Texas, a treasure trove for wind energy, has installed by far more wind power capacity than any other state in the US. Texas currently boasts more than twice the capacity as its next-closest neighbor, California, on the wind rankings. However, a lack of transmission wires has bottlenecked this potential, preventing wind energy delivery from the remote areas in West Texas to the rest of Texas, particularly for big cities like Houston, Dallas, and Austin.
Presently, less than 1% of the high-capacity transmission lines in the US serve areas with the highest wind power capacity. Historically, when transmission lines were built, the high-capacity transmission wires were made to serve one large power plant in one densely populated region. This old model left smaller transmission lines to be constructed in less populated rural regions, exactly where the most robust wind resources are found.
So exactly how bad is the wind energy bottleneck in Texas?
Currently, only one major transmission line connects the wind-rich west Texas to the big cities. This one line has created a huge bottleneck because most wind turbines can’t pump power into the grid when the wind blows the hardest, which is usually at night. Many of these turbines receive a “negative price” on the market thanks to the controversial federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) which provides $.022/kWh subsidies to wind production (which received a one-year extension to the relief of wind developers everywhere). The PTC enables wind farms to pay the power companies to take their wind power, since they still receive a net profit through the federal tax credit. This leaves many of the other wind farms on hold, wasting wind energy, until more lines are built that can take their capacity.
Texas is taking great strides towards relieving this bottleneck thanks to a new transmission line project, Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZ), expected for completion by the end of this year, and thanks to the extension of the federal production tax credit (PTC) for renewable energy sources. CREZ is Texas’ four-year-old $5 billion plan for building an extensive transmission network to support the development and relieve the bottleneck of wind farms in West Texas. Renewable energy advocates in the US have hailed Texas as the new leader in wind energy thanks to the development of the CREZ model. Authorized by the Texas’ Public Utility Commission in 2008, CREZ is scheduled for completion by the end of 2013.
Upon completion, an addition of 3,500 miles of new transmission lines that will carry up to 18,456 MW will be added to the Texas transmission network. It is rumored that once this project is complete, PUC is already looking to create even more wind power transmission lines but by collaborating with out-of-state party markets.
However, like all large-scale development projects, CREZ has received a considerable amount of opposition. A huge backlash against the power lines have emerged against CREZ from Texans that fear for their backyards and the Greenbelt. This opposition has spread from Hill Country, where it was ignited, to other parts of Texas, and has resulted in the applications of a number of other CREZ power line alternative routes that involves long hearings to determine where exactly the lines will be constructed.
The Texas CREZ system has become the inspiration for a number of similar transmission line projects around the country, including in New Mexico and California. But as is often told, Texas is different from all the other states and has an inherent advantage: it’s own separate power grid. While all the other states are tied to either the east of west electricity grid, Texas enjoys the independence from many regulatory constraints that allows it grow with more freedom.