Wind Power: It’s the Way of the Future, Y’all

As a Houstonian whose
father works in the oil industry (oil reservoir management to be exact), I
found this issue surprising, compelling, and extremely relevant even to those
who live outside the Lone Star State…


Texas may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of alternative energy. Rather, it’s probably the state most
associated with oil production and consumption (e.g. “Texas T” from The Beverly Hillbillies). “Black gold” certainly plays a strong role in
Texas’ economy and history (it has been the
top oil producing state since the 1920s), but the Lone Star State is also gaining a reputation as a
leader in alternative energy. Texas is investing in wind
resources more than any other state, having just committed $4.93 billion to new
transmission projects
. Nationwide, only 1 percent of electric power is
generated by wind sources. By 2030, experts
estimate that figure could jump to 20 percent if other states follow Texas’ lead.


Wind energy can be captured by wind turbines like these in Missouri
Photo courtesy of
Popular Science

West Texas’ expansive
plains and windy climate are well-suited for wind turbines, which capture and
convert wind power into electricity. The
problem lies in hooking up Texas’ biggest
cities – Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, and San Antonio – to these wind power projects in remote
western parts of the state. There simply
aren’t enough transmission lines to bring the power to the high-population
areas. Since the existing lines can only
carry so many megawatts, West Texas landowners
are often told to power down their turbines. Texas currently has a wind turbine
capacity of 5,300 megawatts, more than double that of California, the state with the second
highest capacity. The expansion project would put Texas at a capacity of 18,500 megawatts of
power, enough for 3.7 million homes on a hot day when air-conditioners are
running. “This project will almost put Texas ahead of Germany in installed wind,” said
Greg Wortham, executive director of the West
Texas Wind Energy Consortium

With soaring gas prices taking a toll on Texans’ wallets and
supplies of natural gas dwindling, the project is a welcome relief for the
environment and for the state’s power consumers. “There’s nothing volatile about the wind
in terms of the price, because it’s free,” said Southwest regional
development director for Horizon Wind
, Vanessa Kellogg. Supporters also
point to environmental
as a key reason to invest in its development, although skeptics
point out environmental
as well.


Wind emits no carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, or nitrogen
Image Courtesy of
Horizon Wind Energy

Texans will pay about $4 per month for the additional
wind-generated electricity, but the overall savings are estimated to be double
the cost. The transmission lines that
will carry the power across the state are expected to be completed by 2013.

T. Boone Pickens,
a Texan who made his fortune in oil, has launched a national campaign championing
alternative energy (some of you may have seen his ubiquitous television ads
of late!). He plans to build world’s
largest wind farm in the Texas panhandle. Read about the Pickens plan here.

The Horizon Wind
website has several resources for parents, teachers, and
students. It includes a glossary, FAQ,
wind facts, and curriculum activities for elementary, junior high, and high
school students!

Does your community get any of its electric power from wind
or other alternative energy sources?  What do you see as the benefits and drawbacks
of wind energy?

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