still supporting more renewables for RECs and other rural users, partly through the Department of Agriculture. Another recent example is the new PV System Toolkit for RECs, developed with an assist from the Department of Energy.
More Renewable Energy For Oklahoma
The new hybrid renewable energy project is also significant because it gives a sorely needed boost to Oklahoma’s solar profile.
Oklahoma is a wind energy leader, but until now, solar has made a dismal showing. The current state ranking from the Solar Energy Industries Association pegs Oklahoma at a lowly #46, with only 0.08% of its electricity supplied by solar.
The state’s current installed solar capacity is just 36.56 megawatts, so the new WFEC-NextEra project pretty much blows that out of the water. The new project also makes mincemeat out of SEIA’s projection of just 72 megawatts in added capacity over the next five years.
The Skeleton Wind Farm part of the project is reportedly deploying GE wind turbines, so stay tuned. CleanTechnica is reaching out to NextEra to see how they plan to juggle the energy management chores at the new hybrid plant.
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