Starting at the Top: GRDA
The Grand River Dam Authority was all about clean, renewable energy before it was cool. Hydroelectric generation has been a significant part of the company’s portfolio going on 80 years.
In 1940, four years before the Hoover Dam was completed, the GRDA finished construction of Oklahoma’s first hydroelectric generation facility. The Pensacola Dam was built to provide clean, renewable energy hydropower to customers throughout Oklahoma.
The momentum continued. In 1960, GRDA added its hydroelectric production capability with the completion of the Robert S. Kerr Dam, also on the Grand River. By the end of the decade, GRDA built the Salina Pumped Storage Project, the state’s only pumped storage hydroelectric facility. In short, no Oklahoma-based utility does hydroelectric power quite like GRDA.
“While hydro is an important part of our overall generation portfolio, GRDA also generates electricity with natural gas, coal and has some wind power purchase agreements as well,” says Justin Alberty, vice president of corporate communications. “It is a diverse portfolio overall.”
Energy generated through hydropower relies on the water cycle – which is driven by the sun – making it a renewable power source. The GRDA, created by the state legislature in 1935, is a public-power utility that sells wholesale electricity to public power communities.
Hydroelectric facilities such as GRDA’s fit the concept of renewable energy because these facilities use running water, without reducing its quantity, to produce electricity, according to the United States Geological Survey. Hydroelectric power is a domestic source of energy, allowing each state to produce its own energy without being reliant on international fuel sources.
Legacy power sources – natural gas and coal – are an even bigger part of GRDA’s portfolio. The company added coal-fired units in 1982 and 1986. In 2008, they purchased a 36% interest in the Red Bud Plant, a natural gas generation facility. In 2012, the company signed a power-purchase agreement with an Oklahoma wind farm. In 2017, a cycle gas generation facility was added adjacent to its coal units.
Natural gas and coal account for much of the GRDA’s energy generation capacity, but hydro has a capacity of 254 megawatts (MW). In 2019, the total U.S. conventional hydroelectricity generation capacity was 79,746MW, or about 80 million kilowatts, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Hydroelectricity also contributes to the storage of drinking water. GRDA manages more than 70,000 surface acres of water in northeast Oklahoma and the Illinois River. The GRDA’s lakes serve as storage for 50 municipal water systems and rural water districts, including Tulsa.
The United States is rapidly adopting electric or hybrid vehicles, and for good reasons – cost savings and reduced emissions.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, it costs about half as much to drive an electric vehicle compared to a similar vehicle that runs on gasoline. EVs can reduce emissions that contribute to climate change and smoke, leading to improved public health and reduced ecological damage, according to the DOE. EVs also reduce the threat of price spikes and supply disruptions, because nearly all of U.S. electricity is produced from domestic sources, including coal, nuclear, natural gas and renewable sources.
EVs are also highly responsive with exceptional torque while also being more digitally connected than conventional vehicles. Depending on battery capacity and whether heating or air conditioning are used, EVs have ranges from 100 to 400 miles.
According to a Bloomberg NEF report, electric vehicles will represent 10% of global passenger vehicle sales in 2025, rising to 28% in 2030 and 58% in 2040.
Globally, U.S. EV adoption rates are lower than Europe and China because of limited projections of charging infrastructure, according to a BloombergNEF study. But the U.S. is making efforts to reverse this trend. ChargePoint and the National Association of Truck Stop Operators announced a $1 billion charging program to drive the expansion of EV charging stations along highways and in rural communities. The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality’s ChargeOK program is managing projects to install EV charge stations through the state with 15 sites targeted.
The Bloomberg study also projects that the U.S. can catch up by the end of the 2030s because nearly 60% of U.S. households with two or more cars have the ability to install home charging.
Oklahoma’s utility companies are taking notice.
OG&E features an EV calculator to show much charging with electricity saves over a gas-powered internal combustion engine. PSO residential customers are eligible for rebates up to $250 for Energy Star-certified Level 2 EV supply equipment (EVSE). The Oklahoma Electric Cooperative offers a rebate of up to $200 for customers who own a plug-in electric vehicle. To qualify, customers must have a Level 2 charge and schedule vehicle charging during off-peak hours.
In Tulsa – the city that billed itself as the “Oil Capital of the World” for most of the 20th century – raised awareness for electric vehicles with its pitch for Tesla to move a factory to Tulsa, going so far as to paint a Tesla logo on the Golden Driller. Tesla instead chose Austin, but announced that it was building a service center in Tulsa, and Tesla CEO Elon Musk acknowledged that his company might consider the city for future projects.
Tesla built its name on EVs and its vehicles have the longest range. But others are joining the field, including traditional gas stalwarts GMC (Hummer EV), Ford Mustang Mach-E, Mercedes-Benz (EQC), Volkswagen (ID.4), Audi (e-tron GT), BMW (iNext), and Volvo (Polestar 2), to name a few.