Texas Expands Wind Power
By David Martin Davies, Texas Public Radio
Dallas, TX –
For rancher Raymond McDaniel using the wind to make electricity is nothing new. He remembers doing it in the 1920's on his family's West Texas ranch west of Abilene.
"Our wind generation was a little 24 volt system that had some batteries - so that when the wind blew you charged the batteries and at night you plugged in the lights. Just lights and they were great," McDaniel said.
Today McDaniel's ranch, the Elm Cattle Company, has 57 giant wind turbines - and at peak output each one grinds out enough electricity to power about 350 homes.
"We can ranch right around the turbines. And the income stream from the turbines has been a blessing," he said.
McDaniel and other wind ranchers are paid a royalty by energy companies everytime one of those giant propellers turns. But the relatively few number of electric transmission lines is a problem. The lines connect the wind farms in west Texas to the big cities like Dallas and Houston.
"We're making the electricity but we've got no way to get it to the people that need it and want it," McDaniel said.
As Ned Ross of Florida Power and Light Energy stands under a giant turbine at the Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center in West Texas. It's the world's largest wind farm. Ross can't help but marvel at how quiet the turbines are.
"You're standing in the middle of - how many turbines can you see within your sightline - you can problem see 100 turbines and the only one you can hear is the one you are literally standing underneath - and that blades going right by you right now," Ross said.
The turbine makes a low rumble as the prop turns. The sound doesn't bother the cattle and other wild life.
Those turbines represents a gamble. They each cost over two million dollars.
FPL is betting they'll find a market for their power and they can get that electricity to the people who need it.
"We produce energy - we don't produce wind energy - the power goes into the grid and gets sold into the market at what ever the market price will bear and that's what we earn for it," Ross said.
These days the market can bear a lot and the wind gamble is paying off.
The state wants more power and the Texas Public Utility Commission is going to spend $5 billion to get it from wind.
State Representative Mike Villarreal of San Antonio wanted them to adopt an even more aggressive plan.
"Those of us who care about clean air - alternative energy - green jobs - affordable energy - it's an important step forward - we should celebrate this victory - and not give up - its only the beginning," Villarreal said.
He said that with the new transmission lines wind power will grow from providing about four percent of the states electricity to nearly 23 percent.
San Antonio's CPS Energy took a different approach. It lobbied the PUC to build fewer transmission lines.
Theresa Brown Cortes is CPS Energy's spokesperson said the city owned public utility is pleased with the final decision.
"We are a very large proponent of wind - and we want to encourage its growth - we just want it to be in a very responsible way."
CPS Energy warned that the transmission lines are too expensive. But supporters of wind say every dollar spent on the lines will result in a three dollars savings in power.
The cost for the new transmission lines will be passed on to electricity bill payers across the state - about four dollars a month - but those bill payers should also see larger energy savings.
And for ranchers like Raymond McDaniel those wind royalty checks should continue to blow in.