By Kevin Welch
The Panhandle is edging closer to plugging into the electricity market downstate.
Public Utility Commission members voted Wednesday to take public comment on a process that could allow wind-generated power to flow south on a new $1 billion transmission line.
“In a perfect world, we would have transmission lines headed this way in two years, but it may be four,” said state Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas. “In reality, transmission takes a long time. This is just a step in the process.”
After public comments are collected, the PUC staff will present the input to commissioners for modification and approval of the rules.
“There is the potential for adoption later this year,” said Terry Hadley, spokesman for the PUC. “There’s a ways to go.”
The new rules would allow for the creation of Competitive Renewable Energy Zones.
“The commission’s designation of CREZs will indicate the counties where future growth in renewable energy development is most likely to take place,” according to PUC documents.
Establishing a zone in the Panhandle would allow utilities to do away with constraints that keep wind power from flowing to the state’s population centers – most notably the lack of connection to the power grid that feeds most of Texas.
The Panhandle is in the Southwest Power Pool grid while the rest of Texas is in the Electrical Reliability Council of Texas grid.
“We’ve got all the wind and they have all the people,” Swinford said. “Studies show the Panhandle has more wind than the rest of the state put together.”
The proposed transmission line would enter the Panhandle from the Vernon area, go northwest to near Dumas and then southwest toward Lamesa.
The push for wind power stems in part from government mandates to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases caused by burning coal or natural gas to create electricity.
The Texas Legislature in 2005 increased the renewable-energy mandate to 5,880 megawatts by 2015, or about 5 percent of the state’s electricity usage.
The goal is 10,000 megawatts by 2025, or 20 percent of usage.
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