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North Texas wind power could come at hefty price  

Wind is always available and it doesn’t pollute the planet. But as wonderful as it sounds, using the resource for energy could come with a hefty price tag. How bad you want it may depend on your taste for foreign oil and how much you are willing to pay.

Looking across Horse Hollow, in a barren part of West Texas, you might not know the area is home to the largest wind farm on earth. There are more than 400 wind turbines spread across two counties near Abilene.

FP&L Energy owns the wind farm and according to Ned Ross, who works for the company, “You can run 240 homes off of each turbine.” The idea sounds great and Governor Rick Perry is enthusiastic about the future of wind power in Texas. “We got a nonstop supply of wind and folks in West Texas and the panhandle are excited about it as we are in Austin.”

But there’s a big problem. The Texas Public Utility Commission [PUC] hasn’t approved a way to funnel all the power from the wind farms in West Texas and eventually the panhandle, into the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

Ross points out, “The only impediment we have right now is the construction of transmission lines. We’ve got to construct the wires to move the power back to Dallas/Fort Worth.” According to the PUC, that could cost at least $1 million per mile to get the power into the local area.

CBS 11 News asked Texas oilman and billionaire T. Boone Pickens if he planned to kick in some money. “Well I am starting off footing the bill,” he said.

Pickens is one of the richest men in the world and recently, he purchased some 700 wind turbines in Pampa, near Amarillo, at a cost of $2 billion.

While it might be cleaner, Pickens says wind power will cost consumers more than the power they’re getting right now. “If we continue buying foreign oil we’ll be broke in 20 years so you are going to have to do something immediately. Nobody wants to pay more for anything, I don’t. Energy is going to be more expensive.”

A recent report from the federal government promises by the year 2030, 20-percent of the nation will be using wind power. But just this month the U.S. Senate failed to pass a bill extending government tax credits, that help companies offset the cost of investing in wind farms, into 2009.

And if the bill doesn’t pass, according to wind energy consultant Richard O’Connell, by the end of the year ‘the wind industry would take a pretty significant hit’. O’Connell sees wind power supplementing the U.S. power grid, not replacing it. “I don’t think it’s going to take over the grid, but it could take on a greater role in our energy picture.”

Energy experts say wind power has promise, but there are issues that it can’t overcome. For example, wind farms don’t operate 24 hours a day – 7 days a week. Also wind doesn’t constantly blow at 14 knots, the required speed needed to generate power. Another problem – the expected life of a wind turbine is about 20 years and the replacement cost is at least $2 million.

The Texas Public Utility Commission will make a decision next month on the transmission line issue.

Bennett Cunningham
(CBS 11 News)

Jun 25, 2008

cbs11tv.com

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

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