October 29, 2006

Plugging in the Panhandle

The Panhandle could be a step closer to plugging into the electric market downstate on Monday.

While Gov. Rick Perry will make a public appearance in Amarillo at noon, the Public Utilities Commission will be meeting in Austin.

“The governor will probably just express his support for electric transmission and that transmission in the Panhandle should be a part of that,” said Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas. “He won’t go into absolute detail. It’s a very complicated deal.”

The transmission would be of renewable electricity, in the Panhandle’s case wind energy, mandated by the Legislature. One hurdle: The Panhandle is in the Southwest Power Pool, a grid that is only minimally connected with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas grid that covers the rest of the state. The PUC is in the process of finishing the plan that would order utility companies to build transmission lines for renewable energy, and then add the cost to electric bills.

“I think some proposals will come out of the PUC on (Monday),” Swinford said.

The legislation also sets a goal of 10,000 megawatts of renewable capacity in the state by January 1, 2025. Perry announced a partnership earlier this month, based on the legislation, that would have utility companies spending $10 billion to build transmission lines across the state to implement the PUC’s plans.

As part of the effort to grow the wind energy industry, more than 100 Panhandle and South Plains city and county governments passed resolutions of support that were delivered to the PUC.

Monday’s rally is also an effort to show public support for making it possible to connect Panhandle wind farms to the electric grid that supplies most of the rest of the state. Early proposals include a transmission line from somewhere around Vernon going to the Dumas area. That would carry up to 5,000 megawatts of electricity. If there were a second segment, from the Dumas area toward Big Spring, it would create a loop that could carry up to 10,000 megawatts.

“If the community comes out and supports the deal, they might make a loop out of it,” Swinford said. “The more people that show up, the more megawatts of transmission we could get.”

The wind industry in the Panhandle is growing and supporters are ready to keep it growing.

“Without a way to export it, we’re limited,” said Oldham County Judge Don Allred. “If we could export, it would open up the industry. It could be worth billions of dollars.”

The Wildorado Wind Ranch in Oldham County, the largest wind power facility in the Southwest Power Pool, is nearing completion and illustrates some of the economic effects supporters tout. The county’s taxable property value is about $133 million, after taking into account exemptions and discounts for agricultural use. The initial investment to build the wind farm is estimated at $269 million.

Not all of that value will be taxed. To get the wind farm constructed by Cielo Wind Power and Edison Mission Group, Oldham County and school systems there offered tax deals that allow Edison to make payments in lieu of taxes for 10 years. Payments to the county are capped at $100,000 per year, still an increase of 10 percent of current income. For the schools, the property goes onto tax rolls at 10 percent of its value initially.

The possibility of developing the export market has looking to the future.

“I say we could be to the wind industry what the Permian Basin has been to fossil fuels,” Allred said. “In the last month, I’ve had three new wind companies contact me about locating here.”

By Kevin Welch


URL to article:  https://www.wind-watch.org/news/2006/10/29/plugging-in-the-panhandle/