Thanks to the proximity of wind farms, many West Texans avoided most of the rolling blackouts other parts of the state experienced Wednesday as power companies relieved the strain on generating plants.
Greg Wortham of Sweetwater, executive director for Texas Wind Energy Clearinghouse, said the snow and cold did not affect the turbines. By contrast, plants using water or fossil fuel encountered frozen water lines or other problems with the cold.
“The wind farms provided approximately 7 percent of the energy during the blackouts,” he said. Since the transmission lines connect directly to many West Texas communities, they received the extra power.
The recent weather event produced mostly snow instead of ice to the west of Abilene where many of the wind farms are located. The snow simply fell off the blades, many of which were in motion producing power at the time. Wortham said more problems could have been encountered if icing was the predominant result of the storm.
About half of the turbines were producing Wednesday, putting out about 4,000 megawatts of energy.
“Maybe five nations could put out that much energy from wind power,” he said.
He estimated that about 7,000 potential megawatts of production from other sources were offline for various reasons Wednesday.
The turbines can operate with some ice clinging to them, but they are usually shut down as a safety precaution to keep the huge blades from throwing ice great distances, possibly harming livestock or doing damage. In that case, the turbines are shut down until the ice can melt.
“In Canada and other cold locales, the turbines have heating elements because they anticipate the cold,” Wortham said. “This was an incredibly unusual event (for this area).”
Such events occur so rarely that the added expense of installing heating elements is not financially feasible.
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