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The Rise of Wind Energy in Texas: How the Lone Star State is Taking the Wind Power Lead

Even wind is bigger in Texas

3Feb

It’s been said that, 'Everything is big in Texas' and the Lone Star State’s aggressive wind energy campaign is no exception to that. Not only is Texas home to 5 of the 10 biggest wind farms in the world, it also boasts some of the biggest wind turbines, with many standing taller than the length of a football field. In the race for clean renewable energy, Texas is clearly taking the wind power lead.

The rush for renewable wind energy in Texas began some 15 years ago with the passage of the Renewal Portfolio Standard (RPS) act, a law that required utilities to source a certain percentage of electricity from renewables, such as wind and solar. To fuel the growth of renewable energy industries within the state, the act also provided incentives and subsidies to wind and solar power companies. The RPS standard worked so well that the mandated goal of reaching 5,880 mega watts (MW) of renewable power by 2015 was surpassed by 2005, thanks mostly to the rapidly growing wind sector.

The Texas wind boom got another boost when rural areas of land largely in West Texas and the Panhandle were designated as Competitive Renewal Energy Zones (CREZ). This was followed by the approval of a $7 billion project to build out a network of transmission lines to deliver wind electricity to growing cities that demand more power. Thanks to VSAT internet access in these designated rural CREZ zones, wind power producers were able to build and operate bigger farms with massive turbines.

Traditional farms are benefitting from the rapid expansion of wind power in Texas. According to statistics from the Texas State Energy Conservation Office (SECO), farmers and ranchers who are leasing their lands to wind project developers are receiving anywhere from $3000 to $15,000 per year per turbine in lease payments. And now that more massive wind turbines are being produced and installed, these figures are on the rise. Being that the average lease term is 25 years, farmers and ranchers can benefit from a steady income stream for years on end---with money flowing in from land that may not otherwise produce income.

Wind developers can thank nature for the rich abundance of wind in the Lone Star State. Not only does Texas have the wide-open spaces needed to support large wind turbine installations, it also has the weather and geography to keep those turbines turning, as mesas and flatlands act as natural funnels for wind.

But the rich wind resources of Texas aren’t found only in the inland areas. The winds of the Gulf coast provide another source of power to help meet demands for uninterrupted electricity. While West Texas facilities generally supply the bulk of wind energy to the power grid---especially during the windy winter months---western winds tend to die down during peak demand times, such as in the evening between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. That’s when coastal wind facilities kick in to pick up the slack and keep the grid well fed until nightfall when the western winds typically return and last until morning.

Thanks to Texas’ wind friendly weather and geography, improvements in wind turbine technology, and dropping development costs, the number of commercially attractive wind energy facility sites is expanding dramatically. Add to that the completion of the CREZ project in 2013---resulting in a power grid stretching nearly 3,600 miles and able to send 18,500 MW of wind power throughout the state---and you have the perfect storm for setting wind power usage records across the state.

According to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages most of the state’s electrical grid, at 12:30 a.m. on Thursday, October 22, 2015, a new record for wind power usage was set as nearly 37 percent of grid-wide demand that day was met by wind power. In all, 12,200 MW were sent over the grid with nearly 70 percent of that wattage produced by wind power facilities located in West Texas and the Panhandle. ERCOT predicts that as more and more wind farm projects throughout Texas are completed and come online, energy production capacity in Texas will reach 20,000 MW within the next few years.

The reliability of wind power generating plants is also a contributing factor to the rise of wind energy in Texas. Unlike traditional power plants, where the failure of one component could cause a total power failure and high business insurance costs, wind farms are becoming increasingly modular. Should any single wind turbine fail it can be repaired and quickly reinstalled or simply replaced by a new unit, without significantly diminishing the overall output of the plant.

Over the last decade, thanks to the right environmental circumstances, big data and hadoop reporting Texas has taken a big lead as the number one wind energy producing state in the nation. With new and bigger wind power projects in the pipeline, it’s doubtful that the Lone Star State will be surrendering that lead anytime in the near or distant future.   

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