Environment, Education, Energy: Policy to People

Why Oklahoma’s Biggest Green Energy Obstacle Might be Prices, Not Politics

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Differences in the two presidential candidates’ energy policies are well illustrated here in Oklahoma, a state with vast oil and gas interests and budding green energy potential.

Petroleum is a powerful force, and Mitt Romney’s energy platform synchronizes with those of oil and natural gas companies, which drive Oklahoma’s economy. But the interests of Oklahoma’s renewable energy industry — specifically wind — might align more with President Barack Obama’s agenda, especially when it comes to important tax credits.

But for Oklahoma’s green energy industry, maybe presidential politics don’t matter at all. Al Jazeera’s Ben Piven reports:

Some local renewable energy advocates in Oklahoma say the substance of any future Romney administration’s policies might not be that different from Obama’s.

One of the state’s biggest roadblocks to renewable energy growth is also one of the reasons the state is doing so well economically: Oklahoma is inexpensive. “With plentiful fossil fuels, energy costs are the eighth lowest in the nation,” the news service reports.

Low energy costs mean Oklahomans enjoy cheap electricity rates from utility companies, which makes more-expensive renewable alternatives — including wind, solar and biofuels like ethanol — a tougher sell:

… there is an “18-year payback for solar right now. It’s hard to sell those [panels], though energy efficiency is easy to sell,” Bob Willis, owner of Sunrise Alternative Energy and president of Oklahoma Renewable Energy Council tells Al Jazeera.

And alternative energy has another big competitor in Oklahoma: natural gas, which is abundant and as cheap — hovering right around $3 per 1,000 cubic feet right now — as it’s been in a decade. And, internationally, crude oil prices are just now starting to recover from the global economic crisis.

“Renewable energy is an industry that hasn’t really developed, and it needs some measure of government intervention to make it happen,” Charles Brummer of Oklahoma’s Noble Foundation tells Al Jazeera. “”… trying to get a new energy sector going is an uphill battle right now.”

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