While thousands in the renewable energy industry have lost their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic, several projects are going strong across the U.S. and one of them involves Oklahoma wind energy.
Greentech Media recently cited five such major projects that have not been sidetracked by COVID-19 and American Electric Power’s North Central wind project if what it calls a “gigantic, record-smashing Plan B.”
Why Plan B? AEP, the Ohio-based utility group, electrified the U.S. wind industry three years ago when it announced it would build a 2-gigawatt wind farm in Oklahoma’s panhandle, to be known as Wind Catcher. The project was remarkable both for its size and its backer: Wind Catcher would have been the largest wind farm ever built in North America; AEP remains a fairly conservative utility, with coal still accounting for nearly half of its generation.
Then came the letdown: AEP canceled Wind Catcher a year later, blaming regulatory delays in Texas that put the project at risk of failing to capture the full Production Tax Credit (PTC).
Thankfully, the saga didn’t end there. Last year AEP’s bold wind ambitions reemerged in the form of North Central, a slimmed-down but still massive investment in Oklahoma that doesn’t require the full PTC to pencil out economically.
Unlike Wind Catcher, the $2 billion North Central plan is being built as three separate wind farms. Even so, one of them — the 999-megawatt Traverse development — will be the largest single-phase wind farm ever built in the U.S., overtaking Oregon’s Shepherds Flat project.
The linchpin to North Central’s ability to go ahead was receiving regulatory approval in the four states where the power will be sold: Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. The coronavirus pandemic has slowed many regulatory and permitting decisions. But three weeks ago AEP confirmed that new approvals in Arkansas and Louisiana mean North Central will go ahead even if it does not get a green light in Texas, now the final holdout.
“We expect the [Public Utility Commission of] Texas to consider the project as part of its July 2 meeting,” an AEP spokesperson said in an email. But North Central “will be 1,485 megawatts regardless of Texas’ decision.”
The North Central wind farms are scheduled to reach completion in 2020-2021, with Chicago-based Invenergy developing the plants through construction and GE supplying the many, many wind turbines.
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