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Experts say wind energy key to Oklahoma economy

NORMAN, Okla. (AP)--Oklahoma has vast potential for the development of the renewable resource and it could be a boon to the state's economy, speakers at a wind energy conference said June 23.

About 400 people are expected to attend the two-day Oklahoma Wind Commerce 2009 at a Norman hotel, state Commerce Department officials said. The conference comes just days after the state's ninth wind farm was dedicated near the western Oklahoma towns of Elk City and Hammon.

June 23's speakers included the state's commerce, energy and environmental secretaries and Lt. Gov. Jari Askins, who noted Oklahoma's longtime status as an energy leader.

"We believe that Oklahoma is perfectly located for us to develop this industry in our state,'' Askins said. "Energy and agriculture have been mainstays of our economy for decades. Wind energy is an opportunity to continue developing the energy industry and continue it moving forward into the 21st century.''

The state also has an abundance of natural gas, which can be used in tandem with wind, state Energy Secretary Robert Wegener said.

"Natural gas and wind are perfect partners,'' Wegener said. "They are perfect energy solutions for Oklahoma. Because we all know that wind is intermittent. We have to have backup generation capabilities,'' which he said should be tied to natural gas.

Oklahoma is 12th among the states in wind energy generation, but state officials said it could climb into the top two in the next couple of decades if it continued to develop its resources. By 2030, it could provide 10 percent of the nation's electricity, state Commerce Secretary Natalie Shirley said.

But for the state to reach its potential, the electric grid must be updated so power can be moved from place to place, Wegener said.

"The development of the wind industry in Oklahoma over the next five to 10 years will be closely correlated with the development of transmission in Oklahoma,'' Wegener said. "I think the wind resource will develop, but real significant development that will be completely dependent on transmission.''

The manufacturing portion of the wind industry also has the potential to create jobs and lure employers to Oklahoma, Shirley said.

State Environmental Secretary J.D. Strong said he is enthusiastic about wind's potential as a so-called "green'' energy source, but there are environmental concerns. Wind farms are already reducing habitat for the lesser prairie chicken, a stocky ground-dwelling bird found in parts of New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, he said.

If federal officials place the lesser prairie chicken on the endangered species list, that could make it difficult for those interested in building more wind farms in the region, Strong said.

"Turbines move them out of their native landscape permanently,'' Strong said. "There's really no way to do much about it. Once a turbine goes in, you're essentially done as far as the lesser prairie chicken goes.''

The conference will continue June 24, when one of the speakers will be Tom Heister, a vice president for Acciona Energy North America, which built the Red Hills Wind Farm that was dedicated June 20.



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