In Texas, wind power makes big strides with new lines

Source: Matthew L. Wald, New York Times • Posted: Monday, July 28, 2014

Texas this year completed work on a $7 billion experiment to address the challenges of transmitting wind power to the masses: 3,600 miles of high-voltage power lines, connecting millions of customers from the state’s major cities to the Panhandle.An inability to transmit power historically has been a major barrier to the wind industry.

“We’ve built it, and they’re marching this way,” Warren Lasher, the director of system planning at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, said of development plans.

The transmission lines can handle 18,000 megawatts, enough for millions of homes. The Panhandle 1 wind farm came online this month, and by September, so will Panhandle 2, together comprising 400 MW.

Spurred by the wind industry and its promises of an economic boon, the state Legislature began planning the project in 2005. For Carson County in the Panhandle, it’s meant a growing tax base that’s set to exceed $1 billion this year, said Lewis Power, chairman of the county Commissioners Court.

But critics say it’s a grand experiment shouldered by customers. The Texas Public Utility Commission said residential ratepayers paid on average $6 more a month.

Carol Biedrzycki, executive director of the Texas Ratepayers’ Organization to Save Energy, is one of the network’s skeptics, saying that “we’re supposed to have an electricity market where the power producers are taking the risks.”

And some property owners say the compensation they received for the right of way of the transmission lines doesn’t make up for the encroachment.

But supporters say costs have actually declined, and they are hoping to spread the model nationwide.

It’s a tricky proposition. Texas has the advantage of its electric system being within state lines, which simplifies the bureaucracy. Most other states would have to contend with neighbors and multiple generators and utilities.

Outside Texas, “the regulatory system is infinitely more complicated,” said James Hoecker, a former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

“You can’t get those kinds of decisions made anywhere else in the country right now,” he said (Matthew L. Wald, New York Times, July 23). — AI