State regulators are making Panhandle wind developers get federal permission before pumping energy downstate, and some fear their projects could be limited.
The Texas Public Utilities Commission issued an interim order Tuesday that requires developers in Deaf Smith, Oldham, Randall, Castro, Armstrong, Carson, Gray, Roberts, Hemphill and Wheeler counties to ask federal regulators to give up any claims of jurisdiction over wind-generating or transmission operations that connect with the Texas electric grid.
“It’s up to (the Federal Electric Regulation Commission) to determine how much it wants to keep and how much it wants to relinquish,” said Terry Hadley, PUC spokesman. “That’s because that area is outside (the Electric Reliability Council of Texas) and inside the Southwest Power Pool which is under FERC jurisdiction because it is part of an interstate grid.”
Most of the Panhandle is in the SPP, which covers Oklahoma, Kansas and parts of New Mexico, Louisiana, Arkansas and Missouri. Most of the rest of Texas is in ERCOT.
Next on the wind front is a study by ERCOT to identify improvements and additions to transmission systems to get renewable energy to the state’s metropolitan areas. In Tuesday’s order, the PUC sets four scenarios of various levels of electricity production from the five renewable energy zones around the state.
The order says one of its purposes is to establish “an estimate of the maximum initial generating capacity that the Commission expects the transmission ordered for the (zones) to accomodate.” The only scenario that calls for the study of more than 1,000 megawatts of generation was added in a dissent by Commissioner Julie Caruthers Parsley, who wants the Panhandle to sell to utilities in the SPP where prices are lower but where she thinks customers would benefit.
Developers would prefer to get ERCOT’s higher prices.
“It’s not a final word or a hard cap that anyone can’t generate more than 1,000 megawatts,” Hadley said. “The key word is ‘estimate.'”
Three groups have announced wind farm plans in the Panhandle that would exceed 1,000 megawatts – Mesa Energy wants to build 4,000, Shell WindEnergy plans 3,000 and Airtricity and its partners propose more than 2,000.
Representatives of Mesa and Shell did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Shell sent a letter to the PUC in September, worried about a production cap.
“If the suggestion is that the Commission should seek to impose an arbitrary limitation on the size of any project to be developed, that would be a matter of genuine concern,” the letter stated.
The study is to last no longer than six months. After other filings and rulings, construction on transmission lines is likely not to begin any earlier than August 2009, according to the order.
Another provision of the order gives wind generators outside the zones the ability to tap into the transmission lines but with the risk that the energy from those generating inside the zones might get preferential treatment.
By Kevin Welch
3 October 2007
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