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Power up: Alternative energy growing,but won’t replace gas, coal

By: Longview News-Journal |

Texas leads the nation in developing wind energy, though not yet in the production of that source. If you cross the high plains of West Texas and the Texas Panhandle you will see thousands of wind turbines either running or being built.

In 2011, wind power provided about 8.5 percent of energy supplied on the Texas electric grid, up about three-fold from what it was just four years earlier. When the figures for 2012 are released, it would not be surprising to see that the numbers for wind power have topped 10 percent.

That is a significant amount but, as anyone who has a sixth-grader’s understanding of percentages can see, wind power is not about to overtake other sources of fuel as far as providing energy.

This doesn’t make wind power useless; far from it. That 8.5 percent contribution came at less cost and with far fewer pollutants than any other source of fuel. The wind power we have is good and absolutely worth growing over the long haul.

But no matter how much we try to grow it, wind power is never going to be a dominant player in the energy field. As much as we might wish it were different, we will have to rely mostly on fossil fuels for the foreseeable future to power our plants that produce electricity. This is not the cleanest way, especially not when using coal as is done throughout East Texas. But the existing technology is already in place and most will not be changed for years.

Some plants in East Texas do use natural gas, but it is still less expensive to use coal, and until that price structure changes coal will continue to be used.

Wind power can be less expensive still, but the problem is that the wind actually has to blow for power to be produced. When the most power is needed on those hot summer days is typically when the Texas wind does not blow much. That’s a real problem.

Recent construction and operation of generating plants powered by wood waste offer another alternative that’s more suited to the piney woods of East Texas. But, like wind energy, so-called biomass generation remains a relatively small part of the overall picture, with plants being opened or approved in the past few years in Lufkin, Nacogdoches, Lindale and Woodville. East Texas Electric Cooperative Inc., which is building the Woodville plant, recently received a $151 million federal loan guarantee to move forward with that project.

We support the continued development of wind power and other alternative and renewable sources of energy. What is needed just as much, though, are new technologies that use fossil fuels more efficiently and with less pollution.

If we are able to solve the problem of air pollution caused by power plants, we will make a huge step forward in having cleaner air and, most likely, slowing down the pace of global warming.

There is no real downside to wind energy or other alternatives, and we are pleased they are being explored. But alternatives will remain a relatively small piece of our total energy picture for years to come.