Articles filed under Energy Policy from Texas
The large wind farms just to our north on the Kenedy Ranch are under construction and the owners expect to have 250 wind turbines generating enough electricity to power some 90,000 homes by the end of this year. ...While the privately owned Kenedy Ranch is the site of wind farms under development by private corporations, the government continues to prop up the industry through subsidies in the form of tax credits. In other words, wind farm development likely would be a less attractive business venture without help from the government.
Texas should meet its growing electricity demand by encouraging more power plants fueled by coal and nuclear power, maximizing use of the state's vast wind resources and reducing dependence on expensive natural gas, according to recommendations by a task force appointed by Gov. Rick Perry. The report was issued Thursday by the Competitiveness Council, consisting of more than two dozen business, consumer and government representatives. It made 36 energy-related recommendations aimed at achieving "long-term sustained economic success." A public hearing on its conclusions is scheduled for Monday in Austin.
We like the idea of wind power because it seems natural and clean. Windmills, after all, are part of our pastoral vision of Americana - power, nostalgia and patriotism rolled into one. What's not to like? Only the economics. Wind power, despite the government's best efforts to create a market, continues to be dogged by the same problems it always has: high costs, limited reliability and bad location. No wind, after all, blows forever, and when it does, it's not blowing where people need power. Even now, West Texas wind farms sit idle, awaiting new power lines to take high-priced power to the people.
State regulators welcomed wind farms into Texas' unfettered wholesale power market through a special process to designate the best wind-power production zones and to accelerate construction of power lines -- costing from $3 billion to $6 billion -- needed to link those remote areas to more populated areas of the state. However, problems that surfaced in the Texas wholesale market as wind's influence reached a critical level this spring should be a warning for the rest of the nation, said Lawrence Makovich, vice president and senior power adviser at Cambridge Energy Research Associates. "Wind is not a direct substitute for conventional power supply," said Makovich. ...Wind is attractive if added in moderation, Makovich said. "It has a desirable environmental profile, but you want to incorporate a smart amount of wind," he said. "If you add too much, you may impose too much additional cost."
[L]et's take a closer look at the wind business to figure out why America isn't already running on free wind power. One reason of course is that Americans are spoiled and want the power to be on all of the time. ...That is a problem when the wind doesn't blow all of the time.But more importantly, if you do the math, the investment in this part time power plant alone, neglecting transmission, profit, and operating overhead, is $13,000 per home. I say part time, because we must remember that someone has to own the backup power plant that isn't making any money when the wind is blowing. Solar in some ways is even worse when it comes to the massive arrays and land necessary to place them on. And like wind, solar is not full time, science has not figured out how to keep it from getting dark at night. I am certainly not against technology, just so long as we get the whole story. Like ethanol, we can burn our food supply, but not without repercussions.
Released Tuesday, the 443-page Energy Report 2008 shows state and local subsidies of $1.4 billion on energy produced in Texas, plus a similar amount of federal subsidies for Texas energy. ...[Texas Comptroller Susan] Combs said Tuesday that subsidies can have unintended consequences -- especially when policymakers favor "winners" by providing greater subsidies for one fuel source over another. "Such assistance must be applied carefully," the report says. "Public policies that attempt to pick winners in the race for new energy technologies are an inefficient way to achieve policy goals and run the risk not only of wasting taxpayer money but also of directing private investment away from more promising use."
Wind energy proponents extol wind as free, safe, and clean, but these characterizations miss the point. Energy users expect reliability, and challenges dot the path from wind to electric grid to energy consumer. For wind turbines to produce power, the wind must blow. Because the wind does not blow constantly, wind turbines produce a fraction of their potential generating capacities. Furthermore, winds blows the least during the summer months when electricity is needed the most. ERCOT relies on just 8.7 percent of wind power's capacity when determining available power during peak summer hours. Also, due to wind's intermittency, those relying on wind farms must rely on conventional power sources to back up their supply. Wind's variability and its lack of correlation with peak demand highlight a major challenge for wind energy ...Wind energy also comes with legitimate environmental concerns.
It's not a question of whether the state should pursue clean-air strategies -- but rather which ones, and at what cost. Who stands to save money and who stands to pay more? Is nuclear power part of the solution? ...The solar-power industry already lags far behind wind in Texas, which recently leapfrogged over California to become the largest wind-power-generating state in the nation. And many more wind turbines are expected ...solar power enjoys several advantages over wind -- advantages that increases the value of sun power for those paying the bills. For instance, because the wind typically stops blowing during the middle of hot summer days, Texas won't get much use from those expensive new transmission lines when it needs the power the most. Obviously, that's not a problem with solar. Wind also presents tough -- and sometimes expensive -- technical challenges. Because wind turbines will stop spinning without a moment's notice, engineers at the power grid must sometimes have more expensive standby power ready and waiting.
Hooking up the state's largest cities to rapidly expanding wind power projects in West Texas could cost as much as $6.3 billion in the coming years, the state's grid operator says. In a report this week to the state Public Utility Commission, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which oversees most of the state's power grid, listed five options for getting wind-generated electricity to the populous areas that need it. Even the least ambitious would cost almost $3 billion. Texas is the largest wind power producer in the country, with more than 4,400 megawatts of capacity installed — about 2 percent of the state's total power capacity, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
The Texas House Regulated Industries Committee next month will hold a public hearing in Amarillo to discuss the future of the industry in West Texas. "What we will do in that meeting is have about 50 counties and 75 cities present resolutions to the PUC (Public Utility Commission) and to the committee supporting the wind farms out there and trying to help get the transmissions out there," said state Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas, who has been working for over four years to bring wind power to West Texas.
