ENID, Okla. — NextEra Energy Resources’ 250 megawatt Skeleton Creek wind power project is progressing on schedule, despite the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Sara Cassidy, communications leader for NextEra, said construction of the project is considered essential work and is progressing according to the time line the company had before the outbreak.
“Our plans to begin construction on Skeleton Creek this spring have not changed,” Cassidy said. “We intend to start with the transmission line, followed closely thereafter by construction on the 250-megawatt wind site.
“During this unprecedented time, we remain committed to supporting the communities we serve,” Cassidy said. “The Skeleton Creek project will continue contributing to local businesses, supporting local charities and organizations and providing an economic stimulus during a time when it’s needed the most.”
Cassidy said all necessary precautions are being taken to protect the project’s workers during the pandemic.
“We are currently monitoring the COVID-19 situation closely and taking all precautions to keep our construction workers and the local community healthy and safe,” she said.
With work continuing, Cassidy said Skeleton Creek is “on track to achieve commercial operation by the end of this year.”
In addition to the wind farm, Skeleton Creek production also involves a 250 megawatt solar panel farm and a 200 megawatt battery facility — both of which should be completed in late 2023, said Mike Lienhard, project manager for NextEra, during a February visit to Enid.
The total footprint of the project — the wind farm, solar farm and energy storage facility — will include Garfield, Alfalfa and Major counties.
Once completed, the “largest combined wind, solar and energy storage project in the U.S.” will add 500 megawatts to the regional power grid, plus another 200 megawatts from the energy storage facility for up to four hours, if fully charged.
Taken together, Lienhard said the wind farm, solar and battery projects represent about $600 million in new NextEra energy investments in the state.
Lienhard briefly outlined the company’s holdings in Oklahoma and worldwide, including wind, solar, gas and oil projects in 36 states and Canada, and in five nuclear power plants in the United States, during a February Enid Rotary Club meeting.
NextEra was the top wind and solar power generator in 2019, Lienhard said, and the company now has 15 wind farms in Oklahoma, with four in development.
Thus far, NextEra has reported $5.6 billion invested in the state, generating $32.6 million a year in payroll and another $9.1 million in annual property tax revenue.
Each wind farm project supports 200-300 jobs during construction, and another 7-12 “quality, high-paying, full-time jobs” after completion, Lienhard said.
In order to help communities where those employees work, NextEra announced March 17 a $1.5 million commitment to COVID-19 emergency assistance.
The funds will be “distributed to partner organizations working on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis to provide critical support to the most vulnerable members of our communities,” according to a NextEra press release.
“As the world’s largest clean energy company, we’ve responded to countless crises over the years and understand how vital it is to be there for our communities when we’re needed the most – and COVID-19 is no different,” said NextEra Energy Chairman and CEO Jim Robo. “We are steadfastly committed to doing everything we can to assist the most vulnerable in our communities as we all work through this unsettling and difficult time together. Simply put, it’s the right thing to do, and I strongly encourage other businesses to join this effort.”
It remains to be determined how much of the funds might be available in Oklahoma.
Oklahoma retains a central focus in NextEra’s portfolio, Lienhard told Rotarians in his February visit.
“Oklahoma is the most important state for us in the company right now,” he said, “because of the investments we have here.
“Oklahoma is a great state to work in,” Lienhard said. “It is the most important state in our company, because of being able to operate here, because of the work we’ve already done and because of the relationships we’ve been able to build at the Capitol.”
Lienhard said the demand for renewable energy development is only accelerating, and that will continue to spur investment in Oklahoma.
“Company-wide, the demand for wind and solar are only growing,” Lienhard said. “The efficiencies have come so far, the demand is incredible.”
The next big boom in renewable energy may be in solar, he said.
“The demand is there, it’s real, and there is going to be a very big push for solar in the next 5-10 years,” he predicted.
2020 Vision: All Agriculture and Energy stories
❝This is unchartered territory. I’m 69 years old and I’ve been through five oil and gas depressions, but I’ve never been in this territory before. This is a double whammy no one has seen before. Nobody can make money at $25 a barrel.❞ — Mike Cantrell, chairman of Postwood Oil in Ada
The facility west of Enid, near the U.S. 412 and Oklahoma 132 South intersection, can hold up to 10,000 cattle. Last year it hosted auctions for 46,000 head. Projections for 2020, even with the COVID-19 pandemic, are forecast at 50,000 head.
“We hope such a buyer would retain our employees for its operations. In the event that is not the case, we will assist with job searches, unemployment registration, and other benefits.” — Vince Trotta, president of GEFCO
“You like to see some positives, but it’s just bleak right now. That’s the overreaching attitude of the whole country. There are a lot of things that are up in the air and uncertain." — Trent Milacek, northwest area ag economics specialist for the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service
“Going outside and looking at the gardens is the best way to deal with cabin fever. Looking at the flowers and plants, it will stimulate all of our senses and make you feel better.” — Master Gardener Kathryn Redding
With his plans to expand his operation, and due to the labor-intensive process of growing a marijuana crop, Joey Meibergen said he’s constantly looking for more workers. ❝In the middle of the coronavirus crisis, when people are laying off workers, I’m still trying to hire people.❞
“We are steadfastly committed to doing everything we can to assist the most vulnerable in our communities as we all work through this unsettling and difficult time together. Simply put, it’s the right thing to do, and I strongly encourage other businesses to join this effort.” — NextEra Energy Chairman and CEO Jim Robo
The King Plains wind project is well underway in eastern Garfield and Noble counties and, once completed, will add 88 new turbines to Oklahoma’s power grid.