According to the famous musical which bears the state’s name, Oklahoma is “where the wind comes sweeping down the plain”. With the passage of a new law in the Sooner State, it looks like the state’s energy providers will soon be making more use of it. The law, called the Oklahoma Energy Securities Act (OESA), sets a goal that by 2015, 15% of the state’s electricity should come from clean sources.

Wind projects under development in Oklahoma.

Given that Oklahoma is located right in the middle of Tornado Alley, you’d expect the law to have especially strong effects on the state’s wind industry. And sure enough, Oklahoma is one of the most wind-abundant states in the country. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) classifies the vast majority of the state as a Class 3 or Class 4 Wind Power Density area, which is a medium rating. However, most of the places that have high (class 5-7) ratings are difficult-to-access locations such as the crest of the Rocky Mountains. When you look at wind power potential and feasibility together, Oklahoma is about as promising a place for wind development as you can find.

As with all energy legislation, there was considerable debate over the exact terms of the law. The 15% clean energy level was set as a goal rather than a mandate, so companies are encouraged to comply, but not required. However, the law clears the way for Oklahoma to possibly match the “20% renewable energy by 2020” standard of neighbors Missouri and New Mexico. (For a complete look at various states’ renewable energy goals and mandates, click here). It also passed with overwhelming bipartisan support (91-2 in the House) in a state with a senator famous for declaring “global warming is a hoax”.

It is particularly encouraging that the OESA was passed with input and support from Oklahoma’s leading utility companies. One of the companies, Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co., plans to have its energy from wind production jump from 270MW to 750MW by 2012. That’s basically a tripling of wind capacity in just two years.  Hopefully, developments like this point toward a future where popular support for Oklahoma’s wind industry hits a critical mass.

The expected changes accompanying the passage of the OESA also show that wind energy offers environmental and economic benefits at the same time, as the law is expected to create jobs by encouraging wind and other alternative energy companies to locate in Oklahoma. It should also increase the profits of Oklahoma’s already multi-billion dollar wind industry, according to the Tulsa World newspaper.