Thursday, August 21, 2008

T. Boone Pickens and the Politics of Wind: What Texas Wants

ERCOT_Region_map Recommendation 1: Recognizing that the combination of incentives and competitive market forces in place in Texas resulted in more rapid investment in wind energy than in any other state, Texas should promote the competitive marketplace by neither increasing nor removing the mandates for renewable energy.

That comes from 2008 Texas State Energy Plan (warning: big pdf). The report has 37 recommendations and seems to leave nothing out of its energy mix. Nuclear energy appears at number 4:

Recommendation 4: To encourage the development of nuclear power in Texas, the [Texas Commission on Environmental Quality] should expedite necessary water and wastewater permits associated with new nuclear power plants. While all design and site permits reside with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, ensuring that these state permits do not delay development is critical.

And there are entries for clean coal, carbon sequestration, solar, and others. (Hydro not so much, but it does earn a touching tribute from the report: “Areas that have an abundance of hydroelectricity, like the Pacific Northwest,” says the report, “will be significantly less impacted [by a carbon tax] than Texas.” Indeed, Texas emitted more industrial CO2 than any other state, which, given its size, makes some sense. It produced 660 million tons of the stuff in 2005 while the next biggest producer, California, released about 400 million tons. Washington state is at about 110 million tons, Oregon around 40 million tons. Hydro has been very good to the Pacific Northwest.)

Wind is the big winner in the report, though, by a wide margin. As Pickens notes in his TV ads, there's an impressive wind corridor there in Texas and Texas would dearly like to exploit it.

First, clear away regulatory hurdles:

Numerous states have lengthy and costly permitting processes for wind, and gas- and coal-fired generation; Texas has avoided this by permitting only emission and water aspects of generation plants.

Second, provide R&D funds to overcome some of wind's limitations;

The PUC and ERCOT should study whether an additional operating reserve service to help manage the intermittency of wind energy or other alternative energy sources would be a cost-effective solution to more reliably integrating these energy resources to the grid. [The unfortunate acronym PUC stands for Public Utility Commission - ERCOT manages most of the electricity grid in Texas.]

Third, have the will to do it:

Indeed, motivated by a combination of Texas’ renewable portfolio standard, federal subsidies, and higher market prices resulting from the increases in the cost of natural gas, thousands of megawatts of wind generation have been installed in West Texas. While transmission expansion has lagged the installation of wind farms, wind energy has displaced natural gas generation, and this spring, has lead to significantly lower market prices in the western part of the ERCOT grid.

Texas needs to be all in for Pickens to proceed. Texas is all in.

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But not blind to the potential problems of wind energy.

However, wind energy is produced intermittently, and wind farms generally produce power during off-peak hours when demand is lowest. Substantial penetration of wind energy into the electric grid is likely to create additional costs to ensure that adequate natural gas, storage, demand-response, or other technologies are online and available to respond to inherent large fluctuations in wind energy production.

The intermittent nature of wind (and sunshine, too, for that matter, in the case of solar) is a problem because it cannot provide either peak-load or base-load energy, which depends on, well, dependability. Wind can supplement other energy sources, but it cannot fully replace them. Predicting wind is not a hard thing, but the predictions have to be fairly good to avoid flooding or starving the grid. All this doesn't mean, however, that wind plus nuclear energy cannot in tandem do away with carbon-emitting energy generators, although nuclear energy doesn't really need to be used in tandem with anything else to do that and in fact cannot easily be ramped down to accommodate wind energy.

The most robust wind sites are also usually in remote geographic locations, necessitating significant transmission investment to be able to efficiently move the wind energy to the parts of the grid with the highest demand.

There's transmission again. And the the remote locations bits skims over the massive land requirements of an effective wind farm. Most other energy providers are relatively compact.

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Our focus here is on wind energy, but the report takes a thorough look at all forms of energy generation in Texas and makes fascinating reading. We'll try to come back to it and explore the Texas view of nuclear energy in another post. In the meantime, please do download and print the pdf.

Map of the ERCOT grid. The acronym stands for Electric Reliability Council of Texas. It's all about the grid.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

All this is going to do is increase the use of natural gas in electricity generation, something Pickens says he wants to reduce. But the fact is that given the intermittent nature of wind capacity, you need something to step in quickly to fill the gap if the wind stops blowing. Right now the things that do that are NG-fueled GTs. You said it yourself when you said:

...in fact cannot easily be ramped down to accommodate wind energy.

Conventional baseload units (including nuclear) aren't going to be much good for coming up and down quickly to follow the fluctuations of wind-generated electricity. Any way you slice it, using wind means using more NG-fueled capacity.