Bob Dylan wrote the song “Blowin’ in the Wind” in 1962. It was a great song lyrically, but, in my opinion, Dylan just wasn’t the best person to sing it. The folk music trio Peter, Paul and Mary covered it with commercial success in 1963. But it wasn’t until 1966 that the song found its very best expression and reinvention in a recording by Stevie Wonder.
The song really gets going when Wonder’s producer and mentor Clarence Paul prompts Wonder with the lyrics in the second verse. It is rumored that Wonder had been performing the song live, but forgot the words to the second verse, and that Paul had to step in to remind him of each line. The result sounded so good that Wonder repeated that version for his ultimate recording. Wonder’s version of the song became a top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. I still think it is the best version of the song ever recorded. You might say the result was “electric.”
You may not have noticed, but the electric industry is undergoing a little reinvention of its own. We aren’t going to sing “Blowin’ in the Wind” for you, but we are covering the standard in our own, uniquely electric way. Today, the electricity coming out of your wall outlet is coming less from traditional fuels like coal and natural gas, and more from non-emitting sources like hydropower, solar, biomass and … WIND. Lots of wind.
Wind energy is becoming a larger part of your power supply. With advances in technology, it is becoming more reliable and predictable. As a member of the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), headquartered in Little Rock, we share generation resources with utilities across 14 states, stretching from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Computers at SPP conduct electronic auctions every five minutes to find the lowest-cost source of energy, preserving reliability by balancing load and supply.
Wind from Kansas and Oklahoma has become a larger and larger share of the energy produced in that multi-state network, constituting 20 percent on average. On some very windy days, it approaches 50 percent of the total energy supply! Forecasts allow us to predict with good accuracy a day in advance when the wind will blow, allowing us to optimally schedule fossil-fueled generation to pick up the slack. Our contracts with several wind farm operators provide Arkansas co-op members with a low-cost, non-emitting energy resource at prices below the cost of coal energy, with rates guaranteed for 20 years.
Your non-profit cooperative was generating energy from alternative energy sources long before it was cool. Co-op leaders stepped up to invest in hydropower facilities at locks and dams on the Arkansas River in the 1980s and 1990s. As a result of those projects and others, this year more than 13 percent of your energy will be generated by wind, solar, hydroelectric and biomass. By 2018, over 18 percent of your electricity will be generated by these non-emitting forms of power production.
Better still, the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas have accomplished this energy transition without increasing the cost of your power supply. Arkansas’ electricity rates are among the lowest in the nation. Our increasing use of wind, solar, biomass and hydro resources will help to keep it that way. The answer really is “blowin’ in the wind.” That’s just one more example of the cooperative difference.