Fueling Cities with West Texas Wind as CREZ Comes Online

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This commentary originally appeared on EDF's Energy Exchange blog.

As we approach the end of 2013, Texas’ power grid is soon to embark on a new clean energy path.  While most people don’t get too excited about electrical transmission and distribution lines, the much awaited Competitive Renewable Energy Zone (CREZ) transmission project– set to come online in a few weeks and roll out through 2014 – could be the exception.

Approved by the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) in 2008, CREZ is a 3,600 mile transmission line that will connect remote West Texas wind energy to the eastern cities that need its power – 18,500 megawatts of power to be exact.  This is enough power to energize 3.7 million to 7.4 million homes and increase available wind power supply by a whopping 50 percent.

Much like some other wind-rich regions in the country, wind in the West and Panhandle regions of Texas was partially unused, or curtailed, because local communities could not use all of the available supply  and the state’s current, outmoded electric grid could not efficiently deliver the abundant energy to high-demand eastern cities.   This ‘congestion’ bottleneck forced wind farms to lower prices and, at times, pay the utilities to take their electricity. 

According to Jeff Clark, Executive Director of the Wind Coalition, “there just isn’t enough space on the lines, so it becomes a case of I undercut you and then you undercut me, and that’s not competitive. … We lose about $500 million a year in unsold power and power sold under price.”

Texas is already the nation’s wind leader, but CREZ now enables Texas to provide three times as much available wind power as any other state and, ultimately, climb the global ranking of leading wind energy producers.  One project in particular near Lubbock is a planned 1,100-megawatt wind farm that promises to be the country's largest wind energy project.

Source Cross Texas Transmission

Source Cross Texas Transmission

As a testament to the success and future growth in Texas wind, the CREZ lines aren’t even fully operational, yet grid operators are already reviewing 21,000 megawatts of new wind project proposals.  Eager for these new lines, Pattern Energy Group broke ground on its new 218 megawatt Panhandle Wind Farm in Carson County, putting roughly 200 people to work during the construction phase.  Once the wind farm is complete, it will generate enough power for about 60,000 homes and keep about a dozen people at work in permanent positions.

Landowners and businesses are benefiting, too.  Through right-of-ways, developers constructed the electrical lines on private properties, sited close to roads and highways.  Landowners were offered just compensation for the use of their land, all while maintaining ownership of the property.  For companies looking to invest and grow in Texas, the CREZ investment provides reliability and assured, low electricity prices.

The CREZ lines are also opening up right as the Department of Interior recently announced their approval of the first major U.S. transmission project in decades. The 990-mile Gateway West Transmission Project will carry renewable energy – about 1.5 gigawatts  - from southern Wyoming to southern Idaho. Most of the energy will be from the many wind farms in the region, transmitting electricity to load centers from Utah to Washington State. This proves that the future of wind is promising not just for Texas but also for the entire US as well. Jeff Clark sums it up best, “when we look back on the investment in CREZ, it will be one of the most visionary investments the state has ever made.”

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