Wind Power Helps Texas Move Past Oil

Texas, long the traditional home of the oil industry in the U.S. has begun to make its presence felt in the renewable energy market as well. In 2007, more than one gigawatt of wind energy capacity has been installed in Texas and the state now accounts for nearly 30% of the nation’s wind production.

Because of its geographic location, Texas is an ideal location for wind and other renewable energy production. Texas Secretary of State Phil Wilson highlighted the important contribution Texas can make in the renewable energy market in his keynote address at the Texas Renewables ’07 Conference.

Wilson said Texas has the potential to produce 400 times the amount of energy the state uses each year through renewables, and that as a result, wind and other renewable energy sources can help bring prosperity to the state.

“With the cost of producing renewable energy decreasing, it is becoming a more viable and profitable option each year,” Wilson stated. “Through advancements in technology and the utilization of renewable energy, we will begin to see an even larger financial advantage when it comes to alternative fuels and our economy.”

Texas is a state that is friendly to business and to the energy industry. The state was a net exporter of energy for most of the 20th century, but in the mid 1990’s, it found itself becoming a net importer. This worried many in the state’s government but it also created an opportunity.

Mike Sloan, Managing Consultant of The Wind Coalition said that, “Texas’ competitive energy markets and business-friendly environment have enabled the wind industry to deliver results that help customers and help the environment more quickly in Texas than in any other state.”

According to Dr. Andy Swift, Director of the Wind Science and Engineering Center at Texas Tech University, Texas’ energy producing past made the state more easily adaptable to the renewable energy industry. He also points to oil industry as another reason wind power in Texas has succeeded. The work force that had been involved in the oil industry is perfectly suited to be used for wind production with minimal retraining.

“Wind is accepted by people in Texas more than other places. The land use issues and aesthetic issues that are causing problems in the Northeast, they exist here also but people are more used to that here,” he said.

A recent American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) assessment found that Texas has the capacity to produce 1200 billion kWh of wind energy per year. That’s three times the amount of wind energy currently consumed in the state. And as plans to produce still more wind energy in Texas are made, so to are plans that take advantage of the Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZ) to export some of that energy to neighboring states.

These zones, designated by The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) are areas that have been deemed most wind power capable. The goal of the CREZ system is to run transmission lines to these areas before wind farms are built so they are operational as soon as possible. These areas include McCamey in Uptown County, Abilene and Sweetwater, and the Panhandle.

The Panhandle, according to Swift, is ideally situated to export Texas Wind Power because of its proximity to other states and the fact that it sits on the plain. “There will be a transmission plan to move energy from the panhandle to the Southwest Power Grid,” he said.

These plans have also made the international energy community take notice of Texas.

“The international wind industry is responding to the welcome mat set out by Texas, particularly the State’s commitment to build transmission lines to support new development in the best wind areas,” said Sloan.

Texas remains a large oil producing state but renewables are making an impact. Recently Texas-based utility TXU Energy scrapped plans to build eight coal-fired plants in favor of cleaner options. Wind and other renewables represent a transition for the state of Texas, a fact that is not lost on Secretary Wilson.

“For years I have been involved in the economic development activities throughout Texas,” said Wilson. “I am excited for the new opportunities we are discovering for our state in the renewable energy sector. As a state, we recognize the importance of promoting and supporting the researchers, businesses and individuals who are pursuing these activities and believe that by working together, we can achieve a brighter, cleaner and more stable future for us all.”

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Former Editor at RenewableEnergyWorld.com, now Assistant Counsel at the New York State Department of Public Service, regulating New York's electricity, gas, and telecommunications industries.

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