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Texas Wind Energy: Past, Present, and Future  

Author:  | Economics, Grid, Texas

Executive Summary: Texas is a growing state with growing energy needs. A crucial issue is how to develop and allocate the state’s vast natural resources so that Texans have reliable and affordable energy. Wind energy is an increasingly important part of this equation, as Texas leads the nation in installed wind-power capacity. But myriad questions and challenges confront wind energy’s expansion, namely wind’s intermittent nature, the lack of large-scale electricity storage, and limitations on electric transmission.

The greatest impediment to wind’s large-scale contribution to our energy supply is its intermittent nature. The wind must blow in order for wind turbines to produce power. In Texas, however, wind blows the least during the summer months when we need power the most. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) relies on just 8.7 percent of wind power’s installed capacity when determining available power during peak summer hours.

Due to wind’s intermittency, wind turbines have much lower capacity factors – measures of generating units’ actual energy output divided by the energy output if the units operated at its rated power output 100 percent of the time – than conventional (thermal) power sources. As such, wind is not a baseload resource and cannot deliver a large portion of the demand for energy.

Second, electricity cannot currently be stored on a commercial scale. This lack of adequate large-scale electricity storage amplifies the effects of wind’s variability and lack of correlation with peak demand. Without adequate wind-power storage, wind-generating units must be backed up by units that generate electricity from conventional sources. In Texas’ case, that means natural gas, a fuel source with extreme price volatility. Thus, wind energy is an inherently less valuable resource than fuel sources requiring no backup.

Another major issue surrounding wind-energy development is electric transmission capacity. The infrastructure does not exist to move electricity from the areas of Texas most suitable for wind energy generation – West Texas and the Panhandle – to the state’s metropolitan centers, so new transmission capacity is needed. Texas’ electric customers should be particularly concerned, as they will foot the bill for new transmission lines.

The distinction between wind and wind energy is critical. The wind itself is free, but wind energy is anything but. Cost estimates for wind-energy generation typically include only turbine construction and maintenance. Left out are many of wind energy’s costs – transmission, grid connection and management, and backup generation – that ultimately will be borne by Texas’ electric ratepayers. Direct subsidies, tax breaks, and increased production and ancillary costs associated with wind energy could cost Texas more than $4 billion per year and at least $60 billion through 2025. …

Download original document: “Texas Wind Energy: Past, Present, and Future

Also see “The True Cost of [Texas] Wind Energy”, by Bill Peacock

This article is the work of the author(s) indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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