The PUC estimates the state will need an additional 75,000 megawatts in the next 18 years as older, less-efficient plants are retired. Statewide, some 20-25 gas-powered plants are being planned, along with three coal plants, and two or three nuclear plants. Wind farms are being added, but they still only provide about 5 percent of the state's electrical needs. Even if it were all the proposed plants were to come onto the grid, Texas might still be paying more for electricity than other states, according to Terry Hadley, spokesman for the Public Utility Commission. "What sticks out is the fuel cost," he said. "Most plants in Texas use natural gas, and the price of natural gas is just soaring."
An opinion recently issued by the Texas Attorney General appears to call into question the ability of county governments to grant property tax abatements for wind energy generation equipment. ...citing case law, the opinion observes that "[f]ixtures and improvements owned by the owner of real property are also real property, but ordinarily improvements owned by a lessee of real property are personalty." Therefore, the opinion concludes that since the fixtures and improvements in the situation at hand were owned by the developer and not the land owner, the improvements are personalty and are not eligible for an abatement under Section 312.402(a).
Pump jacks and wind turbines were at odds in an energy bill the House approved this week, creating a quandary for North Texas where both could share the horizon. ...But he thinks it's unfair to penalize one sector of the energy industry to benefit another, Michael Frohlich, spokesman for the Lubbock Republican, said. Increasing taxes on five of the biggest oil companies will drive up energy prices for consumers, Frohlich said. "The Democrats are shooting at big oil companies, but they're hitting Americans in their wallets," Frohlich said.
As plans for Godzilla-sized wind farms wait for regulators to approve transmission lines to serve them, much smaller farms are starting to spin in the Panhandle. The 10 megawatt farms have been overshadowed by projects like last year's start up, the 161 megawatt Wildorado Wind Ranch, but they still make their presence known. "Each one of those things are a straw in the basket on the camel's back," said Stephen Beuning, Xcel's director of market operations. "We're accommodating them, but they could cause reliability problems if the wind is blowing hard and we have enough power already." High Plains Wind Power is building one of the latest wind farms to go up in the region. It's a 10 megawatt project in Carson County northeast of Pantex.
If Texas' wealth over the last century came from oil, wind farm developers are banking that a chunk of the state's future prosperity will come from an above-ground resource. ..."With wind law and the wind industry, what's happening legally is about the same place the oil industry was 100 years ago," said Ernest Smith, a University of Texas law professor who will teach a course in wind law this semester. "It's virtually unregulated. People realize there's great value to it, but there's no precedents in case law and very little statutory help." But as windmills go in the ground, will regulation catch up? Controversies over wind farms, especially those along the coast, have headed to the courthouse.
Austin Energy has relied almost entirely on wind to propel its march toward the city's renewable power goal. But to ensure reliability and affordability, Austin Energy will need to diversify its portfolio beyond wind to reach its goal of getting one-third of its electricity from renewables by 2020, said Michael McCluskey, the utility's deputy general manager. ...The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the electric grid for most of the state, has determined that only 8.7 percent of the state's installed wind capacity can be relied on in periods of peak demand. So to ensure that the lights - and air conditioners - stay on during hot summer afternoons, utilities must have backup conventional power sources, such as natural gas, that can be turned on quickly, said Bill Bojorquez, ERCOT vice president of system planning.
San Antonio and Texas are facing an unprecedented need for new power supply. Even with aggressive energy efficiency, additional power will be needed to keep our lights on and our economy competitive in the face of rapid growth. Based on ERCOT projections, the state will need at least 30,000 megawatts of additional power - the equivalent of 24 million homes - by 2025. And that is before taking into account any retirements of older and less efficient plants. ...A new era of low and no carbon energy generation is about to begin and Texas is in the lead. Let's do it right and do it now.
A massive wind farm project in Gray County is on hold today because County Commissioners decided more information is needed. The wind farm is proposed by T. Boone Pickens, who would like Northern Gray County to be designated as a reinvestment zone so they can apply for a tax abatement. ..."So many people here that have built Gray County and they've paid their taxes, year, after year, after year. I just feel like Mr. Pickens and his wind farm machine, I think he ought to pay his fair share of taxes if he's going to come in here." said Kathleene Greene of Pampa.
A provision in the national energy bill that has been stalled by Texas' two senators would probably boost the market for one of the state's fastest-growing sources of power: wind. ...Although wind farms remain expensive to build, they benefit from a federal tax incentive and have become attractive to both traditional utilities and green-power start-ups. But a national standard is opposed by many large utilities and several members of the House from Texas, including Joe Barton of Ennis. ...Skeptics who are against the renewable standard said that wind power doesn't need any more incentives. The technology has taken off so quickly that there is a two-year waiting list to buy wind turbines, said Sen. Pete Domenici, the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Howard County commissioners approved a trio of reinvestment zones necessary to grant tax abatements Monday morning, moving forward with negotiations with several wind energy developers that could lead to an estimated 400 to 500 new turbines being erected in the county. Commissioners met with Terry Wegman, executive director for Moore Development, who is serving as a liaison between the wind energy developers and local taxing entities for the purpose of establishing reinvestment zones, and ultimately, negotiating tax abatements for several proposed projects. The court approved reinvestment zones A, B and C, following a public hearing that drew comments from only a single property owner. ..."Even the smaller developments - the smallest one is 36 megawatts - will be putting up quite a few turbines. I think we're looking at between 400 and 500 turbines at this point, but that's nothing more than a rough estimate."