SAN ANGELO, Texas – Wind farms blanket parts of West Texas and attract motorists’ attention with their intimidating height and enormous blades. At night, the turbines exude a synchronized, crimson flicker while manufacturing thousands of megawatts of energy.
The wind energy industry is playing a waiting game as turbines on wind farms throughout Texas will not have the ability to send the full capacity of their wind-power generation east for at least three years.
The Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) explained that it is still in the Competitive Renewable Energy Zones process of approving certificates for proposed transmission lines. The CREZ transmission line network’s earliest completion date is slated for 2013.
“Many of the cases have been approved but others are still working their way through the certification process. Once those certificates are issued, construction can begin,” PUCT Communication Director Terry Hadley said.
Twelve projects by six transmission service providers are still pending approval by the PUCT. The providers waiting for approval include Oncor, Sharyland, Electric Transmission Texas, Cross Texas, South Texas Electric Cooperatives (STEC) and Wind Energy Transmission Texas.
Approval dates range from Feb. 3 to May 5, with the STEC about to file for certification on March 18 and an approval date estimated for June.
The Texas Legislature established the ongoing process six years ago when it ordered the PUCT to designate the CREZ and use a new transmission plan to direct renewable energy from the zones to more populated cities such as Austin, Dallas and San Antonio. In 2008, the commission established the five zones to include West Texas and the Panhandle.
The heart of Texas is divided into these five zones with Tom Green, Irion, Runnels, Reagan and Sterling counties in the Central zone. The estimated cost for the project is $1.1 billion, covering more than 700 miles, according to the PUCT website.
The other four zones divide the Panhandle into two groups, A and B, with a projected cost of more than $800 million and $444 million, respectively. The Central West zone, which includes Ector and Midland counties, will encompass more than 180 miles, with a cost upward of $280 million. The McCamey zone, which is made up of Crockett, Irion and Schleicher counties and parts of Tom Green County, includes 320 miles and a projected cost of half a billion dollars.
The transmission plan approved by the commission is projected to produce more than 18,000 megawatts (MW) of wind capacity to operate within the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).
Initial legislation established a goal of 2,000 MW of new renewable resource capacity by 2009. In 2005, the Public Utility Regulatory Act was amended to increase the goal to 5,000 MW of new renewable capacity by 2015.
The amendment also stipulated a target of 500 MW of non-wind renewable capacity by 2015 and 10,000 MW of new renewable capacity of any type by 2025. Presently, the 10,000 MW goal has been met, according to the PUCT website.
“The fact is that the marketplace has far outstripped the demand for wind power than originally anticipated by the goals that were established,” Hadley said. “So that shows me phenomenal growth in wind power in this state. We’re now trying to catch up by providing enough of a transmission line network to develop or to be able to deliver all that wind capacity.”
Even though the wind-power generation hit the mark, the non-wind renewable resources are not prevailing like its counterpart.
“The non-wind renewables are not nearly as well developed as the wind energy,” Hadley said. “Things like solar and biomass that are more expensive in terms of the cost of fuel and the development of it. I think there’s consensus there needs to be more development in renewables. It just hasn’t enjoyed the same opportunities as the wind.”
American Electric Power Texas (AEP Texas) is one of the companies that specializes in the construction of the power lines for the transmission network. It serves 11 states and owns two wind farms, Desert Skies Wind Farm and Trent Mason Wind Farm. Fred Hernandez, manager of community affairs for AEP Texas in San Angelo, said that once the technology for non-wind resources becomes more developed, it will be more cost-effective to use.
“Photovoltaic and solar generation in small amounts are becoming more and more out-of-date,” Hernandez said. “There are more inquiries about photovoltaic sites. So we see more and more of that coming on. There’s more interest. As the technology develops, the cost for solar and other renewable projects will become more efficient and the cost-benefit will be better.”
Hernandez emphasized that one of the challenges for the construction of the transmission line network is positioning themselves to have the right of way to build the line.
On the other side, John Ragan, president of NRG Texas Region, thinks it’s more advantageous for their company to pursue solar resources than to invest in wind renewable resources.
“The nice thing about solar, it’s what we call an on-peak product,” Ragan said. “When we see load demand increase in Texas during the day from air-conditioning load and the general heat that builds during the day, that’s when solar generates electricity. We like the idea of being able to build more of what we call on-peak renewable resources.”
NRG Energy Inc. is a national retail energy provider with eight subsidiaries including NRG Solar and Reliant Energy. The organization produces more than 11,000 MW of wind generation with about 400 MW coming from their four wind farm facilities in Texas: Langford, Elbow Creek, Sherbino and South Trent.
But the delay continues. Until CREZ line certificates are approved and the main transmission line network is assembled, thousands of megawatts of wind-power being generated by countless wind turbines will not reach the highly populated cities.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding