Kennedy and Campbell

Foster Cambpell

State utility regulators Wednesday allowed a northwest Louisiana electric company to purchase part of the nation’s largest wind-power project.

The $4.5 billion “Wind Catcher” project in the Oklahoma panhandle began construction last December and is expected to start generating electricity in 2020.

The Louisiana Public Service Commission allowed the Shreveport-based Southwestern Electric Power Co., better known as SWEPCO, to increase customers’ monthly bills to pay for a portion of the wind farm’s power.

SWEPCO’s share will be 1,400 megawatts, enough to power about 350,000 homes.

Once on line, the wind farm is expected to provide about 30 percent of the electricity needs for SWEPCO’s 231,000 customers who live mostly in the northwestern and central part of the states. The utility also serves another 300,000 customers in parts of Texas and Arkansas.

The rest of the utility company’s electricity will be made burning more standard fuels like natural gas and coal.

PSC Commissioner Foster Campbell, D-Bossier Parish, said the increase in the base rate should be offset by the charges customers have to pay for the fuel because the wind will turn the turbines that make electricity.

“It requires no fuel to run and is projected to save SWEPCO customers billions of dollars over the life of the 25-year project, Campbell said. “The bottom line is the savings to SWEPCO customers, and the fact that this project will bring clean power to Louisiana for years to come.”

The PSC voted 4-1 to approve the project.

PSC Commissioner Craig Greene, R-Baton Rouge, was the only no vote. He noted that SWEPCO has plenty of power available and was unsure about making the utility’s customers help underwrite a part of the project to the tune of about a billion dollars.

“I am all for adding clean, renewable power generation to our power grid, but the project has to serve a need, and it has to make sense financially,” Greene said. “I could not vote to have SWEPCO customers finance an unneeded generation project that might only save them money if the price of natural gas increases significantly.”

Wind Catcher has now been approved by the regulatory commissions of Louisiana and Arkansas. It is still under review by the utility regulators in Texas and Oklahoma.

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.