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Oklahoma’s Unrealized Solar Potential

A worker installs solar panels at Interstate 35 and Franklin Road in Norman.
Journal Record
Journal Record
A worker installs solar panels at Interstate 35 and Franklin Road in Norman.

A recent market report ranked Oklahoma as having the sixth-highest potential for developing solar power, but among the nation’s worst in adding new solar capacity. Journal Record editor Russell Ray discusses why solar energy in Oklahoma currently falls short of neighboring states and how the cost and benefits of the technology are starting to align.

Journal Record Editor Russell Ray speaks with KGOU's Katelyn Howard.

Full Transcript

Katelyn Howard: This is the Business Intelligence Report, a weekly conversation about business news in Oklahoma. I'm Katelyn Howard, and with me is Russell Ray, editor of The Journal Record. It's good to have you here today, Russell.

Russell Ray: It's good to be here, Katelyn. Thanks for having me.

Howard: So, this week I'd like to discuss astory from your reporter Daisy Creager. She writes about a recent market report from a national nonprofit trade association that ranked Oklahoma in the top 10 for solar energy potential, but near the bottom for actually adding new solar capacity in 2018. Can you elaborate on this?

Ray: You bet. Oklahoma was indeed among the worst in its effort to add new solar PV capacity last year. The state ranked No. 43 among all 50 states in new installations. That's according to the latest market report from the Solar Energy Industries Association. Now the irony is that Oklahoma is one of the best places in the country for solar generation. The state actually has the sixth greatest potential for solar power development in the country.

Howard: Now that 2018 ranking by the organization reflects a decline from the previous year because in 2017, the Solar Energy Industries Association ranked us 31st in the nation. Could you put these figures into perspective for us?

Ray: Sure. According to Daisy's story, a single solar project can make a big difference in a new capacity year to year. So, and that's because the state builds very few installations each year. In California and Texas, it's a much different story. One or two big solar projects, in either of those states, would have less of an impact on their ranking since those states have already invested heavily in solar. Last year, OG&E completed a 10-megawatt solar farm in Covington. The project was Sun Power's first large scale solar project in the state.

Howard: And in 2010 there was a push in the state for increased power generation from renewable sources, since the state's legislature enacted the Oklahoma Energy Security Act. Its goal was to generate at least 15 percent of the state's electricity through renewable sources by 2015.

Ray: That's right. The measure called for using more wind, solar, geothermal and conservation tools. The measure also promoted the development of natural gas for power generation, which complements the fluctuations of intermittent power supplies such as wind and solar.

Howard: In one of our StateImpact Oklahomareports from 2015, the same year we were supposed to meet those goals, it was reported that our solar energy policies were still lacking. It also adds that Oklahomans are less likely to seek out new energy sources and pay for the related technology since we have some of the cheapest power in the country. But Dan Whitten, who's the Solar Energy Industries Association's vice president of Public Affairs, suggests in Daisy's article that these issues related to cost versus benefit are starting to look up.

Ray: That's right, yes. The Solar Association said solar power was much more expensive a decade ago. So, it made a lot of sense at that time for developers and power producers to invest in other more affordable sources of generation. Today, it's a much different story. Today, solar is more competitive and energy storage is quickly becoming a very viable technology, which makes wind and solar more practical.

Howard: And before I let you go, Russell, I want to bring up another article from Daisy about renewable energy. She writes that the world's largest wind power producer, NextEra Energy, plans to build a wind farm near Enid.

Ray: That's right. It's a 250-megawatt, 90-turbine wind farm. The turbines are from GE, and it's expected to be operational by the end of this year.

Howard: Russell Ray is editor of The Journal Record. Thanks for your time today, Russell.

Ray: My pleasure, Katelyn. Thank you.

Howard: KGOU and The Journal Record collaborate each week on the Business Intelligence Report. You can follow us both on social media. We're on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, @journalrecord and @kgounews. You'll find links to the stories we discussed during this episode at JournalRecord.com. And this conversation, along with previous episodes of the Business Intelligence Report, are available on our website KGOU.org. While you're there, you can check out other features and podcasts produced by KGOU and our StateImpact reporting team. This includes the latest Capitol Insider report about how lawmakers have once again failed to meet the legal deadline to fund public education and the Stitt administration's plan for more state agency audits. For KGOU and the Business Intelligence Report, I'm Katelyn Howard.The Business Intelligence Report is a collaborative news project between KGOU and The Journal Record.

As a community-supported news organization, KGOU relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online, or by contacting our Membership department.

The Journal Record is a multi-faceted media company specializing in business, legislative and legal news. Print and online content is available via subscription.

Music provided by Midday Static

Copyright 2019 KGOU

Katelyn Howard
Russell Ray