World Changing takes a close look at news that a consortia backed by Airtricity has committed to the construction of a 345-kilovolt transmission loop in the Texas Panhandle. The $1.5 billion Panhandle Loop will bring 4,200 megawatts of wind energy to more than one million homes in Dallas, Austin and San Antonio.
One of the great limitations of the development of renewable energy in America is the transmission infrastructure. Think of the arrangement as a national highway system for electrons, except there’s no national organization. It’s just a patchwork system of private roads built over the years to suit particular needs.
In a perfect world, we’d already have transmission lines intersecting the windiest and sunniest regions across the country and across globe. Unfortunately, most transmission lines weren’t designed with renewable energy in mind, they were built to deliver power from fossil fuel plants.
Texas leads the nation in wind energy production. Nearly one third of the new turbines erected last year went up in Texas. The state also hosts the single largest operating farm in the world, the 735 MW Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center.
The Panhandle Loop will carry more than a third of the total existing wind-genrated capacity in the United States. Eddie O’Connor, Airtricity’s CEO compares the project to constructing a power station greater than the entire generation for Ireland and building it by 2010. In other words, it’s Texas-sized in its ambitions.