Winds of Change In the Power Mix

Winds of Change In the Power Mix

Scout Clean Energy of Boulder, Colorado, will indeed be breaking ground if it starts construction of a commercial wind farm this year or in early 2024 in Carroll County.

Arkansas has never had a wind farm, far less a $300 million scattering of 500-foot-tall turbines with the capacity to generate 180 megawatts of electricity. As Arkansas Business reported two weeks ago, that would be enough juice to power about 30,000 homes.

For 20 years, the state has had only a single wind turbine, though Arkansas once played a big role in wind industry manufacturing with LM Wind Power building windmill blades in Little Rock and Nordex making the turbines themselves in Jonesboro.

The lone active turbine in Arkansas, according to the U.S. Wind Turbine Database, is the Bitworks Project in Prairie Grove. It went online in 2003 and has a one-tenth of a megawatt capacity.

So the news that Scout had signed rights agreements with 50 landowners on 9,500 acres south of Green Forest surprised many readers.

Arkansas has a Grand Prairie, known for its crops, and a Prairie County, but it’s not the sort of Great Plains setting that conjures visions of tumbleweeds rolling with a stiff, steady wind.

Wind doesn’t even make the chart that the federal Energy Information Administration keeps on Arkansas’ net electricity generation by source.

Most of Arkansas’ power comes from natural gas-fired power plants, close to 2,000 megawatts’ worth. Burning coal was next at 1,750 megawatts as of January. Nuclear energy from the two units of Entergy’s Arkansas Nuclear One on Lake Dardanelle provided more than 1,300 megawatts as of January. Hydroelectric power provided about 350 megawatts and other renewables less than half of that. Wind was at zero.

That will change if Scout brings home its Nimbus Wind Farm project, which Senior Project Manager Dave Iadarola said was still in the developmental stage. The company says it will pay $14 million in leases to landowners and that the turbines could mean an extra $25 million in property taxes for Carroll County, which has two county seats, Berryville and Eureka Springs, population 5,700 and 2,200, respectively.

Scout has an interconnection deal with the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, one of two major electric transmission nonprofits with headquarters in Little Rock. Both have significant wind power portfolios. Wind is by far the largest power generation source for the other one regional transmission organization, Southwest Power Pool. On a recent Monday morning, turbines were producing nearly 38% of the electricity SPP was transmitting, followed by natural gas-fired power at 28%, then coal-driven energy at 24%. Those were all real-time figures. For the fourth quarter of 2022, wind was nearly 42% of SPP’s market share, up 3% from 2021.

MISO, which has its southern office in Little Rock, has been adding wind generation capacity faster than just about any RTO, but it remains heavily reliant on natural gas, which was driving nearly 44% of generation on that same recent Monday. Coal was at 34%, nuclear energy at 12% and wind just below 5%.

SPP and MISO, which oversee transmission and grid markets over a vast swath of middle America, are two of many factors that give Arkansans some of the cheapest retail electricity in the nation. As of February, Arkansas residential customers were paying just under 12 cents per kilowatt-hour on average, with commercial customers paying 10.8 cents and industrial users a remarkable 6.97 cents, EIA data shows.

SPP said recently in a yearly member value statement that it provided $3.78 billion in net savings to its members, a return 22 times the cost of SPP membership. “This remarkable benefit-cost ratio demonstrates we are driving value beyond reliability, a core tenet of SPP’s value proposition,” SPP President and CEO Barbara Sugg said.

But challenges lie ahead. If the transmission organizations do not work together quickly to build grid capacity, promising renewable energy generation projects will remain stuck in a long line waiting for interconnection.

But that’s a topic for another time.

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