The Arkansas Public Service Commission has given its blessing to a $4.5 billion Oklahoma wind energy project known as Wind Catcher, finding that it is in the public interest of Arkansans even though opponents have bashed it in an advertising campaign.
Southwestern Electric Power Co., the three-state utility that will share ownership in the project, announced the decision on Tuesday, calling it an acknowledgment that the project "will provide significant savings and long-term benefits for customers."
Swepco, which serves more than 117,000 customers in western Arkansas, filed its application for commission approval last July.
The project includes the acquisition of a 2,000-megawatt wind farm under construction in the Oklahoma Panhandle, with 800 titanic turbines, along with a 360-mile dedicated transmission line that will deliver power to near Tulsa, where it will go onto the existing electric grid.
The project is billed as the largest single-site wind project in the United States, and was developed by Invenergy LLC in Texas and Cimarron counties in Oklahoma.
Swepco, which also has customers in Louisiana and Texas, will own 70 percent of the project. Public Service Co. of Oklahoma, a sister company under the American Electric Power Co. umbrella, will own 30 percent.
"Wind Catcher is part of our strategy to invest in the energy resources of the future," said Nicholas K. Akins, AEP's chairman, president and CEO. "The commission thoroughly evaluated our application, including the substantial performance guarantees that were developed during the review process." The PSC approved a settlement agreeing to a cap on construction costs, qualification for 100 percent of the federal Production Tax Credits, and a minimum annual flow of power from the project.
Swepco estimates call for the project to save its customers more than $4 billion over the 25-year lifespan of the wind farm, as opposed to the cost of buying power on the open market. Customers will see the savings mostly through reduced fuel costs on their bills, the company said in a news release.
GE Renewable energy, which will provide 800 2.5-megawatt turbines for the wind farm, has pledged that a significant number of turbine blades will be manufactured in Arkansas.
Last month, the University of Arkansas and the city of Fayetteville rallied behind the project, declaring that it would help both reach their goals for reducing carbon emissions through the use of renewable energy. Walmart Inc. and the Arkansas Advanced Energy Association have also backed the development, which was the subject of negative advertising by an anonymous group in Arkansas, Protect Our Pocketbooks. POP's television ads were derided as misleading and manipulative by Swepco and others.