Electricity Transmission Limits Wind Boom in the Panhandle

This past year, it seems as though the wind energy industry has generated a lot of buzz. Much of this can be attributed to The Department of Energy's goal of  having 20 percent of the United States' power come from wind energy by the year 2030, as well as the  current administration's push for more renewable energy in order reduce harmful emissions into the atmosphere, while creating "green collar" jobs in the U.S.

So, with such a focus on wind energy countrywide, one of the most common questions those of us at Class 4 Winds are being asked, is 'where are all the turbines?'

Obviously we have the land. We also have the world's finest winds here in the Texas Panhandle. But there's one problem. We need more electrical transmission lines in order to build more wind farms. In a nutshell, developers could put up turbines until they're blue in the face, but they have to have lines to plug them into in order to utilize the power being created.

Here's the good news. In 2008, the State of Texas approved an additional 2,500 miles of 345 kilovolt (kV) transmission line to be built across the state, in order to harness the renewable energy in regions where wind resources are most plentiful. A good portion of this transmission system will be right here in the Panhandle (see picture.)

The lines built in the Panhandle are estimated to take on roughly 5,500 megawatts of electricity. That amount of power has the potential to power 1.65 million homes in Texas.

In the latest Class 4 Winds seminar, 'Transmission for Renewable Energy Zones,' attendees heard from both of the companies that will be building these lines in our area, Sharyland Utilities, and Cross Texas Transmission, LLC. Representatives from each of these companies answered questions from landowners, public officials and business owners who had an interest in these lines. The question on most everyone's minds was, 'when will the lines be completed?'

Though, there's no way to answer that question without a crystal ball, the consensus seems to be that if all goes as planned, there is a good chance we can see this project finished by the year 2013.

In addition, the regional transmission owned by Xcel Energy is part of the Southwest Power Pool, which is also undertaking large transmission improvements. SPP oversees the reliability of the interstate grid in the Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas and portions of New Mexico, Missouri and Louisiana. SPP's plans are primarily aimed at boosting transmission reliability, but will also have the effect of providing more avenues for exporting wind energy from the Panhandle to eastern markets. Just in our area alone, Xcel Energy is looking to spend up to $300 million on transmission improvements over the next five years.

So what about wind farm development in relation to the construction of transmission? The buzz in the industry is that wind developers are going to time construction of their wind farms to be completed as close as possible to the finish date of the transmission lines. This way, farms can generate power as quickly as possible, without having turbines waiting idle for a system to plug into.

Without a doubt, the decision by the State of Texas to construct these lines will further wind energy development and keep Texas as the leader in wind energy capacity in the U.S.

The Panhandle has an exciting future in store, now it's up to us to take advantage of the opportunities to come.

Class 4 Winds, Inc. is a non-profit organization dedicated to facilitating partnerships, promoting wind-related interests and providing educational opportunities regarding wind energy.