Texas is the largest producer of wind energy in the United States by a wide margin. In fact, Texas is one of the largest producers of wind energy in the world; producing more than all but a hand full of countries. The development of the state’s wind portfolio has not come without its challenges and setbacks. For a while it seemed that development of new wind capacity had gone too far; outpacing the ability of the state’s electricity infrastructure to make use of the electricity being generated by the wind turbines sprouting like dandelion weeds in West Texas.
This spurred a multiyear, multi-billion dollar, project to build giant new transmission lines to carry the abundance of West Texas wind energy to the electricity hungry population centers in the eastern part of the state; including the Dallas/Fort Worth and San Antonio metro areas. The huge project has recently been completed and is expected to boost the state’s electricity infrastructure and further bolster the already impressive wind energy market in Texas.
The transmission lines were first conceptualized in 2005 when lawmakers ordered the PUC to create regions in the state targeted for renewable energy development. The PUC designated 5 such zones known as Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZ).
In total the project consisted of around 180 transmission projects with an estimated price tag of around $7 billion. In the early days of the project the price was estimated at closer to $5 billion with 109 transmission projects.
The completed project is capable of transmitting 18,500 megawatts of electricity across thousands of miles of transmission lines. This increases the states capacity by some 50% and even further widens the gap between Texas and California, the nearest state in terms of wind energy capacity.
Wind is already a large and growing contributor to the electricity mix in Texas. For example, on January 29th, 2013 wind accounted for fully one-third of the electricity needed across the state. That displaces a significant amount of more carbon-intensive electricity generation such as natural gas and coal. Natural gas is still the largest source of Texas electricity.
The integration between wind production assets and the state’s electricity grid is seen as a model for other electricity grids struggling to integrate renewable energy into existing infrastructures. Texas has the benefit of having a more-or-less completely self-contained electric grid that is separate from most of the North American electricity infrastructure. This allows Texas a level of control that other states don’t have. Not having to deal with a tangled knot of overlapping state and federal regulations and approvals has allowed the state to be successful in such a massive undertaking as the CREZ transmission project as well as other grid modernization initiatives.
The phenomenal growth in Texas wind capacity can be at least partially credited to the foresight of Texas planners who put these transmission plans into motion years ago. Producers would have been quite reluctant to build new turbines without being assured of the infrastructure to sell their product to the more populous eastern half of the state.
Texans should expect to see new fees on their electric bills as the cost of the project is recouped.