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Texas utility follows call of the people

In a direct response to public desire for more electricity from clean energy sources, one of the state's largest power corporations, Central and South West (CSW), announced last month it would buy wind from a new 75 MW plant to consist of Vestas V47 turbines. The announcement makes it clear that CSW, the owner and operator of America's second largest electric utility system, is choosing to buy more wind in the near future than any other American utility.

The spotlight is once again on Texas as the hottest seat of wind development in the United States. In a direct response to public desire for more electricity from clean energy sources, one of the state's largest power corporations, Central and South West (CSW), announced last month it would buy wind from a new 75 MW plant to consist of Vestas V47 turbines. Meantime, the construction start of a 34.6 MW wind farm at Big Springs in west Texas, also of Vestas turbines, is scheduled for the spring.

The newest wind plant will dwarf all others in Texas, existing or planned. It will be built at a site known as "Southwest Mesa," near McCamey south of Odessa. Generation of power from the project's first wind turbine is expected in December, while commercial operation of the entire facility will start by June 1, 1999.

CSW announced on February 18 that it is awarding a power purchase contract for the wind farm to FPL Energy Inc, which will own the project. FPL is a division of the FPL Group, a Florida energy company best-known as the parent of Florida Power & Light, one of the largest private utilities in the US. The group, through its subsidiary ESI Energy, now part of FPL Energy, has been investing in domestic independent power projects -- including wind -- for some time. ESI had also been tipped to win the CSW tender.

Construction of the Southwest Mesa plant will be by Foras Energy Inc, which submitted the winning bid of Vestas turbines in conjunction with FPL. Foras, an owner and operator of 60 MW of wind turbines in California, will operate and maintain the new Texas plant. Formerly known as Difko Administration, Foras is also to build a 42 MW wind plant in Iowa for Interstate Power Co (Windpower Monthly, November 1997).

CSW says Southwest Mesa will consist of 113, 660 kW Vestas turbines. The turbine order could not be confirmed by Vestas company director, Johannes Poulsen, prior to a meeting of the involved parties in Denmark on February 27.

The announcement makes it clear that CSW, the owner and operator of America's second largest electric utility system, is choosing to buy more wind in the near future than any other American utility. Unlike utilities such as Northern States Power in Minnesota -- required to build 425 MW of wind in return for being allowed to store nuclear waste -- CSW is not mandated to build or buy wind power, but is voluntarily doing so. Based in Dallas, CSW is huge. Among other interests, it has four utility subsidiaries in the south-central US and owns a large regional electricity company in the UK, SeeBoard, southwest of London

A triumph

CSW's wind farm announcement also appears to be a triumph for wind over other renewables. The utility's original request for proposals specified that it would buy up to 75 MW of any type of renewables. The choice of just one wind project for the total amount -- from 14 bids submitted for a combined 385 MW of wind, landfill gas and hydro (Windpower Monthly, September 1997) -- is significant.

Sceptics are worried, however, about the low kilowatt hour price-bid rumoured to have been submitted by FPL in return for valuable market share. The word is that the levelised price is about $0.036. Fears are that such a pricing strategy, similar in tactics to a loss leader, can make it harder for wind ultimately by setting unrealistically low prices and by keeping the emphasis on cost of energy. The price in FPL's contract could not be confirmed.

One thing that is clear, is that FPL is getting into wind in a sizeable way. FPL Energy Inc, along with Danish NEG Micon and Japan's Nichimen, is part of a joint venture known as Green Ridge Power that has just bought up bankrupt Kenetech's 164 MW Altamont Ridge wind asset (story page 14). FPL will also be developing a wind farm in Oregon at Vansycle -- again a sale of a Kenetech project approved by the US bankruptcy court. Vestas turbines are slated as the most likely choice for Vansycle, too. The FPL group is already the equity owner of SeaWest's 1990 Mitsubishi project near Mojave, Zond's Sky River project in Tehachapi, and was the equity owner in a number of Kenetech partnerships in the Altamont Pass.

Texas, the second most populous state in America, has a substantial wind resource. The state is also unusual in requiring utilities to get public opinion on the electricity supply mix under its Integrated Resource Planning (IRP) statute, passed three years ago. It is this IRP process, and the strong public desire for clean energy, that is driving the wind development in Texas.

People power

Deliberative polls, or in-depth opinion surveys, by CSW have consistently shown a desire for more renewables, as well as energy conservation. "Our announcement of this agreement for the purchase of renewable energy is a direct result of their feedback," says Alphonso Jackson, CSW-Texas president. CSW filed an IRP of how it will meet future energy needs at the Texas Public Utility Commission (PUC) in January 1997. The PUC must now approve the power purchase contract with FPL Energy.

CSW already owns and operates one of the two wind farms in Texas, a 6.6 MW plant of Zond Z-40 turbines completed in 1996 in the Davis Mountains in west Texas. It is part of one of the largest wind and solar generating facilities in the southwestern US. The second plant, in west Texas, is a 41 MW project of Kenetech turbines in Culberson County, built in 1995 by LG&E Corp, Kenetech Windpower and a third party, Quixx Corp. It sells power to the Lower Colorado River Authority.

Soon to join these two is the Big Springs wind farm, being built by York Research Corporation of New York. It will sell power to Texas Utilities on a 15 year contract paying $0.0414/kWh for the first year. Also in the pipeline in the Lone Star state are two projects of a total of six wind turbines, which are part of the Department of Energy's Distributed Turbine Verification Programme (Windpower Monthly, January 1998).

FPL's 75 MW wind plant will be built on a 1233 acre site near Interstate 10, the state's main east-west thoroughfare. The electricity will go to three utilities -- West Texas Utilities Company, Central Power and Light Company and Southwestern Electric Power Company, all subsidiaries of CSW.

CSW says the electricity it buys from the 75 MW wind farm will be in addition to the renewable electricity used for its pilot green pricing programme, Clear Choice (Windpower Monthly, December 1997). Hydro power will be used for customers who sign up for Clear Choice, launched almost a year ago. CSW plans to offer the Clear Choice programme throughout the its system in 1999.

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