Wind Energy Development in Texas at Risk

Public Utility Commissioners to Vote on New Rule

AUSTIN- Tomorrow the Commissioners of the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) will vote on a proposed rule that will determine the fate of wind energy development in our state. Last year, the State Legislature passed, and Governor Perry signed into law, SB 20, a bill increasing the portion of renewable energy used by the state and providing a mechanism to provide the transmission lines needed to bring the renewable energy to market. After sixteen months of intensive rulemaking to implement SB 20, on the afternoon before Thanksgiving the Public Utility Commission released a new rule drastically weaker than the rule originally drafted by the Commission staff.

Rather than encourage wind energy development in Texas, which was the purpose behind the legislation, the new rule will discourage the development of this vast resource that provides economic development to rural communities and supplies clean, sustainable energy for our state.

“This rule puts effectively puts a cap on renewable energy development in the state. Not only is that against the legislative intent of the bill the PUC is implementing, but Texas will lose the additional economic and environmental benefits that accrue with more renewable energy development,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, Director of Public Citizen’s Texas office. “Wind companies are investing in Texas, offering to provide clean energy for our citizens. It is absurd the PUC  would increase the costs of interconnecting to the power lines to levels that no one would invest in building new wind plants in the state  In addition, it puts a numeric cap on development of wind although there are 16,994 MW of wind plants that are asking to be interconnected into our power lines.”

The new rule makes it much harder for wind energy plants to connect to the electric grid than for coal and gas plants. It increases the cost of a required financial commitment from a wind company more than sixty times that proposed in the original draft rule. Although SB 20 was reported to try to make it easier to bring wind power to the market, the new financial deposit levels required of wind companies are much higher than anything required of coal, nuclear, or gas power plants.

“Wind energy has enormous environmental and economic development benefits. With nineteen dirty coal-fired power plants proposed for Texas, we cannot afford to turn wind companies away by making it harder for wind power to connect to the electric grid than it is for other dirty energy sources,” said Beth O’Brien, Clean Energy Organizer for Public Citizen. “Wind supplies power to help meet our increasing energy demands without polluting the air we breathe or the water we drink and use for fishing and swimming.”

By polluting our environment and poisoning our citizens, fossil fuel-generated energy creates lasting problems for the state. Not only does it reduce the health and quality of life for our citizens, it creates an economic burden in terms of environmental clean up and healthcare costs. In comparison, wind energy does not create any of these problems. Furthermore, wind power does not have any associated fuel costs. An analysis by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) shows that wind development throughout the state will produce enormous fuel cost savings.

Transmission lines, also called power lines, commonly last for more than forty years. While the cost of building and upgrading transmission lines can easily be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, the fuel cost savings achieved from wind power can often exceed the cost of the transmission line in only two or three years. For all of the following years, the wind power will provide hundreds of millions of dollars of fuel cost savings to electric consumers. (More examples)

“As the PUC Commissioners vote on the new rule this Friday, they must consider the impacts of their decision to Texas citizens, consumers and the environment. Texas is facing rising electricity prices, increasing demand for energy, and a toxin-contaminated environment that is damaging our health. Wind energy is a sustainable resource, providing cost-effective energy without producing harmful emissions. Texas is at a time where we need to be developing our vast renewable energy resources, not discouraging that development,” said Luke Metzger of Environment Texas.

“Environmentalist support wind because its produces electricity without pollution, but we are concerned that the projects are prescreened to assure that they won’t impact birds or other  types of wildlife and that they continue to monitor the sites, and take remedial action if negative impacts occur. The wind companies, bird watchers, and environmentalists had submitted suggested language for inclusion to ask the Parks and Wildlife agency to develop guidelines to protect wildlife. However, these simple recommendations were rejected. We would like to ask that the Commissioners overrule their staff and take action to protect our wildlife resources,” said Donna Hoffman of the Sierra Club.

Public Citizen, Environment Texas, and the Lone Star Sierra Club urge the PUC Commissioners to vote against the rule before them tomorrow, or change the rule so that it encourages responsible wind energy development—the reason the Legislature passed and Governor Perry signed the bill into law that the PUC is charged with implementing.