Wind energy growing in Texas

Wind power continued as a growing force in electricity production in Texas in 2010, accounting for 7.8 percent of generation for the power grid operated by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages 85 percent of the state’s electric load.

ERCOT recorded a new wind energy output record of 7,227 megawatts at 7:16 a.m. Dec. 11, 25.8 percent of the power load at that moment.

As evidenced by the striking maze of towering wind turbines that motorists encounter in stretches of West Texas, ERCOT’s territory has 9,528 megawatts of installed wind farm generation.

That’s the highest total among the 50 states and fifth-highest in the world, ERCOT said in its 2010 demand report, released Monday.

"This is a huge multibillion-dollar industry that Texas is the leader in," said Greg Wortham, executive director of the Texas Wind Energy Clearinghouse and mayor of Sweetwater, which is surrounded by a sea of turbines.

By 2015, Texas could derive 15 percent of its electricity generation from wind power, Wortham said. A huge $5 billion effort is under way to build big transmission lines from windblown West Texas to population centers such as Dallas-Fort Worth where power usage is heaviest.

Wortham said new turbines may be 105 meters tall –about 345 feet. They’re also more technologically advanced, with improved blades, he said.

That enables them to produce far more power. Some turbines are now rated at three megawatts, compared with older, smaller turbines rated at one megawatt or less.

Wind power’s 7.8 percent share of electricity generation in 2010 was up from 6.2 percent in 2009, 4.9 percent in 2008 and 2.9 percent in 2007.

Overall electricity consumption increased 3.5 percent in 2010 in the ERCOT region, which covers 75 percent of the state’s land area.

A new ERCOT record for peak summer power demand was set Aug. 23, at 65,776 megawatts. A new record for peak winter demand, 55,878 megawatts, was set Jan. 8, when North Texas was in the grips of bitter cold.

Coal plants provided 39.5 percent of electric power in 2010, with natural gas a close second at 38.2 percent. Other percentages were nuclear, 13.1; wind energy, 7.8; water (hydroelectric), 0.3; and other, 1.1.

By Jack Z. Smith,