You Don’t Need An Oilman To Know Which Way The Wind Blows

by | Jul 19, 2008

I heard Bobby Kennedy Jr. speak in Savannah a year or so ago. One of the things that stuck with me from his talk is the fact that we can power the entire country with wind and solar, if we had a means of transmitting the electricity generated. In other words, we can invest deeply in wind and solar, but that’s not enough. We also need to build out the infrastructure.

Regulators in Texas are doing something about it. According to The New York Times, Texas regulators have approved a $4.93 billion wind-power transmission project.

The planned web of transmission lines will carry electricity from remote western parts of the state to major population centers like Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio. The lines can handle 18,500 megawatts of power, enough for 3.7 million homes on a hot day when air-conditioners are running.

Transmission companies will pay the upfront costs of the project. They will recoup the money from power users, at a rate of about $4 a month for residential customers.

The transmission problem is so acute in Texas that turbines are sometimes shut off even when the wind is blowing.

“When the amount of generation exceeds the export capacity, you have to start turning off wind generators” to keep things in balance, said Hunter Armistead, head of the renewable energy division in North America at Babcock & Brown, a large wind developer and transmission provider.

Other states may find the Texas model difficult to emulate. The state is unique in having its own electricity grid. All other states fall under the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, adding an extra layer of bureaucracy to any transmission proposals.