by Tara Servatius
Meck Deck blogger
We should be grateful that state leaders have tied themselves and wind power in knots by making it difficult to build in so many parts of the state.
Otherwise, we might have the misfortune to be a national leader in wind power like Texas — and to have spend ungodly sums of money on an unreliable weather source. The scale of the failure of wind power in Texas was described here by Supreme Leader and John Locke Foundation President John Hood in a piece this morning.
Consider what happened last week in the state of Texas. Writing at National Review Online, Robert Bryce reported that on Wednesday of last week “ERCOT, the state’s grid operator, declared a power emergency as some of the state’s generation units began to falter under the soaring demand for electricity. Electricity demand hit 66,552 megawatts, about 1,700 megawatts shy of the record set on August 3.”
Texas has been a leader in wind-power development. It didn’t help much:
Texas has 10,135 megawatts of installed wind-generation capacity, which is nearly three times as much as any other state. And yet, on Wednesday, all of the state’s wind turbines mustered just 880 megawatts of power when electricity was needed the most. Put another way, even though wind turbines account for about 10 percent of Texas’s 103,000 megawatts of summer electricity-generation capacity, wind energy was able to provide just 1.3 percent of the juice the state needed on Wednesday afternoon to keep the lights on and the air conditioners humming.
None of this should be surprising. For years, ERCOT has counted just 8.7 percent of the state’s installed wind-generation capacity as “dependable capacity at peak.” What happened on Wednesday? Just 880 megawatts out of 10,135 megawatts of wind capacity — 8.68 percent — was actually moving electrons when consumers needed those electrons the most.
Bryce concluded that if Texas had spent its money more wisely on new generating capacity, by investing in natural gas rather than wind:
Consider what might be happening had the state kept the $6.79 billion it’s now spending on wind-energy transmission lines and instead allocated it to new natural-gas-fired generators. The latest data from the Energy Information Administration show that building a megawatt of new wind capacity costs $2.43 million — that’s up by 21 percent over the year-earlier costs — while a new megawatt of gas-fired capacity costs a bit less than $1 million, a drop of 3 percent from year-earlier estimates.
Under that scenario, Texas could have built 6,900 megawatts of new gas-fired capacity for what the state is now spending on wind-related transmission lines alone. Even if we assume the new gas-fired units were operating at just 50 percent of their design capacity, those generators would still be capable of providing far more reliable juice to the grid than what is being derived from the state’s wind turbines during times of peak demand.
Woulda. Coulda. Shoulda.
North Carolina policymakers should be studying the real-world experience of Texas and other early developers of wind power before rushing to join them.