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Texas Wind Energy

For centuries, people have harnessed the wind's energy to grind grains, pump water, run sawmills, propel boats and generate electricity for homes. Due to advanced technology, government incentives, high fuel prices and environmental concerns, the U.S. has been the fastest growing wind power market in the world. Wind energy is becoming a significant contributor to national electrical power. In 2007, wind projects nationally accounted for 35 percent of all new electric generating capacity and transmission facilities capable of generating over 200 GW of wind power are in the early stages of development throughout the nation.

Installed Wind Capacity

The U.S. wind industry grew by 45 percent in 2007, and over half of that growth was contributed by Texas. Texas is the leading wind state in the U.S., accounting for close to one-third of the nation's total installed wind capacity, which is the equivalent of the electricity needed to power more than one million Texas homes. A single megawatt of wind energy can produce as much energy used by about 230 typical Texas homes in a year.

Roping the Texas Breezes

Immense wind turbines are becoming a familiar sight, silhouetted against Texas skies. Wind power development in Texas has more than quadrupled since the Renewable Portfolio Standard was established in 1999. Wind resource areas in the Texas Panhandle, along the Gulf Coast south of Galveston, and in the mountain passes and ridge tops of the Trans-Pecos offer Texas some of the greatest wind power potential in the United States, with consistently high wind speeds capable of sustaining a productive wind farm.

Texas holds the record for the world's largest wind farm, Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center. In addition, the Sweetwater wind farm more than doubled in capacity to 585 megawatts, pushing it from fifth to second place in the size rankings, while the state's Buffalo Gap wind facility expanded to 353 megawatts, placing it in fifth place for size. The recently completed 364-megawatt Capricorn Ridge wind facility, also in Texas, landed in fourth place. The largest new Texas facility is the 209-MW Roscoe Wind Farm, located about 50 miles west of Abilene.

Source: FPL Energy: Horse Hollow wind farm

The Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center in Texas remains the largest wind farm in the world with a total capacity of 735 megawatts (MW) spread across approximately 47,000 acres in Taylor and Nolan counties near Abilene in west central Texas. The wind plant consists of 291 1.5-MW wind turbines from General Electric and 130 2.3-MW wind turbines from Siemens. One MW of electricity can serve 230 Texas homes on average each day.

Wind Energy Transmission

In Texas the demand for additional wind power has grown so rapidly that the Texas electric transmission grid has a critical need for expansion. In 2006, Texas Governor Rick Perry announced commitments of $10 billion from private companies to increase wind generating capacity in the state by 7,000 megawatts, contingent on the Texas Public Utility Commission (PUC) approving construction of additional transmission capacity to windy areas of the state.

In July 2007, the Texas Public Utility Commission announced its approval for additional transmission lines that could deliver as much as 25,000 megawatts of wind energy from remote areas in the state to urban centers by 2012, depending on how many wind farms are built. New transmission infrastructure will allow all Texans to access the state's vast wind resources. The Electricity Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) has identified more than 17,000 MW of possible wind energy projects.

Wind Power Costs

Electric utilities have shown an increased interest in wind project ownership, and wind industry sales to power marketers have become more common. Wind power has consistently remained at or below the average price of conventional electricity such as coal, nuclear, and natural gas. Wind power costs per kilowatt-hour have decreased over the past two decades, though prices have fluctuated in the past three years. DOE estimates that prices may increase in the next year. Expense involves various factors:

  • wind strength
  • average wind speed and variability
  • location
  • physical geography,
  • wind turbine type and size
  • site development cost
  • installation cost
  • state regulations
  • wind farm size
  • financing costs
  • land leases and royalties costs

Environmental Impact

Power generated by the wind is called a clean source of electricity because its production does not produce pollution or greenhouse gases. The use of wind power for our energy needs displaces approximately 23 million tons of carbon dioxide (the leading greenhouse gas) each year, which would otherwise be emitted by other energy sources. Furthermore, wind projects use no water in the generation of electricity.

There are other environmental impacts that do cause concerns such as the noise produced by the rotor blades, aesthetic (visual) impacts, and the danger that birds may fly into the rotors. Most of these problems have been resolved or greatly reduced through technological development or by properly siting wind power plants. If Asked, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department will review a wind energy project against a draft set of guidelines for wildlife protection.

Texas Wind Power Classification

Estimates of wind resources are expressed in wind power classes ranging from class 1 to class 7, with each class representing a range of mean wind power density or equivalent mean speed at specified heights above the ground. Class 4 winds or greater are suitable with advanced wind turbine technology under development today. Class 3 areas may be suitable for future technology. Class 2 areas are marginal and class 1 areas are unsuitable for wind energy development.

Currently there are over 2,000 wind turbines in West Texas alone, most of them on land leased from farmers and ranchers. These wind farms range from 2,000 acres to more than 100,000 acres, which may involve several landowners. Most of the new wind capacity added in the last two years has been in the Abilene-Sweetwater area.

