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Power Connections

The Windup…

And the pitch: The state has too much wind to waste. So Texans are doing something about it

More and more wind power is being routed into Texas’ electric grid. The prevalence of wind sweeping the state’s plains, mountains and coastline, combined with public policy and planning, has made the state a leader in wind energy generation.

With wind farm projects in about 30 counties, Texas has the capacity to generate almost 11,000 megawatts of electricity—more than any other state in the U.S. and about a quarter of the nation’s entire wind generation capacity, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

And on June 19, wind farms in the service territory of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, whose power grid covers three-quarters of Texas, generated a record 8,368 MW, or 17.6 percent of ERCOT’s total power demand at the time.

Despite setting records, the state’s installed wind power capacity is just a fraction of its potential. Based on wind on land and in the Gulf of Mexico, where offshore projects are proposed, Texas ranks No. 1 in the nation. If enough wind generation capacity could be installed to capture the abundance of wind, its power could generate 19 times Texas’ current electricity needs, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

But before Texas can fully take advantage of its resources by adding more wind power generation facilities, transmission lines need to be built from wind-rich, remote areas—mainly, the Panhandle and West Texas—to major population centers.

The situation is creating a “chicken and egg” condition, said Terry Hadley, spokesman for the Public Utility Commission of Texas. Some wind power developers are hesitant to build wind farms without transmission lines, he said, and transmission service providers are hesitant to build transmission lines without wind farms.

To help solve the transmission issue, ERCOT has identified areas in the Panhandle and North, West and Central Texas with wind energy potential, and the PUC is overseeing construction of transmission lines to these areas, called Competitive Renewable Energy Zones, or CREZs. This way, the state can be prepared to use wind resources after they’re installed.

With the CREZ projects’ expected completion around the end of 2014, Texas is poised to capture even more wind power. The PUC estimates that the maximum wind power transmitted on the CREZs could increase Texas’ current wind power capacity to about 18,500 MW.

Suzanne Haberman, staff writer

Texas Wind Power Stats

  • 223,000 MW capturable wind potential
  • 10,961 MW capacity installed
  • 1 MW powers 200 average Texas homes
  • 8.5 percent of wind energy produced in Electric Reliability Council of Texas in 2011
  • More than 2.7 million homes powered by wind
  • 8,368 MW ERCOT wind generation record set June 19
  • 5 competitive renewable energy zones identified for wind-generated electricity transmission

Sources: American Wind Energy Association, ERCOT, Texas Renewable Energy Resource Assessment, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts