Texas leads the nation with the amount of wind energy installed, with its wind farms capable of producing 12,700 megawatts of electricity.
That’s enough to power more than 12 million homes.
For sheer volume of wind, Texas has both great resources and the autonomy to make them work for the state, according to Warren Lasher, director of system planning for ERCOT, who was a keynote speaker at the Earth, Wind & Fire Energy Summit sponsored by the Dallas Sierra Club this past weekend.
Unlike other states that may need to move wind from a windy region across state lines to an energy-hungry city, Texas has both the resources and a huge customer base within its borders; and with the electricity grid overseen by ERCOT serving more than 85 percent of the state’s power needs, it can make coordinated decisions about how to use the wind, Lasher told the audience at the summit.
Even so, it wasn’t easy to become the wind leader. The state had to make a huge investment in infrastructure to build the electricity network that conveys wind power from blustery West Texas to the populated urban centers of North and Central Texas, Lasher said.
Texas’ robust winds, which blow strongly across its western half, from Lubbock north across the panhandle, are ripe for harvesting, Lasher told the gathered group. And as of this year, the state now has 3,600 miles of new transmission lines to bring that resource to Austin and other urban centers.
That could enable Texas to get nearly 20 percent of its energy from wind by 2029, according to one ERCOT projection. In that scenario, power from wind and natural gas would replace coal-fired power plants, which would be largely retired because they could no longer meet tightening carbon dioxide emissions standards.
However, if Texas and other states buck new carbon emissions rules proposed by the EPA, as some Republican state officials have vowed to do, the state’s future power sources would continue to come largely from coal, and also from natural gas. Wind would not be as big of a factor in this scenario, which would leave the power mix looking in 2029 much like it does today.
So how much wind power Texas ultimately uses on the grid will depend on these political decisions, environmental regulations and other factors, Lasher explained.
It’s not ERCOT’s role to pick which scenario would be better (clearly the high wind scenario is better for clean air; coal power plants are considered the worst emitters of carbon pollution) but to be ready to shift with the market and the politics in order to keep the flow of energy steady and affordable, he said.
ERCOT, in other words, must test and know the winds, both political and physical.
For now, the growing presence of wind on the grid serves ERCOT’s mission by making the grid diverse, improving reliability and also keeping prices down. Wind has become price competitive, according to other wind experts at the conference, because its contracts can be priced at a flat rate, giving them an edge over fuel-dependent energy that must take fluctuations into account.
Ten years ago, wind played a smaller role in Texas, but it is now more price-competitive with natural gas and coal and nuclear power, the other main sources of grid energy. It could become an even more potent supplier as battery technologies evolve, Lasher said.
With new utility scale batteries, a technology that’s still not completely road-ready, utilities could store renewable power, resolving the problem of wind and solar power being intermittent, he said. Electric car batteries also could become an ancillary source of power, adding to the resiliency of the grid, he said.
In this video, Lasher explains how Texas became a wind powerhouse.