“CREZ will turn out to be the most visionary thing this state has ever done electricity-wise,” predicts Jeff Clark, executive director at the Wind Coalition, a regional partner of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).
Only a few days ago, the final segment of Texas’s $6.8 billion, 3,600 mile Competitive Renewable Energy Zone (CREZ) transmission build-out was completed. The project, which has been in the works for over eight years, could signal the beginning of another era of wind power development in Texas.
In 2008, the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) identified five competitive renewable energy zones (CREZs) – geographic areas ideal for wind farms – in the Lonestar State . However, in order to get the energy generated in these CREZs to the areas that need energy most (Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, Houston and San Antonio), transmission lines needed to be built. Instead of waiting for wind developers to come to Texas, and then begin the multi-year, multi-billion dollar project, the PUCT decided to put in the lines beforehand to entice developers to take advantage of the already existing infrastructure.
The new transmission lines, which will be able to transmit up to 18,500 megawatts of power across the state, will increase the wind capacity in Texas by over 50%, which will be three times as much as any other state in the nation. The large amount of potential wind energy in Texas, along with the new infrastructure, has already resulted in more wind developers coming to Texas, including a project in the panhandle by Pattern Energy Group that broke ground back in October.
All in all, the completion of the Texas CREZ Project is a huge step forward to moving our state towards absolutely clean, renewable energy. Instead of waiting for developers, PUCT has been proactive in creating a better future for our state.
Unfortunately, at the end of 2013, Congress let the renewable energy production tax credit (PTC) expire. While companies who broke ground on projects before the end of 2013, like Pattern Energy Group, are still eligible for it, wind development in Texas would likely take off even more if the tax credit were renewed. The Department of Energy has found that the PTC has had an amazing impact on the development of wind, including causing the cost of generating electricity from wind to fall by more than 40% over the past few years. Hopefully the expansion of infrastructure here in Texas will mitigate the boom-and-bust cycle that is associated with the continued lapsing and renewal of PCTs for renewable energy.
In addition to the CREZ project, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) is expecting transmission providers to invest an additional $3.6 billion in improvement projects by the end of 2018. Many of these improvements, particularly in the Permian Basin and Eagle Ford Shale region, but additional transmission to support wind development in the Panhandle region is also being considered. That could help mitigate the boom and bust cycle of wind development in that region. Additional transmission capacity to the Lower Rio Grande Valley is slated for completion in 2016 and a new high voltage line to Houston is being considered.