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Everything is Big There: Texas Now Tops in Wind

Aug 25, 2007 - Janis Mara - Oakland Tribune

Recent Texas developments suggest that California's lead in one alternative energy area may be gone with the wind. The wind turbine, that is.

Last year, for the first time ever, an industry association reported that Texas surpassed California as the country's No. 1 generator of wind energy. Not only did the Lone Star State blow past the Golden State again in this year's report, but Texas regulators in July voted to designate eight zones for production of some 20,000 megawatts of wind energy.

"Texas has much better wind resources. Based on that alone, it is likely Texas will stay ahead of California," said Case van Dam, a professor at the University of California, Davis who is also director of the California Wind Energy Collaborative. Also, Texas is moving more quickly than California to take advantage of its wind resources, van Dam said.

The development is a bit of a twist given that California, with its Million Solar Roofs plan and other programs, is a national leader in conservation efforts, while Texas has long been associated with old-school energy sources such as oil and natural gas.

Texas' lead is increasing. In 2005, Texas led California by 47 megawatts in installed wind energy; in 2006, it led by 407 megawatts, according to the annual U.S. wind power rankings of the American Wind Energy Association. One megawatt is enough electricity to power 750 California homes during peak demand.

The association reported that Texas had a capacity of 2,768 megawatts as of Dec. 31, 2006. California had a capacity of 2,361 megawatts.

"Texas is wowing everyone with those numbers," said Christine Real de Azua, a spokesperson for the association.

But it's not as though California is losing its position as a conservation leader, she said.

"California is succeeding in keeping a cap on electricity consumption, so the demand for electricity isn't growing as quickly as in Texas," Real de Azua said. "You (Californians) are keeping a lid on demand with increased efficiency," she said.

Energy consumption per capita in California has remained flat "for a couple of decades," agreed Michael Webber, associate director of the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Texas, Austin.

The average Californian consumes 233 million Btus of energy -- which includes lighting; heating and cooling at home; driving; and eating -- in one year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. In contrast, the average Texan consumes 560 Btus, according to the EIA. The average American consumes 340 million BTUs.

One of the reasons Texas is pulling ahead is because of how quickly it is installing new wind energy farms and enacting pro- wind-energy regulations, experts said.

"It's ironic," said Webber. "Texas hasn't put as many environmental protections in place; you don't have to do environmental impact reports, for example, and this has given us the ability to build wind."

An example of the support Texas governing bodies have lent to wind energy: In July, the Public Utility Commission of Texas designated competitive renewable energy zones in West Texas and the Panhandle for production of some 20,000 megawatts of wind energy.

California energy mavens aren't concerned over Texas' new position as the wind energy leader for a variety of reasons. Some say it's still possible to catch up.

"The California Public Utilities Commission just approved the first phase of approvals for a transmission line that will add 6,000 megawatts of electric power to the grid from Tehachapi," said Amy Morgan of the California Energy Commission. (The grid is the system that distributes electricity all over the state.)

California has four main wind resource areas: Altamont Pass, Tehachapi Pass, San Gorgonio Pass and Rio Vista in Solano County.

Others see the issue in terms of the big picture.

"We're not in competition with Texas to see who can have the most wind power. We're in competition with ourselves to see how much wind energy we can produce," said Gregg Fishman of California Independent System Operator, which is in charge of California's energy grid.

"Texas certainly is larger, they have greater geographic areas available. That's one thing they're using to their advantage as well.

"More power to them," Fishman said.

Originally published by Janis Mara, BUSINESS WRITER. Source: Oakland Tribune


Updated: 2016/06/30

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