Is Texas Writing the Book on Wind Power: Summary

By Vernon Trollinger, April 9, 2010, Energy Efficiency, Green, News

Elements 2 by br0Proponents of Texas wind power now have a real holiday to celebrate.

On February 28, 2010, with wind speeds peaking at 47 miles an hour, wind turbines in West Texas cranked out a record 6,242 megawatts of Texas electricity.  At 1 pm, 22% of all consumed electricity in the Texas electrical grid was coming from wind power.

Peter Behr’s article, “Is Texas Writing the Book on Wind Power?” appeared in the New York Times.   It shows just how far Texas has come during the past few years to making wind-generated power more than just a curiosity. Texas now has 9,410 megawatts of wind-generating capacity — well more than the combined capacity of the next three largest wind-power states, Iowa, California and Washington. Projections for 2010 are that wind will be providing 5 percent of Texas’ electricity demand.

Okay, so 5% of demand may not seem like much — but that 20% burst on the last day of February sent the message to the traditional generators in no uncertain terms: wind power has arrived.

Of course, what consumers want to know is, “How much is this going to cost me?”

Behr’s article explains the costs this way: wind has no fuel cost — nor hazardous emissions.  That means a cost of zero on the wholesale market as opposed to the cost of natural gas or coal.  At times, they even pay $10 per megawatt-hour or more for buyers to take their power because they receive a $20 per megawatt-hour federal production credit — when they are running.

However, the real cost in wind power is bringing the power out of the West Texas Hills to the market.  Susbsidies from taxpayers bring the cost down from $80/megawatt to around $50 or $60. University of Texas professor, Ross Baldick, adds another $20-30 in additonal transmission lines and back up power sources (large capacity batteries are currently being developed).  If you strip out the subsidies and tax credits, then, wind power costs about $100/megawatt-hour.

By contrast, the 2008 costs estimated by the EIA of Natural Gas Advanced Combined Cycle generation was $79.30.  Conventional coal costs $100.40.

So while wind is still too expensive to survive on its own, it’s certainly moving along strongly.  There are also other costs not factored in such as pollution and even water demand (used by generator systems that use steam such as natural gas and coal).

In the near future, we’re gong to see an evolving landscape as wind power undergoes more development and begins to show a greater impact on pricing and competition between natural gas and wind generators.  And all these things will be played out before the ERCOT board.

As Behr observes: “It’s another reason to keep an eye on Texas.”

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