Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Texas Thwarts T. Boone Pickens: Wind Turbines Need a Home

T. Boone Pickens planned to install more than 600 wind turbines in the Texas panhandle, but the U.S. government let him down and did not come through the transmission lines needed to keep the windmills operating. Make no mistake about it, Texas has enough wind - just not enough transmission lines.

Wind Turbines
Mesa Power, Picken's company, ordered the giant turbines from General Electric at a cost of $2 million. Pickens had planned to build his own transmission lines, but there were "technical problems." If transmission availability is a problem in Texas, it is probably a problem elsewhere, but Pickens says:
It doesn't mean that wind is dead," said Pickens, who runs the Dallas-based energy investment fund BP Capital. "It just means we got a little bit too quick off the blocks."
Pickens was too far ahead of the industry which has resulted in needing a home for the 687 "giant" wind turbines on order - each 400 feet tall. The government mandates for solar and wind power has its issues:

Already recognized is the need for thousands of miles of new transmission lines to connect distant wind and solar facilities to power-hungry cities. About 7 percent of the U.S. population lives in the 10 states where the capacity for wind generation is the greatest, the grid group said.

While daunting, that is just one challenge facing the industry as it seeks to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from electric production, NERC said.

Another issue is the tendency for wind generation to be strongest at night when electric demand is low and weak during the day when power use soars.

Managing the often rapid jump or drop in wind output is another obstacle for other power plants on the grid since electricity is consumed in real-time and can’t be stored in large amounts, NERC said.

If electric demand is high and wind generation falls off, other power plants must increase output quickly to balance the system to prevent blackouts or other disruption.

"When" transmission lines will be built isn't the only question. "Where" they will be built is being contested. Environmental groups are suing federal agencies. They want to change the location "of corridors" set aside "to transmit energy across Western lands," and here's their beef:

...the corridors, which were designated in January by the Bush Administration, are convenient for moving electricity generated by coal plants and other fossil fuels, but do little to facilitate the production of renewable energy on public lands.
The Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society are two groups involved in the lawsuit filed on July 7th. With all sources of energy in the spotlight, as I write this, the Senate Energy and Climate hearing is in progress. Emily Gertz is live-blogging the session. Ms. Gertz seems a bit piqued at some of the Republican remarks:
Senators Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and John Barrasso (R-Wy.) harped on various side issues that have become familiar parts of GOP rhetoric on climate change. Sen. Inhofe tagged efforts to create a carbon emissions markets an "energy tax" and said such a market would amount to "subsidizing the East and West coasts at the expense of the heartland."
Ms. Gertz reports the Senator's remarks as "harping." Ya think she just might be a bit biased?

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