Rules for renewable energy to take shape

OKLAHOMA - The Oklahoma Corporation Commission has taken the first step toward requiring utilities to make renewable energy sources part of new power generation proposals.

The three-member commission opened a notice of inquiry requesting that affected parties and industries provide input about renewable energy alternatives such as wind, solar and hydro power. A technical conference at the Jim Thorpe Building in Oklahoma City had regulators discussing possible renewable energy initiatives. Commissioner Jim Roth said the aim of the inquiry is to develop rules for the formation of renewable energy standards.

"It is too early to suggest what a requirement may look like," he said. "But it is appropriate to suggest goals."

Renewable energy standards have been adopted in 21 states, but a requirement for renewable energy has not yet taken root in Oklahoma.

The Texas Legislature passed a renewable energy standard in 1999, requiring the installation of 2,880 megawatts of renewable electricity generating capacity by 2009, according the Union of Concerned Scientists, a group that supports a national renewable standard. Texas has already exceeded that limit and is moving toward having 5,000 megawatts of renewable energy by 2015, the group said.

A megawatt will power about 800 homes, according to U.S. Energy Department estimates.

Although Oklahoma utilities are not required to adhere to a renewable standard, the state's two largest electric utilities - American Electric Power-Public Service Company of Oklahoma and Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co. - do generate a portion of their power portfolios from renewable sources.

Alan Decker, director of regulatory affairs for AEP-PSO, said the utility industry as a whole is offering renewable energy. "We are not particularly fond of mandates," he said. "But I think we are working toward the same goal, and that is more renewables."

AEP-PSO says it currently provides nearly 10 percent of its power from wind generation.

Last October, OG&E announced a plan to quadruple its wind power. The utility, which serves about 762,000 customers in Oklahoma and western Arkansas, says it could increase its wind power generation capacity to 770 megawatts.

"Let's let the consumer drive demand," said Brian Alford, a spokesman for OG&E, adding that Oklahoma is the lead state in voluntary wind-derived electricity. OG&E estimates that about 3 percent of its total power portfolio is produced by wind.

The Oklahoma Industrial Energy Consumers, a group of about 20 of the state's largest electricity users, opposes any standard that limits a utility's options when making a power proposal. The group strives to ensure reasonable electricity rates for its customers.

"Every project should be evaluated on its costs and benefits," said Tom Schroedter, executive director of the OIEC.

The commission plans to submit rules on a renewable energy standard to the Legislature by April 1. The Legislature would have to approve the rules before any mandate is put in place.

Commission Chairman Jeff Cloud said the OCC is still a long way from reaching a renewable energy standard. "It's a good first step, but it's very much in its infancy," he said.


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