Winds of Change: How the wind industry impacts Texas Panhandle

Updated: Nov. 21, 2016 at 5:45 PM CST
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Source: KFDA
Source: KFDA
Source: KFDA
Source: KFDA
Source: KFDA
Source: KFDA
Source: KFDA
Source: KFDA

AMARILLO, TX (KFDA) - What do you get when you invest more than $1 billion into one of the windiest areas in the nation? You get a successful and profitable wind field, like the Texas Panhandle.

The majority of the growth in wind production has taken place over the past decade, which is relatively recent considering turbines that produce electricity have been around since the 1800's.

Here's the cause...

The majority of Texas is part of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) Electric Grid, with a handful of areas, including the Panhandle, outside the grid's boundary. This means there was no way for wind farms to send power to the larger cities in Texas.

Essentially, the supply of wind power in the Panhandle could not meet the growing demand of growing cities further south.

The recent investment in wind is a direct result of the construction of Texas' Competitive Renewable Energy Zone (CREZ) line. This is a network of power line that stretch more then 3,600 miles and allow wind farms in our area to 'plug in' to the ERCOT grid.

"When we developed the new electric lines, the CREZ lines, we had access to both the resources and the delivery to a market that wanted it," Ken Starcher, an energy professor at West Texas A&M University, said.

Despite the recent growth, experts say there are still challenges facing the industry.

"The wind industry is still really in its infancy, compared to all the other energy producers," Scott Creech, the facility manager for Pattern Panhandle Wind, said. "We're working on a 5-year phase out of our tax credits, and our government assistance, we say that as an industry we can be totally self-sufficient."

Given the initial cost of building a wind farm and the minimal initial returns, the majority of growth in this field has been made possible through federal and state tax incentives.

"Whenever the federal tax credits are turned off, limited, or allowed to expire and then turned back on, it keeps the industry from growing," Starcher said. "We have the state's support, we had the resources, good wind and plenty of land but without this little tax incentive it's hard to get it financed."

Texas is the top state in terms of wind energy produced.

On average, 20 percent of the power on the ERCOT grid is supplied by wind energy. Last year alone 60 billion kWh of energy, or enough power to service 4,800,000 homes, was supplied to ERCOT from wind energy.

Experts predict this industry will continue to grow in the coming years as initial costs continue to fall and the demand for alternative energy increases.

"It is a win-win for everyone involved," Starcher said. "The rural guys keep doing what they want, raise cows or plant crops, with additional income as energy is being sold on the grid. The owners of the projects are making money because they're actually selling the electricity for more than it costs and they also benefit from federal and state support."

Other concerns regarding the environmental impact of the wind industry have been discredited.

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