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WIND POWER STAKES CLAIM
IN TEXAS ENERGY MARKET

Texas, a state famous for its love affair with fossil fuels, has quietly begun a courtship with wind power that could push it to the nation's forefront in clean energy.

Prodded by state laws that require utilities to purchase green credits, tax breaks and easy access to vast open plains with steady, strong winds, Texas has become the second-largest wind producer in the country, after California.

More than 900 megawatts of wind power generation have been built in Texas in the past three years, bringing the total to 1,094 megawatts, or enough to power about 500,000 homes in the energy-thirsty Lone Star state.

"At this point, we think 10,000-plus megawatts in the next five to eight years is do-able," said Russel E. Smith, executive director of the trade group Texas Renewable Industries Association.

That would put the state well ahead of the 2,000 MW in new renewable energy capacity the legislature wants built before the end of the decade, but would remain only a small part of the state's total generating capacity of about 77,000 MW from oil, coal, natural gas and nuclear sources.

Federal tax incentives have been a key stimulus, offering wind generators 1.8 cents per kilowatt hour of power produced. That break, coupled with larger, more efficient wind turbines has brought the costs for wind-generated electricity down near the prices from power from fossil fuel plants.

OILY REPUTATION

Texas' reputation as a home to oil wildcatters and dusty plains populated by derricks has sometimes overshadowed the growth of its renewable energy industry, not that it matters to Texans.

"We don't really care," Smith said. "It doesn't really matter what we do or say, a lot of the country just has its mind made up about Texas."

Others expressed surprise over the sector's rapid growth.

"Environmentally, we have not been traditionally a hotbed," said Roy McCoy, manager for the nation's first renewable energy credit system at ERCOT, the state power grid operator. "You wouldn't expect Texans to get on the bandwagon like they have."

Under a state law that set up the first green certificate trading program in the nation, Texas utilities are required to buy Renewable Energy Certificates on the open market to partially offset the amount of conventionally generated power they sell to homeowners and businesses.

Each certificate represents one megawatt hour of power produced from wind, solar, biomass, hydro or biothermal sources.

Several major companies have invested in wind farms in the state, including TXU Corp., FPL Energy and American Electric Power .

TXU and retailer Green Mountain Energy recently announced a partnership that will add another 160 MW of capacity by the end of the year. A DKR Development LLC project is also expected to complete the first 35 MW of a planned 400 MW capacity wind farm this year.

Green Mountain Energy, which was co-founded by Sam Wyly, the Texas oil and computer tycoon, said its Texas customer base has nearly tripled since it entered the state in 2001, though it declined to give an exact customer count.

DOWN TO THE WIRES

The rapid rise in wind power has raised some problems of its own, mostly linked to a lack of capacity on the wires needed to transport the electricity long distances from West Texas to high-demand urban areas.

McCamey, Texas' "Wind Energy Capital" is home to about 700 MW of wind power capacity, nearly twice the grid's 400 MW capacity after recent upgrades.

"There's certainly a lot of wind in the West, there are just not a lot of lines," said David Hurlbut, a senior economist with the Public Utilities Commission of Texas.

Two new high voltage lines to McCamey are planned, at a cost of about $300 million, and will bring that transmission capacity to around 2,000 MW in the next few years.

Written by: Matt Daily, Planet Ark


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