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U.S. Blow Off $4.5 Billion Wind Project

If you got it, flaunt it: In line with this motto, the country's largest wind energy project with an estimated investment value of $4.5 billion was rejected by a Texas commission last week.

No happy ending for Wind Catcher (Image: Invenergy)No happy ending for Wind Catcher (Image: Invenergy)

The project called 'Wind Catcher' was to have gigantic dimensions: A 2 gigawatt wind farm is currently being built in Oklahoma by Invenergy and GE to supply green electricity to American Electric Power (AEP) customers in the states of Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. For this purpose, a new approximately 560-kilometer-long power line would have had to be built through all four states.

But that won't happen now. The reason: The Texas Public Utility Commission rejected the project arguing that the costs for customers were too high. Such voices coming from Texas, of all places, is a bit strange, because in recent years the state has begun an unprecedented restructuring of the energy supply. Texas once being THE symbol for oil production, has become the US state ranking first in wind energy.

Project developer Invenergy lists the advantages of the project (Image: Invenergy)

Shortly after the Commission's decision was announced, AEP was forced to cancel the project. “We are disappointed that we will not be able to move forward with Wind Catcher, which was a great opportunity to provide more clean energy, lower electricity costs and a more diverse energy resource mix for our customers in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas,” said Nicholas K. Akins, AEP chairman, president and CEO, after the cancellation. “To realize the full benefits of Wind Catcher for customers, timely approvals were required from all jurisdictions so we could complete the project by the end of 2020 and be eligible for 100 percent of the federal production tax credit. We want to thank our employees and our partners for all of their work on the development of the Wind Catcher project."

Only shortly before, everything seemed fine for Wind Catcher: The commissions in Arkansas and Louisiana had already given their approval and also the federal authorities had given the project the go-ahead. A decision by the Oklahoma Commission was still pending. At least the wind farm that has been under construction for two years will be completed. It is expected to produce clean electricity by mid-2020.

“Wind Catcher has had broad support among many customers, community leaders and elected officials, and we greatly appreciate this support,” said Malcolm Smoak, SWEPCO president and chief operating officer. “They embraced the extraordinary opportunity Wind Catcher would provide for long-term savings on electricity costs for families, businesses and communities, as well as more clean energy and a more diversified energy mix.” SWEPCO is an AEP subsidiary (image right) and should have been in charge of the giga project once it was completed.

The reason for the cancellation could be the anti-wind lobby, which has recently gained popularity in Texas. The project met with strong resistance from interest groups whose enormous regional influence can be traced back to fossil fuel money. Meaning: The oil industry could be behind the rejection.

It is generally always a difficult thing to get a commitment from several regulators, analysts say. But thoughTexas is the country's wind energy leader, it seems to be increasingly sceptical of renewable energy, said David Spence, a professor of law, politics and regulation at the University of Texas at Austin, according to Inside Climate News. "Up until recently, the general zeitgeist here has been we've been really proud that we're a big hub for wind," he said. "That's how Rick Perry was until he got involved in national GOP politics."

Rick Perry was Texas Governor from 2000 to 2015 and used to be instrumental in the expansion of wind energy. Today, the Republican is the energy minister in the cabinet of the declared oil-friend Donald Trump. And Wind Catcher had other prominent opponents, as the news organization lists: 'Americans for Prosperity' e.g., founded by the Koch brothers also spoke out against the project. The Koch brothers are declared opponents of wind power and climate change deniers who made their money with natural gas and oil, among other things.

Against all odds, energy utility AEP has announced that it will invest $24 billion  over the next three years to rebuild and improve the aging infrastructure in the affected states (see left, image: AEP) and to expand the energy system with advanced technologies - certainly including wind power.

Katrin Radtke
USA, wind energy, Texas, Wind Catcher, utility, Koch, anti wind lobby, wind farm, Oklahoma, investment

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