The evidence is in; wind energy claims are, at least for now, hot air. It's time for Texas lawmakers to end the subsidies that have propped up the renewable energy market and let those industries stand on their own.
That's the conclusion of Texas Comptroller Susan Combs in a recent report.
What Texas needs is reliable and inexpensive power. That need not come at the expense of the environment, as newer power plants, fired by cleaner natural gas, demonstrate. Texas also needs to stop subsidizing the wind energy boondoggle.
Our economic and population growth means there's an increasing demand for reliable power.
"Texas' population is increasing by more than 1,000 people per day, with the majority moving to metropolitan areas," the study says. "Texas is by far the nation's largest consumer of electricity, accounting for 365 million MWh (megawatts per hour) in 2012; that's about 40 percent more than second-ranked California, even though California's population is 46 percent larger."
Demand for electricity is growing at about 2 percent per year. Reliable electricity generation is the key here. We need power at the right times. Those "rolling brownouts" California suffers through would be disastrous here. Affordability is important too.
And that's why the state's well-meaning renewable programs have fallen short.
"Diversifying Texas' energy portfolio has put wind and solar generation on the grid, but has created a new quandary for grid managers," the study says. "Where can power be obtained quickly when the wind stops or clouds reduce solar yields?"
Last summer, the state had an estimated 11,000 MW in wind capacity, but only 963 MW was considered "available" by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.
That's because wind turbines tend to produce more energy at night, when there's less demand, and less energy on hot summer days, when there's much more.
That's just one challenge. There's also the challenge of getting wind power to where it's needed — the cities. That's an expensive proposition, and we're all paying for it.
"In 2005, the Texas Legislature approved Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZ) to carry mostly wind energy generated in West Texas and the Panhandle to high-demand cities," the study explains. "The project was forecast to cost less than $5 billion, but ballooned to more than $6.9 billion to build nearly 3,600 miles of transmission lines and dozens of substations. The Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) estimates that the CREZ projects will cost the average household $70 to $100 annually for 15 to 20 years until the outlay is recouped."
Combs says it's time for the wind industry to stand on its own two feet.
"Texas has spent billions of dollars building CREZ lines," she says. "It is time for wind power generators to use this system to make money if they can, and end the tax credits and property tax limitations on new generation that helped grow the industry, but today give an unfair market advantage over more reliable power sources."
She's absolutely right. The Texas Legislature should discontinue subsidies and tax breaks for an industry that hasn't lived up to its promises.