Consumers set to benefit in Panhandle and surrounding area thanks to power grid upgrades
Upgrades to the electrical grid in Oklahoma’s Panhandle are paying off for customers of an electric cooperative in the area., an economic study shows.
The region is enjoying more than $440 million of estimated economic benefits from just $87.3 million of improvements made between 2016 and 2019 across the area served by Tri-County Electric Cooperative, according to a study prepared and released this month by Oklahoma Panhandle State University.
Tri-County worked with GridLiance High Plains, a transmission utility serving the area, to both design and underwrite costs for the needed fixes. They said the partnership accomplished upgrades that otherwise would have taken the cooperative by itself decades to accomplish.
The benefits are coming through improved reliability and resiliency of electrical service across the region that also boosts the system’s load capacity. The capacity boost provides economic growth opportunities across the region in two ways, officials said.
First, it provides a way for potential future renewable energy generating facilities to get power onto the Southwest Power Pool’s regional grid.
Second, it makes it possible for the cooperative to serve other potential new businesses with substantial energy consumption requirements.
“It’s the equivalent of a return in the community of over $5 for every $1 spent on this project,” study authors Ryan Blanton, the university’s vice president of outreach, and Abbas Aboohamidi, an assistant professor of agribusiness, stated as part of its summary.
Zac Perkins, Tri-County’s CEO, and Brett Hooton, a corporate development vice president for GridLiance, said upgrades were needed for quite some time, noting that some of the replaced assets had been in place since the mid-1940s.
Improvements included pole and line replacements and substation upgrades that better tied Tri-County’s distribution system to other, previous stand-alone distribution systems acquired by the cooperative decades ago after they were left behind by another electricity provider that pulled out of serving those areas.
“Over time, we had developed those plans,” Perkins said. “But with GridLiance’s help, we were able to move those needed projects up by about 25 years, because we just couldn’t put that much cost on the back of our ratepayers all at once.”
Plus, because those improvements dramatically strengthened Tri-County’s ties to the Southwest Power Pool’s grid, much of those related costs will be borne by Southwest Power Pool users.
The SPP serves parts or all of 14 states across the Great Plains.
“It has unburdened Tri-County’s ratepayers from having to exclusively fund facilities that really benefit the entire region,” Hooton said.
Tri-County Electric Cooperative sends power across nearly 5,000 miles of distribution lines to about 23,000 meters serving 12,500 members across most of Oklahoma’s Panhandle and small parts of southwestern Kansas, the Texas Panhandle, Colorado and New Mexico.
Customers include people living in Beaver, Boise City, Felt, Goodwell, Guymon, Hooker and Keyes.
Elected and economic development officials across the region enthusiastically are supporting the improvements.
“Reliable transmission service not only helps attract new industry but also encourages existing companies to stay and potentially expand,” said Oklahoma State Sen. Casey Murdock, R-Felt.
“These investments increase reliability and are one of the necessary precursors to bolstering economic growth,” agreed State Rep. Kenton Patzkowsky, R-Balko.
Jada Breeden, executive director of the Guymon Chamber of Commerce, and Eric Depperschmidt of the Panhandle Regional Economic Development Coalition offered similar supportive statements.
Tri-County’s Perkins, meanwhile, noted the cooperative already is hearing from potential new customers. Meanwhile, those already belonging to the cooperative are most excited about reliability improvements the work accomplished, he added.
“We all experienced the terrible power outages during the snow and ice storms of 2007 and 2017,” he said. “Our primary goal was to fortify the grid to help reduce the frequency, duration and magnitude of similar future events. Our partnership with GridLiance allowed us to do just that.”