It’s windy, man.
No, not that Windy Man, the disgraced concrete structure that state officials once planned to put around Lubbock highways.
Rather, it’s the non-stop howling variety that is, more and more, bringing money to the region. Investors see potential in what people here have known for a long time about the South Plains and Panhandle – it’s windy, man.
Some of the best wind in Texas hits ridge lines in the Davis Mountains and mesas in Taylor County near Abilene. That’s hundreds of miles of away. But there’s a small stretch of ideal wind pockets along the Caprock in Dickens, Floyd, Motley and Briscoe counties.
“We have a lot of developers call us up and say, ‘Where’s nobody looking?'” said David Carr, assistant director at the AEI. “I don’t think there’s going to be that magic spot, but if there is one … that’s a pretty hot spot.”
At a height of about 50 meters, wind in the Lubbock area is generally measured at 14.3 to 15.7 mph, according to the Alternative Energy Institute at West Texas A&M University in Canyon. A little farther north, counties fall into a higher class of wind, where speeds measure 15.7 to 16.8 mph.
But in those four Panhandle counties there are even stronger winds – from 16.8 to 17.9 mph.
“We have a lot of developers right now that are leasing land in this area,” said Dora Ross, executive director of the Floydada Economic Development Corporation.
One of those groups is already breaking ground.
Renewable Energy Systems Americas, or RES, says it will start construction on a 59.8-megawatt wind farm in Floyd County in February.
RES Project Manager Scott Caldwell said the facility will include 26 turbines across 8,000 acres. It should be finished in December.
Caldwell said RES leases in Floyd and Briscoe counties could produce 400 to 500 megawatts.
“That’s just our little piece of it,” Caldwell said.
Tim O’Leary of Shell Wind Energy, which is also speculating land for a potential wind farm in Briscoe County, said the wind generated there is attractive to investors.
“We’ve been talking with investors and talking to people and getting them to sign on with us if we do decide to do a project out there,” O’Leary said.
Too far away
But there is a hang-up, he said. Namely, getting that energy to places it’s needed most.
Stalling an all-out run on South Plains wind farms is the lack of infrastructure to support the power that would be produced. Transmission lines in remote areas of Texas are either non-existent or minimal.
“We’d like to pump that power right on into Fort Worth,” O’Leary said.
But he can’t. And building transmission lines is not simple or cheap.
There’s also another problem, and that’s the make-up of the state’s energy system.
Texas works on two different power grids, which don’t interchange with one another. That means the power produced in one grid doesn’t transfer to the other.
Briscoe, Motley, Floyd and Dickens counties are generally located in the Southwest Power Pool grid, referred to as the SPP. The rest of Texas – including its most urban and populated centers – are in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas grid, or ERCOT.
It means customers in Fort Worth can’t buy power from wind farms in many parts of West Texas because of the disconnect.
A pressing need
The Public Utility Commission of Texas is pressing for more transmission lines by creating Competitive Renewable Energy Zones.
“Those zones would make it easier and faster for getting transmission to these areas,” said Russel E. Smith, of the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association. “Without the transmission, there are a limited number of areas where you can maximize the wind before you bump against the transmission capability.”
With the RES investment and many others, Caldwell said it shows the need for a renewable energy zone designation.
“This (Floyd County project) could be one piece of making that argument for sure,” Caldwell said. “Floyd and Briscoe alone have enough justification for a zone.”
Such a designation could get more focus on that area.
“Hopefully, the PUC will bring the (zone) into Briscoe County,” O’Leary said. “We’re very hopeful that area will be developed to its full extent.”
Some areas in the windy corridor are hit and miss with the ERCOT grid. The RES project, for example can tie into the ERCOT grid. In fact, RES plans to put another 140 megawatts of power into ERCOT as soon as the grid’s capacity is enhanced in the area.
“If we were doing a SPP deal, I don’t think we could have gotten it done as quickly as we did,” Caldwell said. “ERCOT is just a more robust market for wind right now.”
By D. Lance Lunsford
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