Grid improvements help powerful storm electrify the Southwest

Source: Daniel Cusick, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, April 7, 2014

Wind energy production in Texas and adjacent states Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska set one-day records last month. Turbines generated nearly 10,300 megawatts of electricity across the Electric Reliability Council of Texas’ (ERCOT) grid March 26, just six days after wind farms in the neighboring Southwest Power Pool set a similar one-day record with 7,202 MW of generation.The ERCOT generation record came from a passing cold front early last week that sent winds of more than 20 miles per hour with gusts sometimes double that streaking across West Texas and the Panhandle, according to Nick Reimer, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in San Angelo, Texas.At peak production, wind turbines were providing nearly 29 percent of the 35,768 MW of electricity on ERCOT’s grid, according to the Austin-based transmission operator. Much of that power was coming from West Texas, where the state recently completed a $6.8 billion transmission build out to help boost the state’s wind energy to meet demand in load centers like Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Austin and San Antonio (ClimateWire, Feb. 25).”With the continuing growth in wind generation capacity and the completion of new transmission projects to get it to the grid, ERCOT is making greater use of this resource,” said Ken McIntyre, ERCOT’s vice president of grid planning and operations, in a release.But ERCOT was not alone in harnessing the strong March winds.

The Southwest Power Pool, whose grid extends from the Texas Panhandle to Nebraska, including Kansas and Oklahoma, also set records for wind energy production on both March 17 and 18, reaching a one-day record of 7,202 MW on March 18, according to AWEA. The previous record for wind power output in the SPP occurred Oct. 10, 2013, at 6,813 MW.

Calls and emails to officials at SPP’s Little Rock, Ark., headquarters were not returned yesterday.

Michael Goggin, a senior electric industry analyst for AWEA, said in an interview that the ERCOT and SPP generation records represent more than just bragging rights for the nation’s windiest states. They demonstrate that the renewable resource can provide baseload power to energy-hungry states like Texas, especially when transmission assets are built large enough to accommodate the additional surges of wind-generated power.

In previous years, power was wasted

Several years ago, as much as 10 percent of the state’s wind energy was lost due to insufficient transmission, Goggin added. Today, with the completion of ERCOT’s Competitive Renewable Energy Zone (CREZ) transmission lines, that figure is below 1 percent.

In addition to helping boost net generation, the additional wind power is also helping stabilize the grid by providing an ever-larger share of low-cost power.

On Monday morning, wind power accounted for nearly 40 percent of all the energy on ERCOT’s grid, Goggin said. “Five or 10 years ago, people were saying you couldn’t have more than 5 or 10 percent of wind energy and still maintain reliability,” he added.

“These numbers prove that’s simply not true. The fact is these grid operators can safely handle much larger amounts of wind power.”

Reimer, the NWS meteorologist, explained that during the peak production period on March 26, Texas was experiencing a passing cold front, and average wind speeds at Abilene were 21 mph for the entire 24-hour period — nearly double the normal speeds of 10 to 12 mph, with a peak gust of 47 mph. Similar conditions were recorded at San Angelo, Midland and Lubbock in the Panhandle.

Those same areas host some of the largest wind farms in the United States, including the 781 MW Roscoe Wind Farm owned by E.ON Climate & Renewables of Germany and the 735 MW Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center operated by NextEra Energy Resources.

“Under those kinds of conditions, and especially on that day [March 26], we had a wind advisory out for much of the state,” Reimer said. He noted that sustained 20 mph winds in West Texas are sufficient to create Dust Bowl-like conditions and make driving conditions difficult, especially for operators of tractor-trailers and other high-profile vehicles.