Over the windy ranch lands of San Angelo, the Big Country, the Panhandle and other spots around the state, the many megawatts of turbine power generated in those areas now all have somewhere to go.
All of the transmission lines of the Competitive Renewable Energy Zones, areas filled with electricity generating windmills, are hot as of Jan. 1. The state now has about 3,600 miles of transmission lines in the zones. They run as far north as the Amarillo area and as far south as the San Antonio area.
“They’re up and running,” Terry Hadley, a spokesman for the Public Utility Commission, said. “Now there is still room for more generation to join into the network.”
The Texas Legislature in 2005 called for the creation of the CREZ wind generation network to provide a transportation route for electricity from the windy areas around the state to the populous Interstate 35 corridor and other places under the domain of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.
The lines had an initial estimated cost of about $4.9 billion, but that was before wrangling with landowners whose properties the lines crossed. The leases ultimately allowed routes less direct than originally proposed, increasing the cost to about $6.9 billion.
Farmers and ranchers raised concerns about the lines going through their properties. Some said the lines devalued their properties as blights on view. Organizations such as the Clear View Alliance had hoped to have types of towers called monopoles used in construction in locations around the Hill Country that would have less impact on the landscape than lattice towers.
The completed lines weren’t activated all at once. In the Abilene area the last of seven projects went hot in early December.
“This truly is an example where the theme ‘teamwork and technology’ applies,” said Calvin Crowder, president of Electric Transmission Texas, in a news release. Electric Transmission Texas is affiliated with AEP, the Ohio-based company that owns power transmission systems in San Angelo and elsewhere in West and South Texas. “There were hundreds of employees and contractors from various companies and departments within the AEP organization working together to ensure that we completed these projects in advance of the 2013 year-end deadline set by the Public Utility Commission of Texas.”
The state developed the CREZ lines to handle 18,500 megawatts of power, Hadley said. A one-megawatt wind turbine can generate enough power to supply about 400 households for a year. At the moment ERCOT has 12,800 megawatts of renewable capacity, Hadley said.
Fossil fuel energy, such as natural-gas-generated electricity, is allowed on the lines as long as there is room for the renewable energy.
“This creates a more vibrant transmission network for Texas,” Hadley said.
Jeff Clark, the executive director of The Wind Coalition, an organization that supports renewable wind energy, said the new energy distribution network should have “a huge impact.”
“It takes an impact on congestion,” he said. “The consumers will see savings because of how much dramatically cheaper wind power is.”
The state was unable to take full advantage of wind-generated power before the transmission system was finished.
“I think in the long term, we’re going to see such big savings for consumers,” Clark said. “It was a bold move for Texas.”
Clark said he didn’t want to hazard an estimate on how much consumers might save, but he said the move will probably generate more wind energy investment in Texas.
He is optimistic about wind energy continuing to develop in the state, even as a tax credit from the federal government to help wind energy expired at the end of last year. He said he hopes the federal government will reconsider renewing the credit, which as an incentive to develop the renewable energy gave wind energy producers a 2.3 cent per kilowatt hour tax credit for periods up to 10 years.
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