West Texas wind power lines priced near 6 billion

TEXAS - The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state power grid, estimates that building enough transmission lines to handle growth in West Texas wind power could cost as much as $5.75 billion.

The council filed a study with the Public Utility Commission with four scenarios of wind growth and the transmission equipment to handle it. ERCOT's proposed plans range from $2.95 billion to $5.75 billion, depending on the amount of wind power expected.

The PUC regulates the electric delivery and transmission industry in Texas, so the cost of new transmission goes directly to consumers. Texas has more wind power than any other state, with around 6,903 megawatts. Power plant developers have proposed new windmills to boost that number to a massive 46,623 megawatts. The state doesn't have enough transmission capacity to move that much juice from rural West Texas to crowded North Texas or other populous areas of the state.

Already the lack of transmission is causing power prices in West Texas to drop compared with the rest of the state, thanks to the big supply of wind power, says power company Energy Future Holdings.

"I think the issue continues to be that the development of new wind generation is almost all occurring in West Texas, and it's happening at a pace faster than transmission can get constructed," said Mike McCall of Energy Future Holdings during a recent conference call. The PUC directed ERCOT to recommend a transmission plan for four different levels of wind capacity from five wind generation regions in West Texas and the Panhandle.

The ERCOT proposals would handle between 12,000 and 24,000 megawatts of wind generation capacity.


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