August 4, 2008

From the desk of Rep. Allen Vaught

Future Forecast: Wind
In July, Texas took a historic step continuing on its path as an energy leader -- in a somewhat new direction. Our state is known world-wide as a fossil fuel energy producer. However, the recent approval by the Texas Public Utilities Commission (PUC) of a plan for energy transmission lines marks a significantly new direction for the state and its commitment to renewable energy.

Texas has more installed wind power generation capacity than any state in the country. Currently, the Lone Star state has 5,316 wind-generated megawatts of capacity and 1,997 wind megawatts under construction. In our toasty Texas climate with air conditioners running, each megawatt can power about 300 homes.

Where the Wind Blows
The most bountiful supplies of wind power are in West Texas and the Panhandle. The population, however, is located primarily in the eastern part of the state, including the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Existing transmission lines supplying wind power to the population have limited capacity. With all the recent growth in the wind industry, the lines are currently congested with wind power.

In the past there was a bit of a chicken or egg argument concerning how to move the wind power from the wind-rich west to the electricity-hungry east. Wind farms did not want to locate out west without adequate transmission lines. Meanwhile, utility companies were reluctant to build costly transmission lines without a generating farm in place.

To ensure necessary investments in the transmission grid, the Texas Legislature called for competitive renewable energy zones (CREZ) to guarantee enough transmission capacity is in place to move the wind power to the densely populated east. The manager of the state's largest power grid, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), was designated to collect wind data and transmission costs to determine the geographic areas that the PUC could designate as a CREZ. In July, the PUC decision designated the transmission solutions for the CREZ areas.

What this means for Texas
Moving toward a renewable source such as wind to satisfy our power needs helps Texas in a number of ways. Wind energy is a zero emissions power source and does not contribute to our air quality problems. Further, there is no consumer concern about fluctuations in the cost of the fuel supply. Once in place, the typical wind turbine can last twenty years, simply requiring maintenance.

There is great potential for Texas to become a world leader in wind power technology, much in the way it influenced the oil and gas industry. The energy demands of the globe are increasing. As our state's wind program continues to develop, the world will look to the innovations Texas has put in place for solutions.

To resolve the energy issues we face in Texas will require a combination of efficiency, conservation, and further exploration of renewable resources. While increased wind generation won't solve all our energy demand and air quality problems, it signifies a commitment to a new vision of what is possible for Texas.

As always, if you have questions concerning wind-generated power or any state related matters, please contact my office at 214-370-8305.