About Air and Water

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Public utility commission clears way for more wind power

State will determine routes for transmission lines to rural areas
By Asher Price - AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF - Saturday, July 21, 2007
The state Public Utility Commission opened the way for a big boost in wind power production in Texas on Friday.

The commission designated swaths of the state for the construction of new power lines that would carry wind-generated electricity to consumers. The decision serves as a pledge that the state will help build those lines, giving wind power developers the confidence to build turbines in far-flung, windy areas of Texas, according to Mike Aaron, a staff member with Virtus Energy, an Austin renewable energy consulting firm.

The state is the nation's leading producer of wind power. In 2006, Texas added 774 megawatts of wind energy capacity. But Friday's decision directs the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state's electric grid, to plan for power lines that could deliver at least 10,000 more megawatts of renewable power by 2012.

That amount is enough to power nearly 3 million homes. The lines could end up delivering as much as 25,000 megawatts of wind energy, depending on how many wind farms are eventually built.

Wind developers cheered the decision.

"The windiest areas of the state are far from cities," Aaron said. "This gives certainty to wind developers that there will be transmission to those areas."

He said it can take a year to build a wind farm, but five to build the transmission lines needed to send power to cities.

In 2005, the Legislature passed a measure requiring that the utility commission designate zones and accompanying transmission projects to boost the flow of renewable energy into more populated areas.

A recent report by the state energy conservation office called transmission "the greatest hurdle facing the wind industry."

"Transmission constraints in far West Texas have negatively affected the operations of large winds farms in this prime wind generation area," according to the report.

Environmental groups who had pushed the state to invest in conservation and renewable energy projects to satisfy Texas' growing appetite for power also applauded the utility commission's decision.

"We commend the utility industry for rising to the challenge in meeting Texans' demands for cleaner, safe sources of energy," Scott Anderson, an energy policy specialist for Environmental Defense, said in a statement.

Read more in the Austin American Statesman

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