Greg Wortham, head of the West Texas Wind Energy Consortium indicated he’s disappointed that the transmission scenario chosen by the Public Utility Commission earlier this month was limited, but he said he thinks it will be expanded as energy projects develop.
The eastern Texas Panhandle came out pretty well with the PUC’s initial plan with proposed transmission lines coming up through Childress County, through Collingsworth and Donley counties to near Pampa in Gray County and then southwest through Carson County before turning south into Briscoe County and Silverton before heading south toward Sweetwater or east toward Wichita Falls.
“It gives you a sense of where it’s going,” Wortham told a West Texas Wind Energy Consortium meeting here Tuesday.
“Those are the construction corridors. The next phase is taking proposals from companies to build. There’s a tremendous amount of activity already underway.”
Wortham said there are multiple billions of dollars from people proposing to build wind projects.
“A lot of it will be about who will build it the fastest,” he said. “There’s billions of dollars lined up to start these things as soon as possible.”
The projection is for the transmission lines to be built within the next five years.
“If the regulators will just make the decision to go,” Wortham said, “some of these things could start pretty much right away.”
He said there are companies that are already starting signing up rights-of-way.
“There are transmission poles in the ground waiting for wire to be strung to them,” Wortham said. “There’s a lot of development that’s going to happen as quickly as possible, but that will be the next round.”
Wortham admitted that there are communities in the southwest Panhandle that appeared to have been ignored. He said that the west side of the Texas Panhandle, for whatever reason, was not in the mapped corridors.
The next round he said is for private development companies to build transmission lines.
“This will build out to roughly 18,000 megawatts of wind energy,” Wortham said. He said that this would almost make Texas the largest nation in the world producing wind energy.
“We all wanted it to be bigger,” Wortham said. “There were a couple of plans that were a bit more bold.”
But Wortham said that he sat through more than 20 hours of Public Utilities Commission hearings in June, he thinks this is about as bold as the PUC is going to go for right now.
“If they had been more timid,” he said, “it would have sent a different signal.”
Wortham said that all the larger plans stemmed from this basic skeleton of corridors.
“They were just additions to this plan,” Wortham said, “so there are no dead ends on this system that would be wasted money. I think we’re really fortunate that they’ve taken this bold decision.”
Statewide, there is congestion in wind energy transmission lines in the McCamey-Fort Stockton area where the first wind farms were erected and in the Abilene and Snyder areas where the second round of wind farms was established.
He said that he thinks the first priority will be to alleviate transmission congestion in the McCamey-Fort Stockton region and in the Abilene and Snyder region.
The next step, he predicted, would be the development of projects in the Texas Panhandle.
“At least everywhere except the southwest Panhandle,” he said.
Wortham said he expects the PUC to look for ways to move forward with what the Bush Administration came up with in May, which is to generate 300,000 megawatts for a direct connection to New York and Los Angeles.
The federal vision is apparently to generate electricity from wind in the Midwest and the Texas Panhandle to all of the electrical grids in the U.S.
“That’s really what that action is about,” Wortham said. “It’s sort of an ongoing process. We’re certainly far from the end of the process.”
He said there is a potential for a huge magnitude of growth beyond Texas and into the region.
Wortham said a new Sweetwater office for the Pickens’ Plan, a highly publicized plan by Roberts County rancher and Dallas billionaire Boone Pickens, has been authorized.
“There will be about 10 or 15 people working here full time on the Pickens Plan,” Wortham said. “We’re doing a lot of work with Boone Pickens on the initiative.”
He said that the Pickens Plan is about enabling wind energy from the Great Plains to go to both coasts.
“That’s really good for Texas,” Wortham said.
By David Bowser
31 July 2008
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