Texas’ alternative energy sources gather momentum.
Oil and natural gas have dominated Texas’ energy landscape for the last century. And while that’s not likely to change anytime soon, Texas has some emerging energy contributors.
Leading the Land
Texas leads U.S. states in wind-generated electricity by almost a two-to-one margin.
|State||2007 Wind Capacity|
Source: U.S. Department of Energy
As mentioned in this issue’s cover article (p. 10), wind energy is at times controversial in the arenas of neighboring landowner rights and environmental effects on wildlife. But in the past 10 years, Texas wind energy has boomed from a curiosity into a full-blown electrical force. Texas wind projects represent about 12 percent of the total dollar investment in completed U.S. power plants in 2007.
Texas’ wind-energy generation capacity jumped from 42 megawatts in 1998 to about 4,300 in 2007. A single megawatt of wind energy capacity can produce as much energy used by about 230 typical Texas homes in a year.
At 4,300 megawatts, Texas holds more than one-quarter of the total U.S. installed wind generation capacity and is the top wind-energy producing state. Additionally, more than 1,200 megawatts are under construction. Still, wind generated less than 3 percent of the state’s electricity in 2007.
Most of the state’s wind farms are in West Texas or the Panhandle region, which offer favorable wind speeds and open space upon which to build.
From Fields and Trash to the Tank
Ethanol and biodiesel have been produced in the U.S. for more than 100 years. But recent federal initiatives have driven up production.
This increased ethanol production does, however, present challenges. Almost one-quarter of the U.S. corn crop is now used for ethanol production, which has increased corn prices as well as food products and cattle feed. And ethanol plants need about three-and-a-half gallons of water to produce one gallon of ethanol.
Stations in Texas
A Growing Demand
U.S. ethanol production has climbed steadily over the last few years. Ethanol’s use of the U.S. corn crop, which feeds the nation’s ethanol plants, has increased as well.
|Year||U.S. corn crop|
used for ethanol
Sources: Renewable Fuels Association and U.S. Department of Agriculture
More than 140 U.S. plants now produce 6.5 billion gallons of ethanol annually. Texas joined the ethanol production ranks in January 2008 with the opening of White Energy’s Hereford plant, which will turn 36 million bushels of corn and milo into ethanol. The Hereford facility will produce 100 million gallons annually and bring about 40 new jobs to the area, and could create an estimated 1,600 jobs overall. A smaller plant with an annual capacity of 40 million gallons is located in Levelland. Two other Texas plants under construction in Plainview and Hereford will add another 215 million gallons of annual production capacity.
A side benefit to the Hereford plant is the production of distiller’s wet grain, which will be used as a cattle feed supplement for more than 1 million cattle in the area.
The facility earned the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association’s Project of the Year Award in 2007.
Today, only a handful of Texas fueling stations offer E85, a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. Most are clustered along the I-35 corridor or in the Houston area.
Diesel engines can run on either petrodiesel or biodiesel. For now, Texas biodiesel has stronger production numbers than ethanol, with more than 20 facilities capable of pumping out more than 100 million gallons annually. Nationwide, more than 170 plants produce biodiesel, with a production capacity of more than 1 billion gallons.
Despite the increases, U.S. biodiesel production totals still only account for about 0.2 percent of U.S. diesel consumption.
As long as there have been concentrated animal-feeding operations (CAFOs), commonly called feedlots, there has been the question of how to dispose of cattle waste. Generating electricity from it is one of the latest answers.
Aside from a planned ethanol plant powered by cattle manure, Microgy Inc.’s Huckabay Ridge plant near Stephenville is the other commercial power plant converting manure to fuel.
In 916,000-gallon anaerobic digesters, manure is mixed with other fats, greases and oils. Bacterial reactions break down the manure into methane that is then treated on site and delivered to the Lower Colorado River Authority, which uses it to generate electricity.
Texas High Plains Manure Resources
|Number of Head|
(dry tons per year)
|Higher Heating Value|
(Btu per year)
|Beef Cattle||2,750,000||4.7 million||30-50 trillion|
|Dairy||133,000||1.8 million||6-15 trillion|
Source: Texas Agricultural Experiment Station
At full operation, the facility will use eight digesters and manure from 10,000 cows to produce more than 1 billion cubic feet of biogas annually.
A study by the Houston Advanced Research Center estimates that Texas beef and dairy cattle manure could produce 107 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 67,000 homes.
Geothermal Interest Heating Up
There are two main uses for geothermal energy: electricity generation and direct applications such as spa heating and crop drying.
Texas holds the potential to generate 2,000 to 10,000 megawatts of geothermal electricity within the next decade. Holes drilled for oil and gas fields could also be configured to harness the power of the earth.
“Most of the expense is up-front cost with a large portion of that from drilling and exploration,” says Maria Richards of SMU’s Geothermal Lab. “But the fact that we have a lot of holes in the ground already, showing us what’s down there, gives Texas an advantage.”
Geothermal heat pumps, however, are in use for heating and cooling buildings, schools and homes across Texas. These highly efficient systems, also called ground-source heat pumps, can reduce electricity consumption for climate control by as much as 50 percent. FN
For more information on the South Texas Project expansion, visit www.stpnoc.com.