Panhandle wind power could help light the rest of Texas

State Rep. David Swinford said he has a powerful proposal that could prove profitable for one area and shed some light in others.

Wind machines are gaining attention as a renewable energy source because they don’t use water or oil, Swinford said. He was guest speaker at the North Plains Research Field 2006 Ag Day near Etter, hosted by Texas Agricultural Experiment Station and Texas Cooperative Extension.

A major problem hindering use of Texas’ wind power is lack of transmission lines, he said.

The Texas Panhandle, served by the Southwest Power Pool, has the highest wind factors for the state, but the lowest population, he said. The rest of Texas, served by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, has the people, but not enough electricity for projected needs.

Transmission lines between Southwest Power Pool and ERCOT, as it is commonly called, cannot exist, because they are set up on two different grids, Swinford said.

But that doesn’t mean power generated by Panhandle winds can’t be used in the Dallas metroplex or Austin and San Antonio homes, he said.

In Carson and Moore counties in the center of the Panhandle, the wind factor is 44, Swinford said. The wind factor is determined by the percentage of time the wind is expected to be able to make electricity. The state average wind factor is 35.

“All of our wind is in the 42 to 44 percent range,” he said. “The area near Perryton could generate 11,000 megawatts per hour if they had transmission lines. The White Deer farm is the No. 1 wind energy place in the state.

“We have more wind capacity in the Panhandle than they have in the rest of the state put together,” Swinford said.

So why aren’t there more wind machines churning out the power?

For supply reasons, a power company doesn’t want more than 12 percent of the power being generated by wind, Swinford said. While it seems the wind blows constantly, it doesn’t, so coal or natural gas is needed for stability of supply.

Xcel Energy, the power company serving the Texas Panhandle, is the No. 1 power company using wind in the nation, Swinford said. When all the planned wind farms are built in the Xcel service area, it will have reached its maximum 12 percent for the transmission lines here.

“So we have to get some way to hook our wind to a line out of the Panhandle, because we’re done,” he said. “We don’t have the people to justify more production up here.”

His proposal is to build transmission lines from the ERCOT region near Vernon to the Panhandle and then back south to near Big Spring.

This would allow many different parts of the Panhandle to build wind farms and tie into the transmission lines. That power could be sent to different parts of downstate Texas, Swinford said.

Building the transmission network would cost of about $1 billion, which would have to be paid for by ERCOT customers, he said. A company such as American Electric Power could build the transmission line and then amortize it over the next 40 years.

“But because wind has no fuel costs or power costs, it cheapens the overall electricity to the customer,” Swinford said.

He explained that ERCOT customers may see a $2 or $3 per month reduction in their bills, even though they have to pay for the transmission line, because the electricity is cheaper. ERCOTs’ natural gas fuel cost used to generate electricity was $4.5 billion in 1999 and has risen to $12 billion in 2005.

“Transmission costs last for a lifetime and don’t reoccur, while gas costs are burned up every year,” Swinford said.

A study of statewide electricity needs through 2015 indicate 38,000 megawatts of additional electricity will be needed, he said.

“Some of that can come from wind energy.”

And benefits can be found on both ends, Swinford said. For landowners, a profitable wind farm can net $50,000 to $60,000 per section per year. It requires no use of valuable water and has no added fuel costs.

If the wind energy industry was allowed to develop to its full potential in the Panhandle, he said, estimates put its economic impact at $14 billion over a 10-year period.

“We have to remember increasing transmission lines may be difficult,” Swinford said, “but increasing fuel costs are automatic.”

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