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Texas Wind Energy Fails, Again
When the temperature rises, the wind slows down.


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Robert Bryce

Wednesday brought yet another unspeakably hot day to Texas and, alas, it was yet another day when wind energy failed the state’s consumers.

Indeed, as record heat and drought continue to hammer the Lone Star State, the inanity of the state’s multi-billion-dollar spending spree on wind energy becomes ever more apparent. On Wednesday afternoon, 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.

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As I wrote in these pages earlier this month, 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.

Apologists for the wind industry point to a single day in February, when, during a record cold snap, the state’s wind turbines were able to produce electricity when the grid was being stressed. Fine. On one day, wind generators produced more than expected. But the wind industry’s lobbyists want consumers to ignore this sun-bleached truth: Texas has far more super-hot days than it does frigid ones. Indeed, here in Austin, where I live, we’ve already had 70 days this summer with temperatures over 100 degrees, and there’s still no relief in sight. And on nearly every one of those hot days, ERCOT’s wind capacity has been AWOL. Each afternoon, as the temperature — and electricity demand — soars, the wind dies down:

This summer’s high demand for electricity has caught ERCOT off guard. In June, the grid operator projected that Texas’s electricity demand would not set any new records this summer. But demand is already exceeding levels that ERCOT didn’t expect to see until 2014. Over the past few weeks, as demand has strained the Texas grid, electricity prices have risen as high as $3,000 per megawatt-hour on the wholesale market, and large industrial users have been forced to curtail consumption in order to avoid blackouts.

And yet — and yet — the state is spending billions on projects that focus on wind energy rather than on conventional generation capacity. As Kate Galbraith of the Texas Tribune reported recently, the Texas Public Utility Commission is preparing the state’s ratepayers for higher prices. Consumers will soon be paying for new transmission lines that are being built solely so that the subsidy-dependent wind-energy profiteers can move electricity from their distant wind projects to consumers in urban areas.



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