Texas has moved closer to drawing the final map for transmission lines to carry wind energy to the state’s largest cities.
Wind developers buried regulators with 37 last-minute filings to meet a deadline Thursday for comments from those with a stake in developing the state’s wind energy industry.
The next step is a final hearing and a decision by the Public Utilities Commission of Texas on where to put transmission lines to connect West Texas wind farms with consumers in the rest of the state.
Some are getting restless with the pace of the process.
“My problem is we have spent three years and it’s the largest contested-case hearing the PUC has had, and in the meanwhile, concrete, copper and steel keep getting more expensive,” said state Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas. “We should just bite the bullet and improve our transmission.”
The PUC is aiming to make a decision in mid-July on how many lines to build and where to put them.
That transmission won’t come cheap to ratepayers in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, a region that covers most of the state except for the Panhandle. There are four basic scenarios for the PUC to choose from.
The least expensive would cost $3 billion, plus $410 million to bring electricity from wind farms to the main lines. The most expensive plan would amount to $6.4 billion plus $1 billion for collection lines. The smaller proposal could move 5,150 megawatts, and the larger one could handle 17,456 megawatts.
One megawatt of electricity can power about 250 homes.
Jess Totten, director of competitive markets at the PUC, previously testified that building the most expensive option would be risky because wind developers may decide not to build as many farms as they have promised, making the lines less efficient. He also warned a large amount of wind energy could jeopardize the reliability of ERCOT’s grid until technology and management techniques evolve to handle it.
In Thursday’s filings, Shell WindEnergy strongly supported this option, which would allow for large projects like the 3,000-megawatt installation the company plans for Briscoe County.
Shell expressed disappointment with what it perceived as the PUC’s timid attitude displayed at an earlier hearing.
The PUC could no doubt hear the sound of wind, but it was “air being sucked from the room as the ERCOT and PUC staff witness panel left many gathered for the proceedings feeling deflated,” according to Shell’s brief.
Babcock and Brown Renewable Holdings, which is looking to develop a coal-fired plant and wind farm in the eastern Panhandle, also supported the most expensive option.
“What is right in this instance is not the adoption of timid half-measures,” it wrote in its brief.
The company warned against planning to build lines first to the area around Sweetwater.
“Prioritizing transmission buildout to the West Texas Zones before the Panhandle Zones … would encourage further concentration of the state’s wind turbine fleet in an already oversaturated region,” the brief states.
E.ON Climate and Renewables is planning to build in the central and eastern Panhandle. It suggested building up in stages to the larger transmission system, instead of stopping at the smallest option.
“Underbuilding transmission by such a wide margin relative to the expected level of … wind generation could have serious consequences,” according to its brief.
Those consequences could include forcing wind developers to cancel projects if they had to be so small they were not profitable. Also, too few lines could result in congestion or too much power for the transmission capacity.
By Kevin Welch
27 June 2008
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