23 july 2014

[4C Note on July 30: We have received the following reactions from readers of this article:

a) [From a current resident of Texas] "It's actually working. It's often supplying 20% or more of the power in Texas. And it's got the coal-power industry worried. As long as it was just a bunch of hippies nobody cared. But wind and even solar have turned into something real, and the dinosaurs are fighting back."

b) [From a former Texan now living in Florida] "The Texas approach to alternative industry is so much more visionary than Florida where the state has ignored photovoltaic for so long. On a local level our county passed a small sales tax increase for county government infrastructure which will include solar panels for schools. I heard about Texas's new grid for wind power, and that is the only way such projects make sense. I know a 4 billion dollar project in Oklahoma was cancelled for lack of transmission capacity. I remember at Texas Tech, there was a free West Texas museum which featured a number of exhibits on windmill power going back to the late 1800s. The earliest was simple well pumping, but there were later generators which ran even small DC refrigerators."

Texas Is Wired for Wind Power, and More Farms Plug In

By MATTHEW L. WALD, The New York Times, JULY 23, 2014

PANHANDLE, Tex. — The wind is so relentless that a week can go by before it is calm enough for a crane operator to install the 30-ton blades atop the 260-foot towers at the Panhandle 2 wind farm here. It’s worth the wait; a single turbine at the farm can produce 40 percent more energy than an average one.

But turning wind into electricity is one thing; moving the energy to a profitable market is another. For years, the wind industry has been hampered by such a severe lack of transmission lines that when the wind is strong, a local power surplus forces some machines to be shut down.

Now, Texas is out to change that by conducting a vast experiment that might hold lessons for the rest of the United States. This year, a sprawling network of new high-voltage power lines was completed, tying the panhandle area and West Texas to the millions of customers around Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin and Houston.

The project, its supporters say, is essential if states are ever to wean their reliance on fossil fuels and meet new federally mandated rules to reduce carbon emissions

By any standard, the scale is enormous. Anywhere else, a big transmission project is a few hundred miles long and costs a few hundred million dollars; this is a network of 3,600 miles built at a cost of $7 billion, which is more money than the whole country has spent on transmission in some recent years. It comes to about $300 per person served by the Texas grid.

Nationally, transmission infrastructure is built only when circumstances demand it; in Texas, however, lawmakers have ordered an “if-you-build-it, they-will-come” approach.

And it is working. “We’ve built it and they’re marching this way,” said Warren Lasher, the director of system planning at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the grid operator, citing plans for new wind farms.

Encouraged by the new power lines and by federal tax credits that were available only to projects that broke ground by the end of last year, developers had started work on 7,000 megawatts of capacity by the end of 2013.


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