Texas sets record, getting 26% of its power from wind

Source: Nathanial Gronewold, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, November 20, 2012

HOUSTON — Texas has hit a wind power record, the state’s grid manager reported last week.

The growth of the wind sector has stalled lately as developers wait to see whether Congress will renew the production tax credits that attract investment in wind energy nationally. Texas is still home to the nation’s largest wind power industry and is a major manufacturer of wind equipment, and supporters are hoping state leaders will encourage Washington to act on the tax credit extensions.

News released by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) on Friday afternoon may help that effort.

State utility regulators have been warning for at least two years that Texas isn’t building enough new power plants to keep up with growing power demand. Officials narrowly avoided having to initiate rolling blackouts on record hot days during the 2011 drought, when power consumption peaked.

It was the state’s windmills that prevented that from happening last year. And their contribution to the state’s power supply has only continued to grow in 2012, according to ERCOT data.

On Nov. 10, at 10:21 a.m., wind turbines throughout the state contributed 26 percent of the load on the grid, ERCOT announced. A total of 8,521 megawatts of electricity was churned out by Texas wind turbines, beating the previous record, set July 19, by 150 MW.

Waning tax credits slow industry growth

Texas hasn’t added too much new wind power capacity to the ERCOT system this year, but officials there said better technology is allowing them to use more of the energy that the entire network is producing.

“While added capacity is one reason for this growth, experience and improved tools also are enabling ERCOT to integrate this resource into the grid more effectively than ever before,” Kent Saathoff, ERCOT vice president for grid operations, said in a release.

Wind farms in west Texas contributed about 7,000 MW to the system Nov. 10 when the record was hit. Coastal towers and turbines, which were key to avoiding power shortages last year, contributed about 1,100 MW of supply.

Texas holds more than 10,000 MW of wind power capacity overall. The industry has undergone massive growth over the past decade since the state Legislature in Austin adopted a renewable portfolio standard, a goal for a minimum level of renewable energy generation.

Annual growth in new installations had beat out all other states in the past. But expansion has almost completely halted this year because financiers are wary of backing wind power as the tax credits that help underwrite wind projects remain in danger of being eliminated at the end of this year.