East Central Electric Cooperative serves approximately 35,000 rural Oklahoma households, farms, ranches, and businesses. As a cooperative, our member-led governance means the needs of the communities we serve are prioritized first in our decision-making.
One request our members have been making, and we have strived to follow through on, is to balance the needs for reliable and affordable power with the needs for clean air, land and water resources.
In recognition of the International Day of Clean Air, we want to give our members the opportunity to review the gains we’ve made with the help of our power suppliers.
Reducing Carbon Emissions
East Central Electric Cooperative purchases power from two generation and transmission cooperatives (G&Ts) Western Farmers Electric Cooperative (WFEC) and KAMO Power. Both of our G&Ts control a network of power plants and the large transmission lines that carry power to our substations. In addition, KAMO Power is one of six G&T utilities that own Associated Electric Cooperative, Inc. (AECI), which connects the grid to a powerful network of high voltage G&Ts across Oklahoma, Missouri, and Iowa.
Public concern about carbon dioxide emissions is growing. Carbon dioxide is the most common greenhouse gas emitted into the environment and can linger in the atmosphere for thousands of years.
The efforts of our G&Ts have led to a 16-year downward trend in the CO2 emissions rate associated with producing power and distributing it to our members. This positive change has been achieved through diversifying the resource mix used to generate power and making technological improvements to coal plants.
In 2005, coal-powered electric plants made up nearly 70 percent of our energy production. While coal remains an important resource for 24/7/365 reliability of power, the introduction of wind power and prioritizing the use of cleaner-burning natural gas has helped our cooperative system reduce its CO2 emissions while keeping the lights on for all our members.
For more than 20 years WFEC has played a key role in the advancement on renewable and zero-carbon energy as an early adopter of hydropower and as the first utility in the state of Oklahoma to sign a long-term power purchase agreement with a wind farm developer in 2003.
“The WFEC Board began the journey towards renewable energy in 2003, earlier than most utilities. Since that first project, WFEC has continued to add solar and wind resources to our fossil fuel fleet,” WFEC CEO Gary Roulet said. “Today, about 1/3 of WFEC’s total energy generated comes from solar, wind and water resources. Already committed projects that will become commercial over the next 36 months will increase that percentage to nearly 50% of the energy WFEC members utilize. WFEC is committed to both fossil fuel and renewable resources to provide a diverse energy portfolio to provide reliable and clean energy to our members in Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.”
Our resource mix also led to a historic milestone April 6, 2021, when AECI was able to serve 100 percent of member load with just wind and hydropower.
Other Clean Air Investments
While carbon is the big talking point, the production of electricity has also historically resulted in other types of gasses being released into the air as a byproduct of burning fuel. Our G&T partners have made significant investments over the last two decades to implement environmental controls and improve air quality.
Investments include using low nitrogen oxide burners, implementing “over-fire air” technologies at coal units, and converting all coal units to low-sulfur coal, which has reduced sulfur dioxide emissions more than 90 percent since 1994.
In addition, AECI was one of the first utilities in the country to construct a new type of equipment for large cyclone units, reducing nitrogen oxide emissions by 78 percent since 1994.
“Given that clean air, water and land resources mean so much to the rural electric cooperative members we serve, our commitment to environmental, social and governance responsibilities is characterized not only in words, but also in deeds,” said AECI Board President Emery O. Geisendorfer. “Significant investments to protect these resources as we generate electricity for 2.1 million people are delivering meaningful environmental results. The model of member-ownership and leadership of our cooperative ensures our values reflect those who use our electricity.”
The switch to low-sulfur coal has the added benefit of being lower in mercury. With additional investments in harm-reduction technologies, our mercury emissions have dropped 89 percent since 2008, putting us about 60 percent below the Mercury Air Toxics Standards (MATS) limit.
Several individual generating units across our system have gained “Low Emitting Generating Unit” status as the result of emitting less that 50 percent of the MATS limit on particulate matter
At East Central Electric Cooperative, we don’t rely on our power suppliers to do all the work of protecting our shared environment while keeping energy costs low. It’s a collective effort share by individual co-ops and the individual members who receive power.
Co-op members can take advantage of free home energy audits to test the efficiency of their current systems and rebates for energy efficient heat pumps, water heaters, and thermostats.
By assisting members in making energy efficient improvements to their homes, less energy is used to perform the same tasks, reducing their electric bill and the amount of power we need to purchase from our G&Ts. With enough members making efficiency upgrades, we can reduce the amount of power that needs to be produced in the first place.
Planning for the Future
Following the direction set out by our member-elected board of trustees, we’ve made great strides in protecting clean air while continuing to provide reliable power at affordable prices.
At WFEC, a new combined wind, solar, and battery storage farm that is currently in development will be the first of it’s kind in the Southwest Power Pool footprint. It is also expected to be the largest co-located wind, solar and energy storage project in the U.S.A. When these new resources are operational, roughly half of the energy sales to WFEC members will be offset by zero-carbon generating energy.
As we continue to make improvements toward cleaner air, we rely on co-op members to get involved and set the future goals of the cooperative.