After working with ACCIONA Energy over the last year, I was thrilled to be able to visit my first wind farm. Of course, I’ve seen turbines spinning in the distance in Texas and I’ve written descriptions of how they work and sent pictures of other ACCIONA wind farms like Tatanka to trade and local media. But I’d never walked right up underneath one and I’d certainly never been inside a turbine. I’d also never been to Oklahoma, even after living my whole life in a neighboring state and talking a lot of smack about OU.
INKer Blair Poloskey (Oklahoma-born I might add) and I flew up to Oklahoma City and drove the nearly two hours out to Elk City in the Western part of the state where the wind blows strong and the oil and gas culture is welcoming this new and plentiful energy resource with open arms. ACCIONA’s Red Hills Wind Farm – which would be formally dedicated the next day — is located in Roger Mills and Custer Counties on nearly 5,000 acres. The 82 turbines that make up the farm create enough clean energy to power 40,000 homes and offset 294K tons of C02 emissions annually. ACCIONA’s VP of Development in the Central Region Tom Hiester, who spoke later in the week at Oklahoma’s Wind Commerce conference (note: we are doing a series of excerpts from this speech on the new ACCIONA NA – Take Action! Facebook fan page, called Oklahoma the “mother lode” of wind energy. If DOE estimates are correct, Oklahoma has the potential to produce 725 billion kWh/year from wind which would surpass the oil and natural gas production of Oklahoma (oil is 60 million barrels per year; natural gas is 275 million barrels of oil equivalent per year). This is more energy than Oklahoma can consume, creating a new export product for the state and one that may be in high demand by the Southeast US if a national RES (renewable energy standard) is passed. How do they reach that potential? Tom says supporting national legislation to enforce an RES and significant investment in transmission lines are critical.
The Red Hills dedication festivities included an address from speakers like ACCIONA CEO Peter Duprey and Oklahoma Secretary of Commerce and Tourism Natalie Shirley, an annual scholarship award of $5000 to the local school district, a great BBQ lunch and an open house for the public that involved bus tours of the wind farm and games and crafts for kids on wind energy from a great organization called KidWind. After local media had completed interviews and left the event, Blair and I hopped one of the first buses and explored the truly beautiful wind farm. We went inside the turbine which includes control equipment and a lift to take employees (unfortunately not us) to the top of the turbine. As you can see from this picture, the turbines are truly magnificent, especially when you look straight up at them. I felt the same kind of awe that I experienced when visiting the Redwoods in California. These are beautiful, but huge structures.
The weather certainly could have been better but all in all it was a great day. In the midst of snatching chairs out of the rain and stomping around in puddles, the Red Hills dedication event did just what it needed to do: thank the landowners, state and local government and overall community for their support and enthusiasm, and motivate the people of Oklahoma to continue to embrace wind energy in the state. The dedication ceremony was followed by an impromptu duet of “Oklahoma,” the state song from the well-known musical, performed by none other than the local state representative Purcy Walker. Go Oklahoma! I never thought I’d say that.