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US Wind Energy Output Breaks Records

Wind energy is breaking records across the U.S., thanks to long-needed transmission upgrades that are relieving congestion on the power grid and allowing more clean energy to reach consumers.

Last week, a new record was set on the main Texas grid, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), reaching over 10,000 MW of wind. This was the most ever for a U.S. power system, the equivalent of powering more than five million average Texas homes. In two previously unreported records, wind energy supplied a record 39.7 percent of total ERCOT electricity demand this past Monday, March 31, and two weeks ago the Southwest Power Pool region just to the north of Texas set a new wind record with 7,202 MW of wind production.

Nationwide, AWEA’s forthcoming U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report Year Ending 2013 finds up to 60,000 MW of new wind energy development would be enabled by major transmission projects that are in advanced stages of development. Texas is the national leader in wind energy in part because it has been a leader in creating policies that enable private sector investment in and open access to an expanded transmission grid. Broadly allocating the cost of transmission is key, as the large reliability and economic benefits of a strong transmission grid are broadly spread and a strong grid is essential for maintaining a competitive electricity market.

Texas’s recent wind records were made possible by the completion of the Competitive Renewable Energy Zone (CREZ) transmission lines earlier this year, which connect world-class wind energy resource areas in West Texas and the Texas Panhandle to electricity demand centers. The lines are allowing ERCOT to nearly double its use of wind energy. The latest ERCOT planning report indicates that 8,413 MW of new wind projects have signed agreements to connect to the grid, which if all built as expected would bring around $15 billion in additional investment to the state and take ERCOT’s total wind capacity to 19,478 MW. More than 7,000 MW of wind capacity are currently under construction in Texas alone.

Other regions are following Texas’s lead in adopting policies that will enable long-needed grid upgrades. The Midwest grid operator, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), has adopted similar cost allocation policies for a set of transmission lines called the Multi-Value Projects. These projects will potentially integrate nearly 14,000 MW of new wind capacity. Similarly, the Southwest Power Pool has adopted a Highway/Byway transmission cost allocation policy and is making progress towards building a set of lines called the Priority Projects, which are expected to serve more than 3,000 MW of new wind capacity.

It may have taken a few years, but in many parts of the country the grid is finally catching up with wind energy’s rapid growth. These recent wind energy records, and the tens of billions of dollars of new wind energy investment in the pipeline, are a product of those transmission success stories.  

To summarize the recent wind energy generation records:

  • The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) set a national record on March 26, with 10,296 MW of wind output, enough to power 5 million typical Texas homes. On Monday of this week, wind output provided 39.7 percent of total electricity demand, breaking the previous record of 38.4 percent that was just set last Friday. This is a major accomplishment as ERCOT operates the power grid for around 85 percent of the state, and Texas alone accounts for about 10 percent of U.S. electricity demand. ERCOT’s previous record for wind output had been 9,674 MW, set in May 2013, and in April 2013 wind output had provided 35 percent of electricity demand. Jeff Clark, Executive Director of The Wind Coalition, noted "Texas has made visionary investments in its electricity infrastructure. These investments are paying off for Texas consumers as record levels of inexpensive wind power is lowering electric bills with power that is truly 'Made in Texas.'  Wind energy is a home grown success story that is demonstrating that Texas energy can power Texas."
  • On March 18, wind energy output set a new record of 7,202 MW in the Southwest Power Pool region just to the north of Texas. Wind output exceeded 6,000 MW on each of March 16, 17, and 18, including setting a record on March 17 that was then broken the next day. Before that, SPP’s record output had been 6,816 MW on October 10, 2013, and on April 6, 2013, SPP wind output provided a record 33.4% of electricity demand.

Lead image: Wind turbines via Shutterstock

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