Wind power in Texas compared to other states
Texas is undoubtedly still at the top of the nation’s oil production, putting out 1.4 billion barrels of crude oil and 9.9 trillion cubic feet of gas from April 2020 until March of 2021. However, a lot of Texans are unaware that the state of Texas is also one of the nation’s (and even the world’s) top producers of electricity from wind energy.
According to the US Department of Energy’s 2021 report, Texas had installed a total wind power capacity of over 4,000 MW in 2020 alone, enough capacity to power over 800,000 Texas homes! These additions brought the total Texas’ wind generation capacity to a total of over 32,000 MW, making Texas the “clear leader” for the United States. By comparison, Texas had almost three times the capacity of the next highest state on the list. Even on the world stage as a whole, only four countries had more wind capacity than the state of Texas. In recent years, Texas has even generated more power from wind than from coal. Only natural gas produces more energy in the state of Texas now.
|Texas Wind Generation in GWh (1 GWh = 1 Million kWh)|
|*Highlighted numbers are the months with the highest generation of wind energy in Texas for the year.|
Another piece of Texas’ success with wind power generation lies in the fact that ERCOT is not under the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Every other power grid in the U.S. provides electricity to more than one state, and thus is subject to FERC’s oversight. ERCOT’s power grid and its service area do not cross into any other state though, so ERCOT–and the Texas power grid–do not have to seek FERC’s approval on new power projects.
This grid isolation is not without its criticisms. In the wake of the 2020 Texas winter storm, some people said that this was at least one factor that led to the failure of ERCOT to maintain electricity during the harsh weather. Despite this, Texas grid independence means that Texas does not have to go through the red tape of getting federal approval on its new power projects. This means that wind farms in the state of Texas can be installed on a much faster time frame.
What are renewable energy certificates?
The power that comes into your home or business comes from the same electricity lines–and the same energy source(s)–that go into neighboring homes and businesses. There’s not going to be a separate power line for renewable energy and non-renewable energy. The electricity itself is all the same, so when you buy renewable energy, you’re not actually getting a different product than anyone else is getting. Instead, you’re simply telling the energy company that you want your money to be earmarked for a specific renewable source. If no one wants renewable energy, no money goes to the renewable industry; if everyone chooses renewable energy, no money goes anywhere else.
Renewable energy certificates (RECs) are essentially the “currency” of these transactions. When a renewable power generator produces 1 megawatt of energy, they issue 1 certificate. Then when customers choose a renewable energy plan, the renewable power provider essentially issues the credit to them based on electricity usage. For every MW of energy used, a renewable certificate is retired. In this way, the green energy credits are just representations of the source of the energy that is being produced.
The benefits of wind-generated electricity in Texas
Wind generation has provided a cheap, green alternative for energy in Texas, but it remains to be seen how its long-term prices will compare to those of natural gas. Either way, wind energy has undoubtedly helped pick up the slack as Texas has battled energy demand issues. The past several years have seen several Texas coal-fired plants going offline; at the same time, Texas summers continually set new records for energy demand. Fortunately for Texans, wind energy generation has outperformed estimates, making up much of the difference as the state tries to do more with less.
Electricity reliability is not the only advantage of renewable energy though. It also provides Texas with significant economic support. Wind energy technologies pave the way for new Texas companies, which in turn, create both jobs and revenue for Texas.
Wind turbines also create significant income for farmers across the state. Texas landowners can earn between $3,000 and $7,000 per year in return for the small piece of their land that is taken up by a turbine. In some cases, nearby landowners can even receive a “good neighbor” payment as well. Nationally, this creates an extra $330 million for American farmers, not to mention the $800 million brought in from state and local taxes.
The challenges for wind energy in the Texas power grid
Financial roadblocks to Texas wind technology
Wind, itself, is a free natural resource, so many people think that it–and solar power–should be the cheapest energy alternatives. However, the costs of wind energy technology, equipment, and wind farm installation have made it difficult for the wind industry. As a result, natural gas remains a cheaper source of power. When the price of gas is low, wind energy just can’t compete. The gas market is volatile, though, and as the price of gas fluctuates, the price of electricity from wind energy can be comparable.
Part of Texas wind energy’s success has come from Congressional support in the forms of an Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and a Production Tax Credit (PTC). So far, these credits have been extended by Congress each year. If this support were to end, however, it would be far more difficulty for wind energy to be profitable. The ITC helps offset the initial investments necessary for a large onshore wind farm to be built. For a utility-scale wind project, costs may rage from $1.3 million to $2.2 million per megawatt. Because many of these require a significant amount of capital to get started, this credit helps the power projects with up-front tax benefits. Depending on the power project, this credit can cover 12-30% of the initial investment.
Offshore wind power projects that begin by 2025 receive a 30% ITC.
Whereas the ITC helps with the capital needed to fund a wind farm project itself, the PTC assists with a per-kilowatt-hour credit over the first 10 years a wind farm is generating energy. Essentially, the more energy a power project generates, the higher the credit it receives. This creates an incentive for power projects to be built on as large a scale as possible and to have as much capacity as possible.
|Date construction begins||Estimated allowable tax credit (cents per kWh)|
Transmission and distribution problems for wind power in Texas
South and West Texas provide the majority of renewable power to the state. However, the bulk of the Texas population–and thus, the energy demand–is in the east end of the state. In 2005, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed legislation that would, over the course of the next eight years, add over 2,300 miles of high-voltage power transmission cables to move this electricity from one side of Texas to the other. While this certainly allowed for a greater expansion of Texas wind energy, electricity demand is once again testing the limits of the state’s energy capacity. Continued expansion will be necessary to further the advancement of Texas renewable energy.
Frequently asked questions about Texas wind generation
How many wind turbines are in Texas?
Texas has over 150 wind farms. Those generating at least 150 MW of energy annually are shown below.
How tall are wind turbines in Texas?
One in West Texas stands 653.5 feet tall and can be seen from 20 miles away. When it was installed, it was the tallest in the U.S. By comparison, the turbines at Roscoe wind farm, outside of Abilene, are between 350 and 415 feet tall. The largest in the world at this time is 853 feet tall.
How fast do wind turbines spin
Most turbines spin between 10 and 20 revolutions per minute. There is enough electricity generation from a single spin of one of the most powerful turbines to power a Texas home for two days.