Texas: The green energy state
Austin, June 23, 2014 – It’s a little know fact that Texas, the nation’s largest fossil fuel producer, is also the greenest green energy state in the United States.
That title was confirmed again today by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) in its latest “Today in Energy” report for June 23rd. On March 26th, for a few brief moments, 29 percent of all the electricity used in Texas across its massive state-run ERCOT power grid, was produced by 10,296 megawatts of wind power from a huge 12,355 Mw capacity. That’s a new record.
Texas is, by far, the nation’s largest producer of wind power, thanks to strong winds sweeping across west Texas ranch lands. Because of that, Texas produces 1/5th the entire U.S. total of non-hydro renewable electricity and more than twice as much as California, the 2nd greenest state.
The title of greenest was wrested away from California back in 2007 after the Texas state legislature had passed a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) in 1999, requiring ERCOT to produce a percentage of its electricity from renewable sources. ERCOT met all renewable mandates, as they’ve been increased, years before required.
The $6 billion dollar gamble
ERCOT did something else smart, and necessary, that no other state did to make it number one.
As seen in the above ERCOT graph, wind can vary from producing almost no electricity at all to producing 10,000 Mw in a single day. Wind electricity has the distinct disadvantage that it has to be used when it is produced, not when it is needed. Power grids have to be specially modified to handle wind’s wild fluctuations to prevent grid overloads and blackouts.
After research and anticipating growth, ERCOT partitioned the state into competitive renewable energy zones of high solar and wind potential and invested $6 billion dollars into a massive electric power grid upgrade to carry electricity from the zones where it is produced to large urban centers in east Texas where it is used.
The grid upgrade is designed to handle 18,000 Mw of wind and solar capacity, so there is still room to handle renewable growth.
A royal federal government screw-up
On the other hand, unlike ERCOT, the federal Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) in the Pacific Northwest did not adequately plan for the effect of adding large numbers of wind farms to its power grid.
In 2011, during peak spring runoff, all those glimmering new white windmills in the Columbia River basin had to be cut off from the grid because of overload potential caused when hydroelectric production is at its peak. Lawsuits resulted.
After the necessary decision, BPA came up with a government policy solution to pay wind farm operators, at taxpayer expense, for lost revenues when their wind farms are cut off from the grid. That plan lasts through 2015.
VER is government lingo for “variable energy resources” (meaning wind and solar).
(provide) clarity and guidance (for) a revised BPA VER integration policy that is consistent with open access principles and provides non-discriminatory transmission and integration services to VERs.
– FERC ruling, 11/21/2013
Worse yet, on November 21st of last year the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) agreed with renewable energy interests and rejected BPA’s proposed Open Access Transmission Tariff (OATT) to fund grid upgrades to handle wind and solar farm stresses put on their grid.
As of right now, to prevent discrimination against VERs, Bonneville has no way to pay for necessary upgrades to the power grid to prevent overloads caused by wind and solar farms.
It’s insane and threatens the fragile stability of BPA’s power grid.
Wind’s future uncertain
Despite its success, the future of wind power looks vague. In 2013, Texas added only 150 Mw of utility-scale wind capacity, 1/10th the amount of the previous year.
There are 7,000 Mw of new wind projects planned but they face an uncertain future unless government subsidies are restored. As of now, EIA says very few large wind projects are scheduled to come online in Texas or nationally.
Since it is still heavily subsidized, solar is all the rage these days and Texas is getting into the act by taking advantage of abundant sunshine in south Texas in the McCamey competitive energy zone.
Texas is the nation’s largest producer of both fossil and renewable energy. The reason is simple, Texans take a pragmatic approach to solving energy problems, often using the same land for wind power and for fraking both oil and natural gas.
Proper planning and spending unmatched anywhere else has made green energy flourish in Texas. $6 billion in grid upgrades is not pocket change, but it’s necessary in all power grids if large variable energy sources like wind and solar are to be integrated into the national power grid.
There are two ways to go for utility-scale renewable electricity, the Texas way or the Bonneville way. The correct way seems obvious.