Passing Wind

Via the New York Times, some information about wind power in Texas.

The story is found here, with a few highlights for your amusement:

Texas regulators have approved a $4.93 billion wind-power transmission project, providing a major lift to the development of wind energy in the state.

The planned web of transmission lines will carry electricity from remote western parts of the state to major population centers like Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio. The lines can handle 18,500 megawatts of power, enough for 3.7 million homes on a hot day when air-conditioners are running.

The project will ease a bottleneck that has become a major obstacle to development of the wind-rich Texas Panhandle and other areas suitable for wind generation.

Texas is already the largest producer of wind power, with 5,300 installed megawatts — more than double the installed capacity of California, the next closest state. And Texas is fast expanding its capacity.

Wind developers reacted favorably…

“The lack of transmission has been a fundamental issue in Texas, and it’s becoming more and more of an issue elsewhere,” said Vanessa Kellogg, the Southwest regional development director for Horizon Wind Energy, which operates the Lone Star Wind Farm in West Texas and has more wind generation under development. “This is a great step in the right direction.”

Ms. Kellogg said that the project would be a boon for Texas power customers, whose electricity costs have risen in conjunction with soaring natural gas prices across the state. “There’s nothing volatile about the wind in terms of the price, because it’s free,” she said…

The transmission problem is so acute in Texas that turbines are sometimes shut off even when the wind is blowing.

“When the amount of generation exceeds the export capacity, you have to start turning off wind generators” to keep things in balance, said Hunter Armistead, head of the renewable energy division in North America at Babcock & Brown, a large wind developer and transmission provider. “We’ve reached that point in West Texas.”…

Lack of transmission is a severe problem in a number of states that, like Texas, want to develop their wind resources. Wind now accounts for 1 percent of the nation’s electricity generation but could rise to 20 percent by 2030, according to a recent Department of Energy report, if transmission lines are built and other challenges met.

But other states may find the Texas model difficult to emulate. The state is unique in having its own electricity grid. All other states fall under the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, adding an extra layer of bureaucracy to any transmission proposals.

The exact route of the transmission lines has yet to be determined because the state has not yet acquired right-of-way, according to Mr. Withrow of the utility commission.

The project will almost certainly face concerns from landowners reluctant to have wires cutting across their property. “I would anticipate that some of these companies will have to use eminent domain,” he said, speaking of the companies that will be building the transmission lines.

It’s interesting to learn that the generation of power already exceeds the transmission capability. It is also interesting to learn that Texas, alone among the states, is not subject to regulatory review at the federal level. Lastly, this uninformed scribe asks why existing power lines cannot be used to transport the wind product, or why existing power line rights of way cannot be used with unique transmission lines.

Regardless, could we be on the verge of a significant increase in one of the alternative energy sources?


3 Replies to “Passing Wind”

  1. I just read your prior post (and need to read it again, to generate a worthy comment) – but my feeling on all of ‘this’ is that we need to start somewhere. It doesn’t have to be perfect at first, does it? There are gaps (and yes, the oil companies hold way too many patents, but one day they’ll run out, right?). Anyway – did you see Gore’s challenge?

    I want to read his thoughts on this (I haven’t yet – time! Where does it go?) – but he wants to develop a 10 yr plan to get us on renewable/cleaner sources of electricity.

    I was at dinner Friday evening with two interesting friends – and I found it intriguing how ‘all or nothing’ one of them was on environmental issues. It is as if we can completely get off of our dependence on fossil fuels, that we shouldn’t do anything at all. I don’t feel that way – I find the T Boone Pickens adds on TV (the wind generation ones) of interest (and my friend said ‘well, he’s just doing that to make money!’ – which, well, of course he is – but if something good comes out of it, isn’t that at least…better?). Your questions are all valid regarding existing power lines, etc – and I’m guessing they are being discussed.

    Anyway…I’m just rambling on a Sunday morning, procrastinating all of the things that I need to do. I hope you have a good one.

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