GOP Stronghold Texas Is The Only State To Get It Right On Wind Power, MIT Study Finds

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Dark red Texas is the only state where wind power works, according to a Monday article in the MIT Technology Review, which attributed the Lone Star state’s green energy success to a combination of factors.

Texas has a lot of wind, the infrastructure needed to transport that energy to market and enough natural gas power plants to compensate for wind power’s variability. As a result, wind power is very successful in Texas, according to MIT.

“Wind energy is actually doing pretty well here in Texas due to a combination of things,” Steve Everley, a Texan and managing director at the energy firm FTI Consulting, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “You have pro business policies and investment in infrastructure which carry the power to where it is needed. Texas is a little bit unique in that it has a wide geographic area which can match it.”

If Texas were a country, it would be the sixth largest generator of wind power in the world, with nearly 18,000 megawatts of capacity. That’s comparable to Spain, which accumulated $27 billion in debt subsidizing wind and solar power, which greatly damaged the country’s economy.

“While the story of wind power in Texas is often cited as a success, it actually magnifies some of the issues that plague wind power,” Chris Warren, a spokesperson for the pro-industry Institute for Energy Research, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “For one, the windiest areas in Texas are far from the population centers of the state. In order to get the electricity from West Texas to the rest of the state, it required a massive and expensive transmission project totaling $7 billion. You don’t run into those same issues with other electricity sources like coal, natural gas, or nuclear.”

Wind turbines are pushing Texas’s power grid to the limit, despite billions invested in green infrastructure, according to a previous MIT report which found that “Texas is learning just how costly it is to wrangle the wind.”

“Since 2007, Texas has invested billions of dollars into moving wind energy from where it’s actually produced to the population centers,” Everley said. “[Texas Republican Gov.] Rick Perry even helped usher that through.”

Texas derives almost half of its power from natural gas, which makes the state’s power grid unusually well suited to handle wind. Wind power is unpredictable and unreliable as it often produces either too much or too little power. This damages a power grid that can’t function unless demand for electricity exactly matches supply. Large reserves of hydraulically fractured, or fracked, natural gas make Texas’ wind power possible.

“Wind power and other renewables pair well with natural gas, so they fit well with Texas, where about 50 percent of the electricity is generated by natural gas,” Everley told TheDCNF. “Natural gas is very good at providing flexible power. When you have variable output from wind and solar, you need something to smooth out the variability. Natural gas is the cleanest and cheapest to ramp up and down to smooth out the variability of green energy. It’s not an accident that Texas is the largest wind power producer and largest consumer of natural gas.”

With conventional power plants, like nuclear or natural gas, having demand match supply isn’t difficult because they can easily adjust output far in advance of predicted demand for electricity. Wind power, however, cannot easily adjust output because or windless day can’t be predicted in advanced. Solar power also causes similar problems. Wind or solar power can burn out the grid if they produce too much or not enough electricity, leading to brownouts or blackouts.

Because of that risk, grid operators have to keep excess conventional power reserves running because they can scale up when required. Natural gas is the best energy source for rapid increases in demand.

“Wind power’s intermittency issues is a main reason why it remains such an expensive option for producing electricity,” Warren continued. “When the output of reliable sources, such as coal, natural gas, or nuclear, is crowded out by intermittent wind power, these reliable sources must stay operational in order to keep the lights on, but their levelized cost is increased significantly by their reduced run time.”

The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is currently investigating how green energy undermines the reliability of the electrical grid. FERC believe there is a “significant risk” of electricity in the United States becoming unreliable because “wind and solar don’t offer the services the shuttered coal plants provided.” Environmental regulations could make operating conventional coal or natural gas power plants unprofitable, which could compromise the reliability of the American power grid.

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