Attack on wind energy is hot air

Here’s something to be proud of: Texas is a national leader in wind energy. Wind accounts for nearly 10 percent of power generation in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas‘ grid, or so says the American Wind Energy Association.

While wind energy is clean, it’s cultivated in places where few people want to live. Transmission to population centers is costly but worthy. A $7 billion investment has been made in transmission lines that connect wind power generators in rural West Texas and the Panhandle with urban areas to the east. And as the Houston Chronicle‘s Ryan Holeywell reported, interest in wind power generation is growing, potentially straining the transmission lines with $675 million in needed upgrades.

Traditionally in Texas, ratepayers bear the costs of power infrastructure regardless of the source. But the chairwoman of the Public Utility Commission has questioned whether that should be the case for wind power.

In a memo and public comments, Donna Nelson has argued that wind generators should pay for infrastructure upgrades. As she sees it, wind is unique from other power sources because generators are remote and wind is variable. She also criticized federal tax credits for wind power generation.

This view strikes us as shortsighted and wed to more traditional energy sources. Increased wind capacity has put downward pressure on wholesale electric prices. And a tax credit is appropriate for cleaner power generation.

Other industries pass infrastructure costs on to ratepayers, so why put wind at a competitive disadvantage?

“When the state has added coal generation, customers paid for that, and when new gas plants come online, there’s always a transmission cost for that as well,” Michael Goggin, director of research at the American Wind Energy Association, told Holeywell.

Nelson wants the issue to be studied with proposals presented to the Legislature next year. Undercutting clean energy development for fossil fuels would be a huge step backward in public policy.