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Is Texas souring on wind power?

Texas has more wind power generation than any other state, so it’s only fitting that Texas regulators are starting to ask some tough questions about wind power subsidies. The head of the state’s Public Utility Commission, Donna Nelson, is calling for a study to consider whether wind generators should start paying their share of transmission costs.

Currently, wind power companies are, quite literally, freeloading on the state’s power grid. They can load power onto the system without paying the transmission charges that other generators have to pay. At the moment, much of those costs are being borne by taxpayers in the form of a $7 billion investment in high-capacity power lines that the state built to connect West Texas wind farms with the more populous cities in the east – such as Dallas and Houston.

Wind power developers warn that making wind companies pay the same transmission rates as other generators will destroy Texas’ lead in wind power and undermine the economics of wind generation. Nelson, however, claims that giving wind companies a pass is no longer necessary because the industry has been around long enough to figure out its economics.

In fact, Texas may actually have a greater supply of wind energy than the new transmission lines can handle, so it may be the perfect time to consider a little pruning. Already, other alternative energy supplies, such as solar power generators, have had difficulty accessing the publicly financed lines.

For Texas, the stakes are high. The issue isn’t just power, but also water. With much of the state in a years-long drought, Texas is looking for ways to conserve water, and wind power could go a long way to reducing the huge amounts of water currently used in generating electricity – but only if wind can compete.