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Bills aim to spur state's growing wind industry
Wind Power Rising

The oceans of oil that contributed so much to 20th-century Texas are mostly gone. But an energy product with unlimited economic potential sweeps across our farms and fields each day.

In the last 20 years, wind power technology has improved enormously while plunging in price, making the commercial generation of electricity both practical and cost-effective.

Texas has an important stake in this industry, both in its number of wind facilities and its potential for more. The 1999 Texas Legislature set an ambitious goal for the adoption of wind power by Texas utilities, and legislation before the 2005 Legislature would increase the state's commitment.

Farming the wind
The flat terrain and steady breezes of the Texas plains offer a near-perfect setting for wind power. A 1991 study by the U.S. Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest Laboratory concluded that Texas is second only to North Dakota in its wind energy potential.

According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), an industry trade group, U.S. wind facilities were capable of producing a total of 6,374 megawatts (MW) of power at the beginning of 2004. Texas wind farms accounted for 1,293 MW or about 20 percent of the national total--enough energy to power nearly 388,000 average American homes year-round. Only California had more installed wind power capacity, with 2,043 MW.

The growth in Texas wind energy has been both rapid and recent. The National Wind Coordinating Committee, a public-private advocacy organization, reports that Texas added nearly 1,000 MW of capacity in 2001 alone. Among Texas' wind projects is the nation's second-largest, the King Mountain Wind Ranch, a 214-turbine project in Upton County capable of producing 278 MW.

Wind power has surged while the price of natural gas, a common fuel for power generation, has risen sharply.

"With natural gas prices high, investing in wind makes a lot of sense," said Christine Real de Azua, AWEA's assistant director of Communications. "It's like locking in a low-interest mortgage."

Renewable portfolio
The 1999 Texas Legislature took a dramatic step to encourage the growth of wind power by adopting a goal for renewable energy use by the state's power companies. This goal requires electricity suppliers to install at least 2,880 MW renewable energy capacity by 2009. Renewable energies can include hydroelectric, biomass and solar power as well as wind.

The 1999 legislation also created a credits trading program so that utilities can either create, buy or trade for additional renewable energy capacity. According to AWEA, only 11 other states have similar standards.

Several bills before the 2005 Legislature would greatly increase the state's commitment. House Bill (H.B.) 1671 by Rep. Bob Hunter of Abilene, and its companion Senate Bill (S.B.) 533 by Sen. Troy Fraser of Austin, would increase the renewables goal to an installed capacity of 5,880 MW by January 1, 2015.

S.B. 836 by Sen. Robert Duncan (Lubbock), H.B. 1798 by Rep. David Swinford (Amarillo), S.B. 1075 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (Laredo) and H.B. 2692 by Rep. Pete Gallego (Alpine) would go even further, requiring the state's utilities to have 10,880 MW in installed renewable energy capacity by 2015--enough energy to power nearly 3.3 million Texas homes.

Russel Smith, executive director of the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association, said the portfolio standard is important to keep the momentum going on the projects and to give some market assurance so that the projects can get financing.

Regardless of the fate of the new legislation, however, wind power's advantages guarantee it an increasing role in the state and national economies.

"It's a domestic source and it's inexhaustible," said Real de Azua. "Our association believes it's very doable for wind to provide 6 percent of the nation's power by 2020."

Bruce Wright