Gov. Brad Henry signed legislation Thursday designed to expand the use of clean energy in Oklahoma, though the measure stops short of setting a mandate for utility companies.
Instead, the Oklahoma Energy Security Act sets a goal by calling for 15 percent of electricity to be generated from renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and geothermal by 2015.
The plan allows electricity generators to utilize energy efficiency in order to meet the goal and establishes a natural gas energy standard to maximize development of Oklahoma's natural gas resources.
House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, said the bill "signals to renewable and clean energy manufacturers that Oklahoma is a leader in renewable energy and supportive of effort to expand this industry."
Henry, who sponsored the bill with Sen. David Myers, R-Ponca City, said "alternative energy manufacturing companies will take a closer look at locating in Oklahoma."
The bill was approved by the House and Senate last week.
Last December, former Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner Denise Bode, now president of the Washington-based trade group American Wind Energy Association, called for Oklahoma to develop a renewable energy standard to help encourage the development of its burgeoning wind-energy sector.
As of December, 29 states -- including all of Oklahoma's border states except for Arkansas -- had set such a standard, which requires or encourages electricity providers to obtain a minimum percentage of their power from renewable energy resources by a certain date.
Top officials from two of the state's largest utilities, Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. and Public Service Company of Oklahoma, have balked at the idea of a mandate, saying their companies already embraced using renewable energy sources without one.
Spokesmen for both companies said OG&E and PSO had input into the new law.
"The goal is a much different approach," OG&E spokesman Brian Alford said. "We have said all along that we want our customers to help drive demand for wind energy. A mandate puts a burden on customers unnecessarily. ... The state will continue to grow its renewable energy use without an arbitrary mandate."
Alford said OG&E now has 270 megawatts of wind generation capacity and that number will jump to 750 megawatts by 2012. PSO spokesman Stan Whiteford said his company has 590.1 megawatts of wind generation capacity, which he said accounts for about 12 percent of its total production.
"We are already nearing that (15 percent goal) anyway and haven't needed a mandate to do that," Whiteford said. "As there have been more advances in wind energy, people like it more and we've been able to respond."
The measure also requires the Legislature and the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to develop a plan for transmission grid expansion in the state, something state Energy Secretary Bobby Wegener said is necessary to "increase reliability for all customers."
It also sets a goal of placing compressed natural gas, or CNG, fueling stations every 100 miles along the Oklahoma interstate highway system by 2015, and every 50 miles by 2025, to encourage the use of CNG-fueled vehicles.
"We applaud the state's effort to support and emphasize Oklahoma's clean-burning natural gas, the production of which is critical to the state's economic vitality," said Tom Price, senior vice president of corporate development and government relations for Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy Corp., one of the nation's top independent natural gas producers.