July 17, 2008
The Public Utility Commission (PUC) of Texas today selected a transmission scenario that will eventually transmit a total of 18,456 MW of wind power from West Texas and the Texas Panhandle to metropolitan areas of the state.
The PUC selected Scenario 2, which is estimated to cost US$4.93 billion, or around US$4/month per residential customer once construction is complete and costs are reflected in rates. The new lines are expected to be in service with four years to five years.
Earlier this year, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which oversees the state’s electric grid, responded to the PUC order to provide several scenarios to the commission.
The four scenarios contained a total of 12,053 MW, 18,456 MW, 24,859 MW, and 24,419 MW of installed wind generation distributed among five Competitive Renewable Energy Zones in West Texas and the Texas Panhandle.
Senate Bill 20, which the state legislature passed in 2005, directed the PUC to select the most productive wind zones in the state and devise a transmission plan to move power generated from these zones to various populated areas in the state.
Proponents of the wind transmission lines say the additional capacity is the best way to reduce energy costs for Texas residents.
A coalition of public interest groups and legislators released a paper earlier this week which concludes that additional wind power not only would help lower the amount Texans spend on energy, but also would significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions and provide a major economic boost.
“Wind power would reduce output from coal-fired power plants and other big sources of air pollution and could improve air quality significantly,” said Texas Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin).
Watson cited a recent study done by General Electric for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) showing that pollution emissions decline substantially when large amounts of wind power are added to the grid.
The additional transmission lines also would create a number of jobs in West Texas counties.
Critics of the plan point out that construction of the transmission capacity would be tremendously expensive. Drew Thornley, natural gas resources policy expert with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, said the costs of building the new transmission lines should be borne by the companies who develop the wind and solar farms, as well as the consumers who purchase that energy.
“They should not be socialized across every ratepayer on the ERCOT grid,” Thornley noted.
“Because the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow all the time, additional renewable energy must be backed up with even more natural gas power plants.
“Texas’ overreliance on natural gas for electricity has driven up the demand and price of natural gas, and is a main factor in why Texas’ electricity rates have surged this year,” Thornley said.