The Texas Two Step: A Renewable Energy Dance

Like partners moving gracefully on the dance floor, the story of Texas’ success in wind energy is about close coordination between wind farms and large-scale transmission. Texas has built over 17,000 MW of wind energy capacity and on some days it provides close to 50% of the state’s energy need. How did Texas succeed when other states struggle? Planning. Texas adopted large renewable energy goals coupled with a plan to build transmission to serve the state’s wind energy rich zones. The best wind energy zones are in windy, but remote west Texas, and the power is needed a long way away in the cities of east Texas. At the time, the grid in west Texas was weak and no individual wind energy project developer could afford to build the transmission required to reach east Texas. And, even if they could afford it, there was little sense in building many small capacity circuits for multiple wind energy projects when fewer, high-capacity circuits could transmit the energy with greater efficiency, lower cost, and lower environmental impact. Responding to this need, the Public Utility Commission of Texas solicited proposals for high-capacity transmission lines that would connect several thousand megawatts across multiple west Texas wind farms. These high-capacity, “backbone” circuits became the foundation that made it possible to efficiently develop Texas’ remote, clean wind energy resource.

What’s the connection to offshore wind? While the distances between the Atlantic offshore wind zones and the coastal cities is less than in Texas, it still makes economic and environmental sense to plan transmission and to aggregate wind projects onto high-capacity circuits. Maryland’s recent offshore wind solicitation provides an example. With some planning, just one circuit could have delivered the energy from both of Maryland’s offshore wind energy projects at a lower cost than the two circuits proposed by the wind project developers.

 

When transmission is not planned, the result is:

  • More circuits than needed
  • Higher costs for ratepayers
  • Avoidable environmental impacts
  • Missed opportunities to strengthen the land-based grid