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    Bob Doucette: Don't look now, but Oklahoma is diving headlong into the green economy


    July 29, 2022 - Bob Doucette

     

      If you listen to the debates about climate change and energy, you'd think this is still a subject of high uncertainty and controversy.

      On one hand, you have people calling for a switch to renewable energy, electric vehicles and a shift away from fossil fuels.

      On the other, folks are dismissing these newer technologies and energy sources as being too pricey or impractical. Better to dance with the date who brought you than switch partners mid-song.

      The world economy's foundation is built on coal, gas and oil. Any transition away from these is going to be a massive, global undertaking. But it's one that is happening, even here in Oklahoma.

      Business, it would seem, is voting with its feet.

      Much has been made of the potential for renewable energy, but up until the last 10 years it was a small contributor to Oklahoma's energy portfolio — just 10% in 2011.

      That has jumped to 45% in 2021, with the bulk of that — about 91% — coming from wind. Wind accounts for 41% of all electricity produced in the state today.

      OG&E has been encouraging residential customers and businesses to sign up for its wind power program, gaining about 1,000 commitments from homeowners and employers. Among the businesses are some heavy hitters, including Dell, Hitachi, the Chickasaw Tribal Utility Authority and Tinker Air Force Base.

      AEP-PSO is also leaning in to wind power. It offers a similar wind power option to customers, and it began operating the first of three new wind farms — the 199 megawatt Sundance project — in April.

      Solar power is often part of the renewable energy discussion, but its makes up a tiny part of Oklahoma's power generation, less than a half percent.

      That could soon change if more companies follow Cox Communications' lead. Cox is embarking on a companywide solar power project in an attempt to shrink its use of fossil fuel for electricity. Cox recently installed a 400 kilowatt solar array atop its east Tulsa facility in hopes of cutting its carbon impact there by 580 tons per year.

      Like Cox, carbon impact is on the mind of at least one Oklahoma lawmaker.

      Third District Congressman Frank Lucas joined two Republican colleagues in introducing the Carbon Sequestration Collaboration Act, which would task three federal departments — Energy, Interior and Agriculture — to research boosting the nation's ability to keep carbon out of the air through land use.

      The bill mentions research into using soils, reforestation and other means to scrub the Earth's atmosphere of carbon dioxide, seen as one of the main gases responsible for climate change.

      "The Department of Energy is already doing great research on large-scale carbon sequestration opportunities, but there is a knowledge gap when it comes to making use of smaller carbon sinks like soils and rangeland," Lucas said in a statement. "We can't afford to pass up the tremendous potential of land use to store greenhouse gases."

      This is the type of initiative you'd think would come from the other side of the aisle. But something I've noticed is that more Republican policymakers are joining Democrats in pushing for a greener economy.

      Put Gov. Kevin Stitt in that number. Stitt has been a friend to oil and gas, but he's also aggressively sought to land big employers in the electric vehicle business.

      Oklahoma tried to land electric car maker Tesla and its Cybertruck assembly plant, but lost out to Austin, Texas. The state also offered more than $700 million in incentives to Panasonic to build an electric car battery factory near Pryor. That pitch also fell short.

      But Oklahoma managed to seal a deal with electric car maker Canoo for a factory at the same industrial park it hoped would also house Panasonic.

      Much remains to be seen of Canoo's plans — a worrisome regulatory filing earlier this year left some wondering if the company would run out of money before it could build its cars, but it also has commitments from the state and Walmart to purchase thousands of its vehicles.

      If Canoo succeeds, it'll be the first automaker to build cars in Oklahoma since General Motors closed its Oklahoma City assembly plant in 2006. It would also put Oklahoma in the middle of an electric vehicle revolution just now gaining steam.

      Stitt has also promoted Oklahoma as having potential for hydrogen energy. Hydrogen can be used in much the same way as gasoline or natural gas, but it's only emission is water vapor — far cleaner than what comes out of a fossil fuel smokestack or tailpipe.

      More research needs to be done to make it a viable commercial alternative, but it shows promise. The state has the resources necessary to produce and store hydrogen fuel, according to a 2021 report from the Oklahoma Legislature's Hydrogen Production, Transportation and Infrastructure Task Force.

      At the time of the report's release, State Energy and Environment Secretary Kenneth Wagner said hydrogen could add 6,400 jobs to state payrolls and have financial impacts ranging from $1.5 billion to $2.5 billion.

      Still, Oklahoma is an oil and gas state. The most prominent corporate headquarters in Tulsa and Oklahoma City are energy companies heavily invested in petroleum and fossil fuels.

      But there is a clear movement toward diversifying the state's energy portfolio and economy, and a growing eye toward conservation efforts to combat climate change. More leaders in business and government realize that and are embracing it.

      Tulsa World Opinion video podcast:

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