Oklahoma’s Wind Energy Transmission Gap, In Two Images

  • Joe Wertz

Oklahoma has a lot of wind energy potential, and the state’s overall capacity for wind-powered electricity generation is growing.

Turbines seem to be the easy part of the wind generation equation. The real challenge is building heavy-duty transmission lines to tap windy regions like the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles and western Kansas, The Oklahoman‘s Paul Monies reports:

Billions of dollars in transmission lines will have to be built before the nation’s wind resources, which are concentrated in the center of the country, can be fully exploited by large population centers to the east and west.

Here’s a visual explanation of the transmission gap:

This is a map from the Global Energy Network Institute, which gives us an idea of what the nation’s power grid looks like. Pay attention to the concentration of transmission lines from the Texas panhandle up to North Dakota.

U.S. Power Grid

Global Energy Network Institute

That gap is where a lot of the wind potential is concentrated.

U.S. Wind Speed

National Renewable Energy Laboratory / U.S. Department of Energy

The above map from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory shows the annual average wind speed at 80 meters. The higher the windspeed, the better the wind power potential.

So, why are turbines so much easier to build than power lines to transmit the electricity? Reporter Monies explains:

The typical wind farm needs thousands of acres, but the parcels of land are easier to combine for a wind project than the rights of way for transmission lines.

“It may be economically and environmentally efficient to build excess capacity into certain transmission projects given the scarcity of rights of way and the challenges of developing location-constrained renewable energy resources without existing transmission,” the Washington-based Bipartisan Policy Center said earlier this year in a report on grid modernization.

StateImpact Oklahoma is a partnership among Oklahoma’s public radio stations and produces journalism in the public interest, essential to an informed electorate. Help support informative, in-depth journalism with a donation online.