The first phase of NextEra Energy Resources’ massive Skeleton Creek Project has become operational as the wind energy part of the project began generating electricity on Dec. 16.

The project, which will be located in Garfield, Alfalfa and Major counties, will combine wind, solar and battery storage when it is complete.

Skeleton Creek Wind will generate 250 megawatts of wind energy for Western Farmers Electric Cooperative, which will purchase all the project’s electricity — about enough to power 150,000 homes.

The other two phases of the project are expected to be completed by the end of 2023, according to a news release from Western Farmers and NextEra.

Skeleton Creek Solar will produce 250 megawatts of solar energy, and Skeleton Creek Storage will be a 200 megawatt, four-hour battery energy storage project.

“Oklahoma is a leader in renewable energy, and at Western Farmers, we are excited to add an additional 250 megawatts of clean, reliable and environmentally-friendly wind energy from Skeleton Creek,” said Gary Roulet, chief executive officer for WFEC. “This is another milestone on our evolution towards increasing zero-carbon energy. And, when we add the solar energy and battery storage components of this project, we’ll be able to make more affordable, renewable energy available to customers for more hours of the day — even when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining.”

The Skeleton Creek Project is the first of its kind announced in the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), the electric grid region that includes Oklahoma and 13 other states in the central U.S. covering 546,000 square miles. When it comes online, it is also expected to be the largest co-located wind, solar and energy storage project in the country.

“We are pleased to partner with WFEC to help bring low-cost, renewable energy to their customers and look forward to the next phase of this project — adding solar and energy storage,” said John Ketchum, president and chief executive officer of NextEra Energy Resources, the world’s largest generator of renewable energy from the wind and the sun. “The Skeleton Creek project will provide millions of dollars in additional revenue for landowners and local communities while generating clean, homegrown energy for years to come.”

In an August virtual meeting with Greater Enid Chamber of Commerce, Enid Regional Development Alliance, Vance Air Force Base and other stakeholders, Elinore Beitler, project developer for NextEra Skeleton Creek, said the total Skeleton Creek project represents about $600 million in new NextEra energy investments in the state.

The 250 megawatts of new wind energy generated by Skeleton Creek, and the solar and energy storage components once commercial, will help further diversify WFEC’s generation portfolio. After completion of the solar and energy storage phase of the project are completed, WFEC’s planned generation portfolio will consist of 623 megawatts of solar generation, 957 megawatts of wind generation and 268 megawatts of hydroelectric generation.

In addition to the clean energy it generates, the Skeleton Creek Project is expected to stimulate the local economy through the creation of hundreds of construction jobs, and through millions of dollars in lease payments to landowners and tax payments to the local communities.

The wind project created approximately 200 jobs during the construction phase and will add an additional 150 during the construction of the solar and energy storage site. The entire project will provide approximately $105 million in payments to the county governments over its projected 30-year operational life, and approximately $90 million in payments to local landowners.

Getting the project from blueprint to construction has been a long process, and included building a new working relationship with the Air Force and Department of Defense.

The project, which has been planned since 2015, originally was scheduled for completion by the end of 2019. But, it was pushed back a year over concerns the wind farm might conflict with airspace used by Vance. Those concerns potentially pitted two massive industries against each other: wind power, which accounts for about a third of the state’s energy production, and the military, which is the state’s largest employer.

But, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Anthony Rock said in August that potential conflict turned instead into a productive relationship, where both sides worked hard to “cooperate, collaborate, innovate and compromise,” and found ways to get to “yes, if” instead of focusing on “no, because.”

Rock, who served as inspector general of the Air Force before his retirement, was brought in by NextEra as a consultant to help deconflict the wind developer’s building plans with the Air Force’s airspace needs.

“We’ve definitely had a ton of stakeholders involved throughout this process,” Rock said. “The amount of approval we’ve gotten has been amazing, but it took a lot of teamwork to get there.”

Rock specifically credited former 71st Flying Training Wing commander Col. Corey Simmons, who now is commander of the 60th Air Mobility Wing at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., with working to find a “beneficial outcome for all.”

Western Farmers Electric Cooperative is a generation and transmission cooperative that provides essential electric service to 21 member cooperatives, Altus Air Force Base and other power users. These members are located primarily in Oklahoma and New Mexico, with some service territories extending into portions of Texas and Kansas. With offices in Anadarko and Moore, WFEC owns and maintains over 3,800 miles of transmission line to more than 330 substations and switch stations.

Enid News & Eagle