Renewables, Wind

Texas takes top spot for wind energy

By Steve Blankinship
Associate Editor, Power Engineering

Texas, known for energy and bragging, just got bragging rights for another sector of the energy industry. In the mid-1990s, under the mandate of then Gov. George W. Bush and the man he appointed to head the state’s public utilities commission, Pat Woods III (later chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission), Texas began developing a major wind energy portfolio. The Bush/Woods initiative began more than a decade after California took the lead in wind (in 1981) — a position it held until the middle of this year. That’s when the Lone Star State eclipsed the Golden State in installed wind generating capacity with 2,370 MW compared with California’s current 2,323 MW according to a July report by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

So far this year, Texas has added 375 MW of new wind capacity, which according to AWEA, is almost half the total amount placed into service in the United States so far in 2006. Since its wind initiative began, Texas has been steadily gaining on California and within the past several years, it has appeared inevitable that Texas would grab the top spot. The state’s favorable business and permitting climate, combined with vast windy regions in the western part of the state, have attracted investments from as far away as Ireland. Mike Sloan, president of Austin, Texas-based Virtus Energy Research Associates, estimates about $2 billion of the total $4.5 billion projected to be invested in U.S. wind development this year will be in Texas.

And West Texas is not the only place where Texas plans to generate wind power. The state has recently signed two agreements with developers to build wind farms off the Texas Gulf Coast. Galveston-Offshore Wind is planning to build a 150 MW wind power plant about seven miles off the coast of Galveston Island. The company, a division of Wind Energy Systems Technology, has signed a lease agreement for an 11,355-acre area in the Gulf of Mexico. Texas has also granted Superior Renewable Energy the rights to 39,900 acres off the coast of Padre Island and south of Baffin Bay. The Houston-based company plans to develop 500 MW of wind capacity off the Texas coast.

Recognizing that careful coordination of transmission infrastructure is critical to developing wind, Texas is also coordinating its transmission planning process to maximize potential wind resources to the greatest extent possible. The state’s intra-state power grid, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), and the Public Utilities Commission of Texas are identifying land ideally suited for renewable generation sources and designating them as competitive renewable energy zones (CREZs). The CREZ concept was created by the Texas Legislature in conjunction with the state’s mandate to increase its renewable portfolio to 5,880 MW by the end of 2014 and 10,000 MW by 2025. ERCOT now has a working list of 10 CREZs.

In addition, the Wind Coalition, a regional partner with AWEA, is working with the Texas PUC to maximize ERCOT’s efforts. ERCOT is now collecting wind data it will use to make transmission cost calculations for each CREZ. Data collected thus far indicates the 10 zones could accommodate 18,000 MW of wind with capacity factors greater than 40 percent and could accommodate 50,000 MW of wind with capacity factors more than 35 percent.

And as if all this planning isn’t enough, Texas wants to become a manufacturing hub for the wind industry as well. Texas State Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson says the state wants to make and assemble wind turbines. He notes the state has both the locations and skilled work force needed to do it.