Windy Texas

The Associated Press reported recently that NRG Energy is in the process of purchasing a 101 MW wind energy farm in Texas.  This will be their fourth purchase of a wind farm in Texas.  For those of you who do not know, NRG Energy is a fortune 500 company that owns and operates one of the largest energy portfolios in the United States.   They provide over 24 GW of power to the nation and deal in major sources of energy, such as nuclear, wind, solar, natural gas, and coal.  So, why is this major company buying so much wind from Texas?  Because Texas is a major wind state!

Texas is the largest provider of wind out of any other state.  The total potential wind energy in Texas is 481 TW/year and its average potential output is 136 GW.  Now, this is only POTENTIAL wind energy, meaning it has not been fully utilized yet.  However, Texas does provide almost one-third of the nation’s total wind capacity with a whopping 8,796 MW of power installed.  But that’s not all, they are currently in the process of installing 660 MW more of wind energy [1].  The most important factor for wind energy is wind speed.  Figure 1 illustrates the average wind speed in Texas [2].


Figure 1: The average wind speed is depicted by color. The graph in the corner relates the colors to the different classes of wind speed and even shows how wind speed changes with elevation.

Much of Texas is in class 1-3 for wind speed, which is actually quite poor, but there are small locations throughout the state where wind speed is high.  It is in these locations where wind farms are built.  Combining this with the large number of wind farms in Texas, as shown in Figure 2 [3], equals the largest wind power producer in the country.


Figure 2: Many wind farms are located in the North or in the far West, where wind is of the highest class. Many wind farms are also on the Gulf Coast where ocean winds can be utilized.

A tip of the hat must also be given to the legislation at work promoting wind energy in Texas.  In 1999, Texas made its first renewable energy mandate.  The current goal for the state is to reach a capacity of 10,000 MW of renewable power by the year 2025.  Financial incentives for wind energy are also available in the form of tax deductions and tax exemptions for companies that own wind farms or manufacture wind turbine parts.  Wind is utilized by our very own Austin Energy which has contracts with wind farms in McCaney and Sweetwater, Texas, producing about 439 MW of electricity to power 55,000 Austin homes [4].

Is it clear now why NRG Energy has so much invested in Texas wind energy?  Being the nation’s leader in wind production counts for something and with the vast potential of more wind out there, it seems like Texas wind will be here to stay.

  1. “Texas Wind Facts.”  NationalWind.  March 4, 2010.>
  2. “Wind Power in Texas.”  State Energy Conservation Office.  March 4, 2010.  <>
  3. “Virtual Earth Maps:  Public Wind Data Map.”  West Texas A&M University.  March 4, 2010.  <>
  4. “GreenChoice–Energy Sources.”  Austin Energy.  March 4, 2010.  <>


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3 responses to “Windy Texas

  1. Hector Chavez

    Texas seems to have optimal conditions for a large-scale penetration of wind power plants, and the authority has considered ambitious goals. However, technical and economical difficulties present a challenge.
    The first issue is that wind picks and demand picks are negatively correlated (wind blows mostly at night in west Texas, while people consume more energy between 6 AM and 6PM ). This causes a lack of energy during the day and too much energy at night, which leads two major issues: a large need for peaking generation during the day and a baseload curtailment at night. Peaking generation only operates for a couple of hours a day, so it is more expensive than normal generation. A large-scale penetration of wind power would increase peaking generators and would jack up peak energy prices. Second, part of baseload generation must shut down at night, because wind can meet demand. Since baseload generatos have high start up costs, they try to not shutting down and they offer low prices to get dispatch. This produces low off-peak prices (even negative prices in ERCOT at night. Thus, a large-scale penetration of wind power plant would cause high prices when we use energy and low prices when we do not.
    A second issue is wind turbine dynamics. Power systems have frequency relays that disconnect the system if frequency deviations are larger than a certain limit. Frequency depends on power fluctuations between generation and loads, and classic power systems have enough inertia to smoothen and control most fluctuations. However, wind turbines have significantly less inertia than most synchronous generators. As a result, frequency fluctuations due to wind turbines are faster, and the system requires more fast generators to control frequency. This dedicated generators are expensive (more than peaking generators), and they are part of what electrical engineers call ancillary services. It is still not clear who should pay these ancillary services, and there is no clear way to calculate the need for them given a particular level of wind power penetration.
    Although there are a bunch of promising ideas (demand shifting, plug-in electric cars, new storage technologies, smart grids), there is still a long way ahead.


    PSERC tele-seminars:
    [1] Uday Shanbhag, “Market Mechanisms for Wind Generation Integration.”Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Available:
    [2] Jim McCalley, “Impact of Increased DFIG Wind Penetration on Power Systems and Markets: Frequency Response and Stability.” Iowa State University. Available:

  2. mec2522

    Another approach to Texas wind is implementing a brackish groundwater desalination project using wind-generated electricity. As population in Texas is growing, fresh water sources and water tables are dropping. A green, desirable solution to this potential problem is Texas wind.

    Desalination of brackish groundwater is an energy intensive process, which raises concerns of greenhouse gas emissions. Also, wind’s intermittent nature is a well-known major concern. However, since water treatment is not required to operate continuously, desalination matches well with variable wind power. West Texas’s abundant resource of wind and brackish groundwater also make for a good match.

    The implementation of wind power and water desalination is already being used as a result of the concern over greenhouse gas emissions. The wind-powered, Perth Seawater Reverse Osmosis Plant in Australia opened in November 2006. An 80MW wind farm, consisting of 48 wind turbines, powers the plant. [1]

    General Electric’s Global Research Center and Texas Tech University have partnered up to harness wind to desalinate water. Texas Tech is testing a control unit that combines a wind turbine and desalination plant. The program aims to develop a commercial scale demonstration within the next several years. The plan is to construct a 1.5 megawatt turbine to power a desalination plant capable of supplying water to Seminole, TX, a town of 10,000 residents. [2]


  3. Texas is the national leader in wind installations and has the most manufacturing industry. The currently online wind projects in Texas 10337 Megawatts. Texas is the first state to reach 10,000 MW of wind energy installations. Texas established a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) in 1999 and it was amended in 2005. The current RPS provisions require 5880 MW of renewable energy by 2015[1]. The investment in wind power brings both economic and environmental benefits to Texas. The number of jobs created in 2010 is about 8000-9000. An annual property tax payment by wind project owner is 115 million dollars. An annual land lease payment to local landowners is 31 million dollar [2]. In addition, wind power avoids emissions to atmosphere. The wind power installed in Texas will avoid nearly 19million metric tons of carbon dioxide emission annually.
    [1] “Wind power in Texas” Wikipedia
    [2] “Texas’ Renewable Energy Resources” Renewable Energy the Infinite Power of Texas

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