For electricity customers in Oklahoma City and Edmond looking for a break in prices, the answer is blowing in the wind.
Charlie Burgett, the director of Edmond Electric, said the utility wasn't necessarily intending for its wind power option to be a bargain, it just worked out that way.
"We recognize there is a cost benefit for wind power at this time, but we do not promote it on that basis," Burgett said.
According to OG&E Energy Corp. and Edmond Electric, both power companies enjoyed a small savings in wind power rates due to higher natural gas prices. Originally touted as green, nonpolluting power, wind generation ended up a windfall for consumers who signed up for it.
"If you use about 1000 kw (kilowatt-hour) a month, if you subscribe to wind, you are getting about a $10 credit on your bill," said OG&E spokesman Gil Broyles.
OKLAHOMA WIND ENERGY CENTER
Both metro area power companies receive their power from the Oklahoma Wind Energy Center, a large wind farm north of Woodward. There, atop 210-foot-tall towers, the wind turns blades of fiberglass composite, churning rotors in electric generators housed in the nacelle " the large compartment atop the shaft that sits behind the blades " around the turbine's shaft. Together, the 34 generators at the wind farm generate upwards of 50 megawatts of electricity for the state's electrical grid, Burgett said.
Although the wind doesn't always blow, the output of the farm is averaged over time, giving the consumer credit as if the farms continuously generated at all times.
"The wind varies," Burgett said. "We have accounting systems that meter the amount generated on a monthly basis. When we sell wind power to our customers, we are assuring them that we have generated that much electricity with wind power."
Normally, consumers pay a price for going green, said Burgett, who was cautious about touting the wind option as a money-saving plan. Nevertheless, he said, it's turned out that way recently.
"It was that way in July," Burgett said. "Edmond Electric does not promote wind power as a lower-cost power. We promote it for longer term, for the environment. We want to offer a choice for our customers who want green power and want that option. For all last year, all the way up until July, wind power was more expensive."
Up until that recent shift in cost, Burgett said, wind power's payoff would certainly come in the long term, as greenhouse gas emissions are monitored and perhaps even taxed. Moreover, he said, the payoff for the environment is perhaps difficult to measure, but substantial.
"The way we see it is that wind power is a way to reduce the amount of fossil fuel required for electricity supply on the average," Burgett said. "When the wind power is available to us, we will use it and conserve fossil fuel."
OG&E touts the wind price advantage on its Web site. Using up-to-date market prices, would-be consumers can use a sliding bar to determine wind power costs per kilowatt. The calculator shows that a customer using 1000 kilowatts actually saves about $9.75 per month. This reflects the elevated price of natural gas for power generated from Oklahoma's primary fossil fuel sources, Broyles said.
"We are looking at a fuel cost adjustment at about $15 more dollars a month," Broyles said. "That is reflective of the increase in natural gas prices."
The downside of OG&E's wind power system is its popularity. All the slots to sign up for wind power in Oklahoma City, which is powered by OG&E, are full.
"We can't ignore that our customers need more power," Broyles said. "We've proposed to quadruple our commitment to wind power. That should be over the next three or four years."
Broyles said construction on additional wind generators for OG&E should begin in 2009 and finish sometime between 2011 and 2013.
WIND POWER AVAILABLE
Meanwhile, Edmond Electric still has wind power available for customers who sign up. Burgett said the utility provides a large amount of wind capacity to its customers, some of whom, like the entire University of Central Oklahoma, are signed up for 100 percent wind power. Burgett said Edmond Electric's use of wind power garnered a first-place standing nationally.
"We are using a substantial amount of that wind power to our customers," Burgett said, pointing to the utility's Pure and Simple Wind Power program's first place ranking for green power sales as a percentage of total electricity sales. The ranking is from a 2007 survey by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory " part of the U.S. Department of Energy.
Said Burgett: "5.7 percent of our total electricity sales was wind power." "Ben Fenwick