Though wind farms cover many acres, the wind turbines take up a comparatively small space of one or two acres each, with plenty of room between them to avoid air turbulence that can impede airflow. When placing and spacing the turbines, wind developers take into account the terrain, and the direction of the prevailing winds. We often see turbines lined up along hilltops and mountain ridges because the higher the turbine can reach, the stronger is the wind current that is available to generate increased power. Windy areas are also found in wide-open areas such as open plains and shorelines.

Small Wind Systems

Texas wind is also being harnessed for small wind systems to provide on-site electricity and working power for ranches, homes and businesses at increasingly competitive costs. Because new technology has created wind turbines that can now generate power from lower wind speeds, land that was previously unsuitable for wind turbines offers a new source of wind energy. Lower requisite wind speeds also allow for turbines to be placed closer to the homes and businesses that need to make use of them. Additionally, many rural landowners, farmers and ranchers are leasing their lands to wind companies for additional income.

Wind Turbine Research and Testing Facility

In June 2007, Texas was selected by the U.S. Department of Energy to be home to a large-scale wind turbine research and testing facility, accelerating the commercial availability of wind energy. Blade testing is required to meet wind turbine design standards, reduce machine cost, and reduce the technical and financial risk of deploying mass-produced wind turbine models. The Lone Star Wind Alliance, a Texas-led coalition of universities, government agencies and corporate partners, was created to prepare the proposal for submission to the federal government. The Alliance includes the State Energy Conservation Office (SECO). A site location just north of Corpus Christi at Ingleside on the Bay was chosen because of its access to the Gulf of Mexico. The University of Houston will design, construct and operate the facility on a 22-acre site. BP has donated the land and $250,000 for the project. The facilities are expected to be operational in 2009.

Texas Permanent School Fund

Publicly owned lands have played a crucial role in Texas' economic development. From the grants made to early settlers and railroad companies, to the acres generating billions of dollars in oil and gas royalties for public schools, state-owned lands have been an economic asset that few states can match.

Texas schools earn millions on wind generated on state land, depending on how many megawatts are produced and the current price of electricity. Texas schools benefit from the increase in wind farms, because like oil and gas production on state lands, wind farms on state lands are required to pay land usage fees plus a portion of revenues to the State's Permanent School Fund, which is constitutionally dedicated to the schoolchildren of Texas.

The wind industry is creating thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in royalty income for landowners, for communities and for the Texas Permanent School Fund. From only one wind farm located on state land in West Texas (Texas Wind Power Project), the Permanent School Fund has earned more than $750,000 since installation in 1995. The project is expected to earn more than $3 million for state schools and create $300 million in increased economic activity over the 25-year lease period.

State Lands for Wind Power Development

The Texas General Land Office (GLO) manages state lands and mineral-right properties totaling 20.3 million acres. Since 2001, the GLO has been evaluating state lands for wind power development potential through a grant from SECO, on upland and offshore sites.

The analysis of information gathered from towers installed on state lands provides an information base for wind development companies interested in leasing state lands. The GLO has identified six counties that have good potential for wind power development. Developers worldwide may submit proposals for leasing Texas state lands.

Texas Offshore Windfall

After establishing independence from Mexico in 1836, Sam Houston, the president of the sovereign Republic of Texas, had the foresight to declare for Texas' future generations sovereignty over all lands in the Gulf Coast out to 10.4 miles, the traditional marker under international law. When Texas joined the United States, the new state's boundaries were not immediately challenged by the federal government, which recognized a three-mile boundary for other coastal states. In 1948, the U.S. attorney general filed suit to claim offshore lands more than three miles but less than three marine leagues from Texas' shoreline. For almost two decades, Texas fought to keep its tidelands intact, which had become a valuable source of oil and gas. In 1953, Congress finally recognized Texas' ownership of the tidelands, which was upheld by a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1960. For this reason, there is only one entity in Texas for an offshore wind developer to deal with - the Texas General Land Office.

Thanks to Sam Houston's foresight, the Texas Permanent School Fund has the potential to earn millions of dollars from offshore wind generation in the Gulf of Mexico. Offshore wind farms would be only about eight miles from the electric grid, which would minimize transmission expenses. The state has leased 11,355 acres off the coast of Galveston for a 50-turbine wind farm. The Galveston Island project will produce a minimum of $26.5 million in royalties over the course of the 30-year lease.

The GLO can also lease land off the coast of Padre Island for wind farms. Leasing out this land will earn Texas schools anywhere from $34 million to more than $100 million, depending on how many megawatts are produced and the future price of electricity. Additionally, development within the offshore 10.4 miles offers proximity to the state's electrical grid to carry wind-generated power to customers.

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