The state of Texas is well on its way to meeting the nation’s most ambitious state goal for the production of electricity from renewable energy sources-wind, solar, biomass and geothermal-and doing so seven years ahead of schedule, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).
The Lone Star State’s smashing success in attracting renewable energy-based power plants could have national implications. While the Clinton Administration has been sharply criticized by some Republicans in Congress for energy policies that favor renewables, Texas, AWEA said, is making it clear that renewable energy technologies- especially wind energy-are ready for prime time.
“In 1999, the Texas legislature approved, and Gov. George W. Bush signed into law, a requirement that the state’s utilities install or contract to buy power from 2,000 MW of new renewable energy generating capacity by Jan. 1, 2009,” AWEA executive director Randall Swisher explained. “Last week, the chair of the Public Utility Commission of Texas said that goal may be reached by Jan. 1, 2002, fully seven years ahead of time and just two and a half years after the law was passed.
“A combination of factors have come together in Texas to make this happen: a heck of a wind resource, a drop in the costs of wind energy technology, a well-crafted renewable energy requirement, and non-discriminatory electricity transmission rules. Texas provides a textbook example of what could be achieved nationwide with these fabulous four.”
(2,000 MW is equal to about 3 percent of Texas’ generating capacity, and is enough to serve roughly 400,000 Texas households with 1 million people.)
In recent weeks, Texas utilities have made headlines with the announcement of plans for some of the world’s largest wind farms:
- Reliant Energy, based in Houston, said Aug. 24 that it will buy power from the 208-MW King Mountain Wind Ranch, to be built next year south of Odessa, Tex. The plant will consist of 160 wind turbines, each with a generating capacity of 1.3 MW.
- Dallas-based TXU Electric & Gas announced July 19 that it would purchase electricity from a 160-MW wind farm, also scheduled for construction next year, that is to be developed by the nation’s largest wind energy producer, FPL Energy LLC.
The Texas law which has led to this burst of activity, involving some $2 billion in new business investment, is a “renewables portfolio standard (RPS),” which requires that a certain amount of electricity be obtained from renewable energy sources. Utilities are free to decide which energy resource they want to use, and they typically issue solicitations and allow bidders to compete to supply energy.
A national RPS would work much the same way. The Clinton Administration has proposed to require that 7.5 percent of the nation’s electricity be generated from renewables (not including hydro) by the year 2010, but critics have charged that the goal is unrealistic and will be too expensive. In contrast to these assertions, the Texas RPS is being fulfilled with wind energy capacity that competes well with the cost of new fossil fuel generation.
Some have asked whether an RPS is needed, given wind’s increasing economic competitiveness, but Swisher said it is: “The RPS has provided the extra incentive that utilities need to seriously look at wind and other renewables. Now that they have, it’s obvious that they like what they see.
“The overwhelming success of the Texas RPS shows that the wind energy industry is ready and able to deliver on the long-pursued promise of clean, inexhaustible, affordable energy from renewable resources. The wind energy industry is proof that economic growth and preservation of the environment can go hand in hand.”