Amarillo Globe News – Wind energy industry making strides

April 10th, 2008  |  Published in Articles

Some observers see the wind energy study filed Wednesday as a sure sign the young wind industry in the Panhandle is about to grow up – someday.

“There are multiple steps to expand the market. It will still be several years,” said Walt Hornaday, president of Cielo Wind Power, the developer of wind farms near White Deer and Wildorado.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas conducted the study for the Public Utilities Commission. It shows several options for systems to carry wind energy to the population centers of the state.

“It would only be a guess to figure what (the PUC) will choose but they are one step closer at least,” said David Carr, assistant director of the Alternative Energy Institute at West Texas A&M University.

About 45 percent of the new wind projects in the study would be in the Panhandle. But because the region is not part of the electric grid that serves the rest of the state, an entirely new system is needed to get wind power to the big cities.

“The potential is for the wind business to make a big boom for the Texas Panhandle,” Hornaday said. “The resource is great and reliable, and the electric market is high because of the high price of oil and gas.”

Companies added 1,708 megawatts of wind power across Texas in 2007, mostly near Sweetwater because that area is connected to the ERCOT grid, according to the American Wind Energy Association. But the wiring in that area is almost at capacity. So developers will have to wait five or more years before new, significant wind projects can happen. The study is based on adding up to 8,230 megawatts of wind capability to the Panhandle under the option that adds the most wind power, 18,000 megawatts, to the state.

“The more generation from the northernmost areas in their planning means increased overall production,” Carr said. “So, more Panhandle in the plan is better not just for those of us in the plains, but better for all of Texas.”

Currently, the largest single installation in the region is the Wildorado Wind Ranch™ at 161 megawatts. Some of the growth could come in considerably larger steps.

“We’re shooting for 1,800 megawatts,” said Pat Woodson, vice president of development at E.ON Climate & Renewables, which recently bought the Irish company Airtricity. “We have a very large project planned in the Gray and Carson County area.”

Shell WindEnergy and partner Luminant have announced a 3,000 megawatt project in Briscoe County, and Boone Pickens’ Mesa Energy is working on a 4,000 megawatt installation in and around Roberts and Gray counties. However, Pickens has said Mesa is planning to build its own transmission.

The study laid out options for everyone else that could cost a minimum of $2.95 billion to $6.38 billion. Ratepayers served by the ERCOT grid would pay the tab. Despite the sizable bill, The Wind Coalition thinks building the new system is a good idea.

“Even under the most expensive plan, we recoup the cost very quickly,” said Paul Sadler, executive director of the coalition. “A recent study showed $2.8 billion a year in savings for consumers when you count the fuel cost saved and other savings.

“There is no question this type of investment is exactly what the state ought to be doing, and when you look at the numbers it is clear ratepayers come out ahead,” Sadler said.