Wind power generation surges in Texas

Source: By JAMES OSBORNE Staff Writer, Dallas Morning News • Posted: Saturday, September 21, 2013


Michael Ainsworth/Staff Photographer
The energy generated in Texas by wind-powered turbines, like those at BP’s Trinity Hills Wind Farm near Olney, has surged almost 20 percent so far in 2013. New supply lines are making it easier to get power to the grid.
After a lackluster 2012, wind power in Texas is on the rebound.

Through the first eight months of the year the amount of power generated by wind farms within Texas’ electrical grid surpassed 23 million megawatts. That’s up almost 20 percent from last year and is the largest increase since 2010, according to data released last week by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.

The surge comes despite a relatively modest increase in new wind farms within the ERCOT grid, which covers most but not all of Texas. Left out is the gusty Panhandle, where wind farm development has been moving at a quick pace of late.

And while no formal analysis has been undertaken, government officials and those within the industry say between new transmission lines ending electricity bottlenecks in West Texas, more efficient wind turbines and some new capacity, more and more space on the grid is occupied by wind.

“You combine all these things together with the possibility that wind is different this year — the nature of fronts and how and when they come through — and it’s arguably enough to cause that effect,” said Russel E. Smith, executive director of the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association.

With so many of the wind farms in West Texas, getting the electricity they generate to the population centers around Dallas, Houston and Austin had proved difficult with operators undercutting each other for precious space on a limited number of transmission lines.

Cheapest power

But 3,500 miles of new transmission are coming online through a $6.8 billion project ordered by the Texas Legislature in 2005. And with increased electrical needs in the oil fields around the wind turbines, the bottlenecks are reducing and more electricity is getting to market, said Jeff Clark, executive director of the industry group the Wind Coalition.

“People are buying this wind and using this wind because it’s the cheapest available power, and the net effect is reduced cost for the provider,” he said.

That deluge of wind power onto the grid is getting the notice of traditional power generators, who are watching wholesale prices fall.

The financial research firm CreditSights noted that on the day of highest electrical demand this summer wind generation, typically lower in the summer, came in way above projections.

“While 2013 might have been an anomaly in the eyes of [Calpine] and NRG, we expect the wind situation to continue keeping … power prices down,” wrote analyst Andy DeVries.

And all the signs say the growth in wind power is only going to continue.

Right now, wind farms within ERCOT’s border combine to create 10,570 megawatts of capacity.

But there has been a surge in interconnection agreements between ERCOT and wind operators, including many farms in the Panhandle, and the capacity is expected to reach 14,000 megawatts by the end of 2014, a spokeswoman for the agency said.

That comes as construction of coal and natural gas plants has come to a virtual standstill.

Long-term deals

Tom Carbone, president of Tri Global Energy in Dallas, which is about to begin construction on its first wind farm outside Lubbock, said obtaining financing for new wind farms had improved since last year when fears of an end to a crucial federal subsidy abounded.

And he said utilities, once wary of wind power, are now entering into 10- to 20-year purchase agreements.

“Utilities like wind because the cost is predictable. You’ve removed the volatility of the fuel price,” Carbone said. “Before they were buying it to meet the various state goals, but most of those have been met or are almost met. Now they’re buying it because it’s cheap.”