A massive wind farm in the corner of Garfield County began commercial operations earlier this month.
Thunder Ranch, a 298 megawatt wind farm located in Garfield, Noble and Kay counties, covers approximately 64 square miles and includes 120 wind turbines. Of the 120, 111 are 2.5 MW turbines and the other nine are 2.3 MW. The farm stretches about 22 miles east to west and eight miles north to south, said assistant wind site supervisor Austin Jones.
Red Dirt wind farm, a 300 MW capacity facility in Kingfisher and Logan counties, also commenced operations earlier this month.
With the two new wind farms beginning operations, owner Enel Green Power North America becomes the largest wind player in the state, comprising more than 1,700 MW of managed capacity across 10 wind farms, according to the company.
“It’s gone phenomenally well,” said Thunder Ranch site supervisor Jeff Hill, of Thunder Ranch and Red Dirt. Construction begin in May and April of last year. “These two sites are impressive in another way of the speed in which they were constructed, (land) restored and put back to normal. I mean, I’ve seen it take years before, and this one was done very, very well, very, very quickly, very proficiently.”
From a technical standpoint, Hill said locations for wind farms such as Thunder Ranch are decided by the quality of wind in the area.
“Oklahoma is an excellent candidate for good, stable steady wind … Oklahoma is key situated to where the wind is what they call a capacity factor, it’s going to blow at the perfect rate about 35 percent of the time, which is good,” Hill said.
Hill said wind developers spend years testing the wind, doing studies for find the optimal placement, and then they talk to landowners and community stakeholders. Then, the project comes together.
There are 14 full-time staff who work at the facility, 10 of whom are wind technicians. All of the functioning portions of the facility are complete, with the final touches expected to be complete in the coming months, Hill said.
Thunder Ranch is able to generate more than 1,100 gigawatt hours annually, and will be the first of EGP-NA’s wind farms to have an operational rooftop solar PV system to power its operations and maintenance building. Red Dirt will generate about 1,200 GWh per year.
“The Thunder Ranch Wind Project represents a $435 million-dollar investment in Oklahoma and serves as evidence that our state has some of the best wind resources in the country,” said Oklahoma Secretary of Energy and Environment Michael Teague.
Investment between Thunder Ranch and Red Dirt is $855 million, according to EGP-NA. The company’s total investment in Oklahoma amounts to more than $2.7 billion since 2012.
So far, Anheuser-Busch has one power purchase agreement with Thunder Ranch for a 152.5 MW portion of the farm’s energy that is produced. The partnership is the beer company’s first venture into renewable energy, and the first part of its parent company’s goal to achieve 100 percent of purchased electricity from renewable sources by 2025.
On Red Dirt, T-Mobile US made a power purchase agreement for 160 MW, the company said. The other remaining 140 MW portion on the farm is with Grand River Dam Authority, which will sell the renewable energy to Google under a separate agreement between the two.
More than 100 landowners are involved with Thunder Ranch, with about 140 different leases and landowners getting direct money either for easement from the collection lines coming in, or for per-turbine on a property, Hill said.
In addition, $3 million in tax dollars per year and another $2.5 million in ad valorem will be divided between the three involved counties, Hill said.
“There’s a lot of people, 120 to 130, that are getting some sort of direct financial benefit, not to mentioned everybody in the entire county getting their schools improved, that sort of stuff,” Hill said.
The local community around the wind farm has been supportive of the project, he said. One concern raised, though, was from landlords wondering if their land disturbed from the construction work would be restored to its former status, which Hill said all of the landowners’ properties were restored to their satisfaction before the construction teams departed.
While the farm’s construction went smoothly, Hill mentioned Oklahoma’s legislation passed in 2017.
“(On) one side of it where the water has changed a little bit, the atmosphere has changed, it’s just this site went in at a time right when wind was graduating to a point where it possibly doesn’t need the sustaining that it used to and Oklahoma recognized it. Some things changed mid-construction, but … Enel still decided to completely move forward because of their dedication to Oklahoma, regardless of a few laws,” Hill said.
Jones said while he believes in wind energy as a sustainable fuel source that will benefit the future, the growth will provide more jobs and help the energy industry.
“Personally, it’s just completely changed my quality of life getting into the industry and opened so many doors and possibilities,” Jones said. “(There’s been) tremendous growth that the industry has experienced in the relatively recent years … there’s just so much opportunity as far as jobs go in this industry, and it’s just going to continue to grow.”
Hill said he’s a part of the wind industry because it’s something he believes in.
“I’m a climate nerd, I’m not here for business. I’m not here because this is the most money I can make in the world,” he said. “I’m here because I believe in what the industry does, and that’s God’s honest truth. I believe that we can produce enough electricity for everybody in an affordable manner that preserves the environment, that’s why I’m here.”