Oklahoma is indisputably a right-wing Republican stronghold. One expects the state to be in the grip of climate-science denying fossil fuel advocates. Yet 100 kilometres northwest of Oklahoma City, the continent’s largest wind farm constructed in a single phase began delivering electricity.
Traverse Wind is one of three parts of Oklahoma’s North Central Wind Energy Facilities (NCEF). The wind projects have generating capacity of 1,485 MW and a capital cost of C$2.5 billion. Output is marketed by American Electric Power, a utility on a belated carbon reduction program. AEP executive Peggy Simmons explained the company’s commitment to non-destructive energy technologies:
Many businesses looking to expand or relocate to Oklahoma want to know about our investment in renewable energy. We’re redefining the future of energy and developing forward-thinking solutions that provide both clean and affordable energy to power the communities we serve.
Compare that to British Columbia’s Site C:
- While initially proposed in the mid-1950s, BC Hydro first announced Site C construction in 1979;
- Shelved in 1982, it was revived in 1989;
- Shelved again in 1991;
- Declared dead by BC Hydro in 1993 because of excessive financial and environmental costs;
- Revived by Gordon Campbell in 2001;
- BC Hydro promised in 2004 that private sources would cover 99% of Site C’s projected $2.1 billion cost;
- In 2008, BC Hydro stated project cost would total between $5 billion and $6.6 billion;
- In 2011, BC Government announced Site C will be operational by 2020, with 900 MW capacity;
- BC’s Minister of Energy said in October 2014 the Site C budget of $7.9 billion budget, vetted by the world’s top experts, was assuredly reliable;
- In 2014, cost of the now 1,100 MW dam increased to $8.335 billion, then to $8.5 billion, and finally to $8.775 billion;
- In 2017, reversing opposition to Site C expressed while in Opposition, NDP Premier John Horgan announced Site C would continue with a revised budget of $10.7 billion;
- A BCUC report found he Site C could cost more than $12.5 billion and other renewable energy sources could provide the same amount of power for $8.8 billion or less;
- In February 2021, BC Government announced the Site C budget had been increased to $16 billion and completion delayed until 2025.
In 2011, when Site C was budgeted at $7.9 billion, BC Hydro stated it would produce electricity at a cost between $87 and $95 per megawatt hour. With its budget now doubled, Site C electricity will cost a great deal more. Meanwhile, leading financial advisory and asset management firm Lazard Ltd. reported levelized costs for alternatives in 2020 as low as US$26. Wind and utility-scale solar now cost a small fraction of Site C power:
The shift to wind power is just beginning. International Energy Agency (IEA) calculated offshore wind could almost meet global electricity demand projected for 2040. According to IEA, offshore wind:
…is a rapidly maturing renewable energy technology that is poised to play an important role in future energy systems. In 2018, offshore wind provided a tiny fraction of global electricity supply, but it is set to expand strongly in the coming decades into a USD 1 trillion business. Turbines are growing in size and in terms of the power capacity they can provide, which in turn is delivering major performance and cost improvements for offshore wind farms.Offshore Wind Outlook
In February 2022, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management accepted bids worth C$5.5 billion for offshore wind energy leases off America’s northeast coast. In just six proposals, the installed capacity is expected to be between 5,600 MW and 7,000 MW, enough to power two million homes. Large sections of North America, particularly coastal regions, can power the continent with wind.
According to Lazard in 2019, wind energy prices had fallen 70% and solar photovoltaics fallen 89% on average in the preceding decade. Experts predict declines will continue as these technologies mature.
In October 2021, Doral Renewables started work on Indiana’s Mammoth Solar, North America’s largest solar energy farm. The C$1.875 billion project, expected to be fully operational by 2024 has planned capacity of 1,650 MW. An Australian solar farm is planned to be more than double the size of Mammoth and such facilities will grow larger in the future.
Immense capacity and attractive economics dictate that use of the wind and solar technologies will accelerate. IRENA reported in 2019:
Going forward the solar industry has very clear cost-reduction roadmaps, which should see solar costs halving by 2030. There is already a move in place towards higher-efficiency modules, which can generate 1.5 times more power than existing, similarly sized modules today using a technology called tandem silicon cells. These are going to have a large impact going forward.Future Looks Bright for Solar Energy
Transformative technologies for generating and distributing electricity have been steadily resisted by BC Hydro and BC government officials. That is not surprising since lower cost, more efficient operations are not part of the public utility’s business strategy. The company’s approach, driven by self-interest and political considerations, maximizes expansion. This leads to lavish financial rewards for executives, senior technologists, favoured consultants, and friendly suppliers and contractors.
Interests of consumers, whether residential or small and medium-sized enterprises, are largely ignored. The information noted above has been known by the utility and the BC government for years, but while Site C is ill-suited for BC citizens, it thoroughly meets the aims of provincial decision makers.
As managed since 2001 under Premiers Campbell, Clark and Horgan, BC Hydro has been an unqualified disaster. The company has used falsehoods to justify capital spending of about $40 billion during a decade and a half of flat demand. Instead of managing BC Hydro for the benefit of citizens, political officials in BC have directed or assented to disastrous utility policies.
This is another case of supervision by policy regulators who do not believe in regulation. To them, private interests are foremost, public interests subordinate.
The way forward is privatization of BC Hydro and creation of a strong, independent, and unassailable regulator that ensures citizens are protected from capitalist profiteering and self-interested financial fraud orchestrated by corporate insiders and politicians.