Advocates urge wind energy plan

July 15, 2008 9:02:28 AM PDT
Lawmakers and environmentalists on Monday urged state regulators to build transmission lines that will transport the maximum amount of wind power from rural West Texas that's feasible to help power homes and businesses in the rest of the state. But others cautioned that a more measured approach should be adopted rather than placing too much reliance on the fickle energy source.

The Public Utility Commission is expected to discuss various options later this week, including a range of proposals to transmit varying amounts of wind power to the state's population hubs. Adoption of a final plan to increase wind power transmission, which is expected later this summer, was mandated by the Legislature.

Supporters say the most ambitious plan, dubbed the "renewable energy superhighway," would spur the construction of more wind energy projects, create jobs, reduce energy costs and reduce pollution.

"The capacity for wind generation in west and north Texas is so great that we could position ourselves in Texas to be the world leader in wind and renewable energy in the next 100 years, just as we were the world leader in oil and gas for the past 100 years," said Democratic Rep. Mark Strama, who has advocated for more access to renewable energy sources. "The writing is on the wall."

Depending on the amount of wind power to be transmitted, five proposals by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas range from $2.95 billion to $6.38 billion. The most ambitious would transmit 24,000 megawatts of wind-generated power.

But, some critics say wind should be a smaller part of the state's effort to meet growing electricity needs.

"I don't know of anyone that is against adding renewable energy to the grid if it can be done in a cost effective manner," said Phillip Oldham, an attorney for the Texas Industrial Energy Consumers. "The question is, if you have an intermittent resource ... how much of it can you absorb into your grid before you begin to have less reliability?"

Oldham's group is advocating for a more measured plan, which would connect 12,000 megawatts of wind power.

The costs would be divided up among all ratepayers in ERCOT through a fee attached to bills and paid off over several years. Fees for residential customers range from $2.50 per month to $5 per month, depending on the scope of the plan adopted.

Texas already leads the nation in wind power, with almost 5,000 megawatts of existing generation.

One megawatt is enough to power 400-500 houses in Texas, a spokeswoman for Energy Future Holdings Corp. said.

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