Wind Energy is Helping Texas Keep the Lights On

Jeff Moseley, Texas Association of Business

Editor's note: The Caller-Times, as a matter of fairness, invited the wind industry to rebut an unsolicited column we published on Aug. 29 that asserted a link between Texas' growing reliance on wind energy  and recent power blackouts. This column is in response to that invitation. 

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Wind energy is powering opportunity across Texas, supplying low-cost, reliable electricity for millions of families and businesses. However, recently there’s been some confusion about how the state’s power system responded to an intense heat wave last month, including wind’s role in it. Here are the facts.

Wind energy output is highly predictable. Grid operators are able to predict changes in wind generation many hours, and sometimes days, in advance. That means they have ample time to plan for changes in wind production. That stands in contrast to the sudden, unexpected outages that can occur at conventional power plants, which are far more costly and difficult to manage for grid operators than lulls or bursts in wind production. The reality is no energy source is reliable and available 100 percent of the time. Conventional power plants go offline for routine scheduled maintenance, and they can experience complications that can’t be predicted.

For example, coal piles at several Texas power plants froze during a 2011 deep freeze, knocking those plants out of service. Likewise, coal yards across Texas flooded during Hurricane Harvey, limiting the ability of the state’s coal plants to meet electricity demand until the stockpiles dried out.

During this month’s Texas heat wave, the state’s wind farms performed pretty much as grid operators expected. In 63% of hours that week, wind was within 5 percent of the grid operator’s expectation or was producing more than the operator expected, based on data from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages most of the electric grid in Texas.

In fact, wind production on Aug. 12 actually helped keep ERCOT from issuing an emergency warning as the grid operator set a new peak demand record. Wind was delivering close to 7,000 megawatts (MW) during the peak afternoon hours. However, forced outages at conventional power plants were a major contributing factor when ERCOT was forced to issue an emergency alert on the afternoon of Aug. 15th. Roughly 5,000 MW of power from conventional power plants was unavailable, and with little warning, more complicated and costly to manage than well-forecasted downturns in wind production.

Beyond supplying low-cost, reliable power, wind is bringing enormous benefits to communities across Texas. Today more than 25,000 Texans work in wind, tops in the nation. Wind turbine technician is the fastest growing job in Texas, and thousands of Texans work in the state’s 46 wind manufacturing facilities.

Wind also offers enormous opportunities for economic development in the rural parts of the state. Wind paid more than $235 million in state and local taxes in 2018 alone. That’s substantial new revenue that can be used to invest in schools, fix roads, and fund emergency services, all without having to raise local taxes. Texas farmers and ranchers leasing their property for wind farms are also paid more than $70 million a year in lease payments. That’s crucial, stable income that can help family farms weather drought years or low crop and cattle prices.

Because wind’s costs have declined by 69 percent since 2009, in many parts of the country it’s now the cheapest source of new electricity, and that includes Texas. Texas is proof that wind can play an important role in ensuring American families and businesses have access to affordable, reliable electricity, all while powering job creation and new opportunities in the state’s rural communities. That’s a win-win for everyone.