October 5, 2022

Why the High Plains is shutting down its wind turbines to limit wind generation while the Texas power grid is under stress

Why the High Plains is shutting down its wind turbines to limit wind generation while the Texas power grid is under stresswas first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that educates — and engages with — Texans about public policy, politics, government and issues in the world. statewide.

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LUBBOCK — The state’s High Plains region, which spans 41 counties in the Texas Panhandle and West Texas, is home to more than 11,000 wind turbines — the most of any region in the state.

The region could generate enough wind energy to power at least 9 million homes. Experts say the extra power could help provide much-needed stability to the power grid during high-energy summers like this, and even lower electricity bills for Texans in other parts of the state. .

But a significant portion of the electricity generated in the High Plains stays there for one simple reason: it cannot be moved elsewhere. Despite the growing development of wind power generation in Texas, the state’s transmission grid would need significant infrastructure upgrades to ship the generated power to the region.

“We’re at a time when wind is at its peak generation profile, but we’re seeing a lot of wind power being reduced or congested and not getting to some of the more populated areas,” said John Hensley. , vice-president. for research and analysis at the American Clean Power Association. “Which is a loss for taxpayers and a loss for energy consumers who now have to deal with energy conservation or pay more for the energy they use because they don’t have access to this wind resource at a lower cost.”

And when the rest of the state is asked to conserve power to help stabilize the grid, the High Plains must turn off the turbines to limit wind generation it doesn’t need.

“Because there is not enough transmission to move it to where it is needed, ERCOT has to slow down the [wind] generators,” energy attorney Michael Jewell said. “They’re actually telling the wind turbines to stop producing electricity. It gets to the point where [wind farm operators] literally have to completely disengage the generators and prevent them from doing anything.

Texans have already had some energy worries this year amid scorching temperatures and high demand for energy to keep homes cool. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state’s electric grid, warned of power generation declines twice last month and asked people across the state to reduce their drinking to avoid an electrical emergency.

Energy supply issues have also hit Texans’ wallets. Nearly half of Texas’s electricity is generated in power plants that run on the state’s main energy source, natural gas, and its price has increased by more than 200% since the end of Februaryresulting in high utility bills.

Meanwhile, wind farms across the state account for nearly 21% of the state’s electricity generation. Combined with wind generation near the Gulf of Mexico, Texas last year produced more than a quarter of the country’s wind power generation.

Wind energy is one of the cheapest sources of energy as it is sold at a fixed price, the turbines do not need fuel to operate and the federal government provides subsidies. Texans who get their power from wind farms in the High Plains region typically pay less for electricity than people in other parts of the state. But with the price of natural gas rising due to inflation, Jewell said areas where wind power isn’t accessible must rely on more expensive electricity.

“Other production resources are more expensive than what [customers] would have gotten wind turbines if they could move it,” Jewell said. “That’s the definition of transportation congestion. Because you can’t get the cheapest electricity through the grid.

An ERCOT 2021 report shows that there have been increases in stability stresses for wind energy in recent years in West and South Texas, which have limited energy transfer over long distances.

“The transmission constraints are such that the energy does not reach the load centers. [High Plains wind power] might be able to get to Lubbock, but he might not be able to get to Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston or Austin,” Jewell said. “It’s not an insignificant problem – it’s costing Texans a lot of money.”

Some wind farms in the High Plains anticipated that there would be a need for transmission. The Trent wind farm was one of the first in the region. Beginning operations in 2001, the wind farm is located between Abilene and Sweetwater in West Texas and has approximately 100 wind turbines, which can power 35,000 homes. Energy company American Electric Power built the site near a power transmission grid and built a short transmission line, so the electricity generated there goes into the ERCOT system.

But Jewell said high energy demand and costs this summer show the need to build additional transmission lines to move more wind power produced in the high plains to other areas of the state.

Jewell said the Public Utility Commission, who oversees the network, is conducting tests to determine the economic benefits of adding transmission lines from the High Plains to the more than 52,000 miles of lines that already connect to the grid across the state. For now, however, there are no official proposals to build new lines.

“It takes a long time to figure it out – you’re talking about a transmission line that’s going to be in service for 40 or 50 years, and it’s going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars,” Jewell said. “You want to be sure the savings outweigh the costs, so it’s a longer process. But we need more transmission to be able to move more energy. This state is growing by leaps and bounds.

A report by the American Society of Civil Engineers published after the Winter storm of February 2021 said Texas has substantial and growing reliability and resiliency issues with its power system.

The report concluded that “the failures that caused overwhelming human and economic suffering in February will increase in frequency and duration due to deficiencies in legacy market design, growing infrastructure interdependence, economic growth drivers and demographics and aging equipment, although the frequency and severity of weather events remain unchanged.

The report also says that while transmission upgrades across the state have generally been completed in a timely manner, it has been difficult to add infrastructure where there has been rapid growth, such as in the High Plains.

Despite some The vocal opposition of Texas lawmakers against wind and other forms of renewable energy, the state has prime real estate to harness wind power due to its open plains, and farmers can install turbines on their land for financial assistance .

This has led to a boom in wind farms, even with transmission problems. Since 2010, Wind power generation in Texas increased by 15%. This month, the Biden administration announced the first offshore wind farms in the Gulf of Mexico will be developed off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana and will produce enough energy to power around 3 million homes.

“Texas really kind of stands above every other state in terms of the actual amount of wind, solar, and battery storage projects that are on the system,” Hensley said.

One of the problems often raised with wind and solar farms is that they may not be able to produce as much energy as the state constantly needs. Earlier this month, when ERCOT asked consumers to save electricity, the agency said low wind generation and cloud cover in West Texas as factors contributing to limited energy supply.

Henlsey said that’s where battery storage stations can help. According to the US Energy Information Administration, large-scale batteries tripled in capacity in 2021 and can now store up to 4.6 gigawatts of energy. Texas is rapidly developing storage projects. In 2011, Texas only had 5 megawatts of battery storage capacity; by 2020, it had jumped to 323.1 megawatts.

“Storage is really a game-changer because it can really help solve and control a lot of the intermittency issues that a lot of people worry about when they think about wind and solar technology,” Hensley said. “So to be able to capture a lot of that sun that comes in around noon to [1 p.m.] and move it to evening times when demand is highest, or even move strong wind resources from night to early morning or afternoon.

Storage technology can help, but Hensley said transmission is still the important factor to consider.

Solar is another resource that could help stabilize the grid. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, Texas has approximately 13,947 megawatts of installed solar energy and more than 161,000 installations. That’s enough to power over 1.6 million homes.

This month, PUC formed a task force to develop a pilot program next year that would create a pathway for solar panels and batteries on small-scale systems, like homes and businesses, to add this energy to the grid. The program would make solar power and batteries more accessible and affordable for customers, and it would also pay customers to share their stored energy with the grid.

Hensley said Texas has the most clean energy projects underway that will likely continue to put the region ahead of others in wind generation.

“So they’re already ahead, and it looks like they’re going to be even further ahead in six months or a year,” he said.