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solar panels
Solar panels and framing remain damaged after a vehicle smashed into the compound late last week, according to an OEC official. (Ashiq Zaman)

Power company executives believe the new solar garden in north Norman will still come online by Jan. 1, despite two traffic wrecks that have delayed efforts at the generation station.

NonDoc profiled the Oklahoma Electric Cooperative‘s solar efforts along I-35 on Nov. 15. Just two weeks later, on Dec. 3, several solar panels were smashed when a vehicle veered off the highway and into the three-acre, 950-panel solar garden, which was still under construction near the intersection of I-35 and State Highway 77.

“It will create a little delay, but we’re working through that,” said Brian Hobbs, vice president of legal and corporate for Western Farmers Electric, the company developing the solar project for the OEC. “We still think we will have the facility fully operational by the end of the year.”

Hobbs said the Dec. 3 wreck was actually the second time the solar panels had been struck by a vehicle.

“We hadn’t anticipated this problem,” said Hobbs, who noted that Western Farmers Electric is launching 13 solar projects across the state. He said the company already owned the I-35-adjacent land owing to its power substation nearby.

OEC officials said the garden is not yet their property and that Western Farmers Electric has a contractor finishing the project.

“The damage has been isolated, which will allow production from the majority of the facility,” said Autumn McMahon, community relations coordinator for the OEC. “At this point, we are still assessing the extent of the damage. We may not have a full understanding until all of the testing and construction is completed.”

Preston O’Brien, OEC’s chief financial officer, said the co-op will have the exclusive rights to use and market the facility once it’s up and running. He said the latest wreck would probably set everything back a couple of weeks.

“I saw the damage myself in pictures and drove by and thought, ‘holy cow,'” O’Brien said.

solar panels
(Ashiq Zaman)

ODOT, partners agree to install guardrail

McMahon said an agreement has been reached with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and OEC solar garden partner Western Farmers Cooperative Electric for the placement of a guardrail near the fencing of the solar garden.

“We are currently in the process of selecting a contractor with the goal of having the guardrail in place by the end of the year,” McMahon said.

The Norman-based co-op, which serves more than 55,000 meters in seven central Oklahoma counties, is adding solar power to a renewable-energy portfolio that represents 25 percent of OEC’s overall energy output.

solar panels
(Ashiq Zaman)
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William W. Savage III holds a journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma. He covered two sessions of the Oklahoma Legislature for eCapitol.net before working in health care for six years. He is a nationally certified Mental Health First Aid instructor.
Jeff Packham is the CEO of Jupiter Promotions, a full-service public relations, marketing and social media management company in Oklahoma City. He has worked as a reporter covering the Oklahoma State Capitol for both the Journal Record and CNHI.