Texas: Wind energy boom spurs $77.4M expansion

Source: By KEVIN WELCH, Amarillo Globe News • Posted: Friday, March 4, 2016

The towering white turbines are hard to miss in many areas as wind farms continue to sprout, but the production of wind energy in the region is already about to overwhelm some of the lines that take it to the more populated areas of Texas. Those lines cost more than $1 billion when completed about three years ago.

Sharyland Utilities, one of the utility companies that completed transmission lines from the Texas Panhandle to the grid serving the rest of the state, is asking to double its capacity on 166 miles of its route.

It filed a request last week for the $77.4 million project with the Public Utility Commission of Texas. As proposed, it would string a second high-voltage line on the towers it installed for the first line, which covered about 300 miles in the western and central Texas Panhandle and into the South Plains at a cost of about $630 million.

Public Utility Commissioner Kenneth Anderson wrote a memo in September supporting the move, and his fellow commissioners agreed.

“Given the dramatic and continued expansion of wind generation in the region, Sharyland should proceed with installation of the second circuit,” according to a summary of the memo.

A study by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which runs the grid that serves most of the state but not the Texas Panhandle, showed wind energy was big in the region as of September and would get bigger. At the time, the capacity was about 4,300 megawatts.

“The total capacity of Panhandle wind resources with a signed interconnection agreement … exceeds 7,000 (megawatts),” it states.

The new line will run through Briscoe, Carson, Castro, Deaf Smith, Oldham, Potter and Swisher counties from around Tule Canyon near Silverton to the White Deer vicinity.

Cross Texas Transmission built the other 200 miles of line, mostly in the east and central areas of the Texas Panhandle, at a cost of about $425 million. All the Cross Texas lines were built with double circuit already installed, said Cameron Fredkin, vice president of the company.

Both companies used helicopters to aid the stringing of the cable on the towers that average 125 feet or more high.

The expansion of Sharyland’s capacity will allow it to handle electricity from wind farms that developers will activate in the future, like Exelon Wind’s 300 megawatt Swisher Wind Project. The company filed documents Thursday that say the wind farm will connect with Sharyland lines in Castro County and should begin commercial operations by December 2017.