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United States

Oil state strikes wind potential

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When dignitaries gathered in the state capital of Texas for the official announcement of a 250 MW wind power station in January, a lorry stopped outside with a load that may prove to be highly prophetic. It was two parts of a huge tower for a Kenetech Windpower 33M-VS wind turbine, in the process of being transported from a factory in El Paso on the Mexican border to a site being developed hundreds of miles to the north in Minnesota by Northern States Power. Texas is already making its mark in the wind industry.

Indeed, the oil-patch state is one of the emerging areas of wind potential in the US. Overnight, it has become a major centre of wind activity. From the late 1970s, when the forerunner to turbine manufacturer Carter Wind Turbines Inc was founded in Burkburnett, near the Oklahoma border, to the open opportunities of the mid-1990s, Texas has been a state of great potential for wind. New political and market developments are turning that potential into reality.

Texas now has the political leadership for creating a climate in which renewables can thrive. The state is also becoming a net energy importer as its population grows and its traditional indigenous forms of power production -- fossil fuels -- wane. Global climate change and clean air act strictures are beginning to make a difference, too. The state government, under Democratic Governor Anne Richards, has become increasingly environmentally oriented in the last three years, especially in terms of its appointments, say observers. They point to Karl Rabago, a major wind proponent, appointed by Richards to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) of Texas, as well as to older, pre-Richards leaders such as Garry Mauro, Land Commissioner. In other actions that promote renewables, Richards has created a sustainable energy commission and an agency to promote renewables in the state government. In addition, the PUC is now considering requiring all utilities to come up with Integrated Resource Plans. This has already been done by the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), which is planning the 250 MW wind plant in Texas with Kenetech Windpower.

Poised to go-ahead

Various announcements have been made in Texas over the last several months indicating the state is poised for a great deal of wind development. More than 320 MW of wind will be installed over the next seven years, about one-fifth of the current installation in California, making Texas the second-ranked state in the country for wind installation -- if current proposals are realised, that is. Some in the state point out that the 320 MW may never go in the ground.

"Texas is moving into wind because the wind power technology is ready," says Rabago. "The wind power advocates have been effectively delivering their message. And because of that, a number of Texas leaders are now asking why not, instead of why." He also points to Texans' strong feelings of independence as a major influence. This was one reason why the state developed so much fossil fuel sourced power, but could also lead Texas into nurturing independent power producers. "Texans want to be leaders not followers," he adds. "Texas is the one state that has everything it takes to develop this technology -- engineering expertise, manufacturing capability and marketing skills," says Rabago, key-note speaker at the awards dinner at Windpower '93 in San Francisco. He even points to the huge market to the south, Mexico, as a key factor for Texas.

Indeed, renewables advocates hope that Texas will see 2000 MW of wind by the year 2000, or about 25% of the 13 gigawatts of new capacity needed over the next ten years. "It's realistic and achievable," says Michael Osborne, a member of the Sustainable Energy Development Council, set up last year by Richards to plan renewables strategy in Texas. "I think that is pretty reasonable." Also significant for the emergence of wind in Texas, says Osborne, is the establishment of the Texas Energy Policy Council and Texas Energy Co-ordinating Council, although appointments to both bodies have yet to be finalised. "It's a signal to utilities -- it really is time to start considering these (renewable) options," says Judy Carroll, of the Sustainable Energy Development Council. "Somebody finally looked with open eyes." Less bullish is Tom Smith, also of the council. "There appears to be a good mix of individuals in crucial positions amenable to development," he says. "But until the 320 MW is in the ground, it's not there. It's whatever it becomes when it's real." He says that the situation in Texas is fluid and fertile, but that 320 MW may be an overestimation of what will be installed in the next 12 months.

Texas is, however, at a cross-roads. The state, the third most populous in the country, is about now expecting to become a net energy importer, a situation frowned upon by patriotic Texans used to producing about ten quads of oil, gas and other conventional power. Oil and gas are also in slow decline; and the state may soon be the second largest in the union, says Osborne. "We'd just hate to think we weren't an energy exporter." Osborne predicts, that within two years, 80% of Texas' economic growth will be in non-attainment areas under the 1990 Clean Air Act. The renewables dialogue in the state is also, he says, being impacted by the Global Climate Change Treaty and its voluntary CO2 caps.

"The wind resource is there. The need to diversify energy resources is there," says Dale Osborn, the Texas representative for Kenetech Windpower. "The utilities, particularly the Lower Colorado River Authority, are forward-thinking and have given us positive feedback for the idea of wind power projects in the state," he points out.

Bids in the running

The various plans amounting to 320 MW all have utilities behind them. This month, a bid is expected to be issued by Central and South West Corp of Dallas, one of three utilities chosen for US Department of Energy and Electric Power Research Institute funding to pursue a demonstration 6 MW wind farm at Fort Davis in West Texas, says the utility's project manager Jeff Schroeter. It is to go out to four domestic manufacturers -- Kenetech Windpower, Advanced Wind Turbines, Zond Systems, and local Texan company, Carter Wind Systems. Schroeter says Zond's turbine is still under development. The utility hopes to have its 20 turbines operational by March of 1995, by which time it will own more turbines than any other utility in the country. Schroeter says that a $100,000 bird study is being done on the site as well as a background noise study.

February 28 was the deadline for another request for proposals when TU Electric asked companies to bid for supply of 65 MW of renewables. The utility expects to install 65 MW of wind over the next few years (Windpower Monthly, December, 1993). In the TU bid, some 300 initial responses for wind and solar had been received by early February, says the utility's Kathi Miller. The initial RFP was issued in December and contracts should be ready to sign in May, she adds.

Other requests for proposals, not specifically geared to wind, have also been issued by Houston Power & Light, and the City of Austin, which will be requesting proposals by March 10 to make up some 300 MW in deficit caused by closure of a power plant. Although the external cost -- or cost of pollution -- of power production is being taken into account when comparing the bids, wind may not fare especially well. The capacity must be directly connected to the downtown network, said John Hoffner, the city's program manager for Alternative Energy. "There's no wind in Austin or the immediate vicinity," he comments.

Kenetech Corp announced in January that it will develop a 250 MW wind farm in West Texas with LCRA, starting in 1995 and to be built in phases over seven years (Windpower Monthly, February 1994). And in December, three Carter 300 kW turbines were installed at an Energy Park at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport by TU Electric, America's largest investor-owned utility. The project is generating substantial public interest. "People are driving off the road to see them," says a Carter spokesman. Three Carter turbines have already been installed two years ago by Southwestern Public Service near Amarillo, with 60% support from the state energy department using funds not specifically earmarked for renewables.

Indeed the state energy department is running a $4.5 million alternative energy demonstration programme, says the manager of the programme, Judy Carroll. Wind projects so far funded are six Bergey 10 kW machines installed in rural areas, and four Bergey machines connected to Laredo Community College, a project that was re-configured from a water-pumping scheme and is due on line by August. Bergey is an established manufacturer of small wind turbines based in Norman, Oklahoma.

Wind companies are not yet standard fare in Texas, but that is changing. Still going strong is Carter Wind Turbines Inc, of Burkburnett, founded by a father and son team in 1976. About 34 people are now employed there, says chief financial officer Glenn Robinson. The company is now concentrating on meeting certification requirements for its 300 kW turbine in Europe, he says. Twelve of the turbines have already been installed in the UK. Carter also received a $1.8 million cost-shared grant last year from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, to assess its turbine and make it more commercial. And last autumn Kenetech set up an office in Texas, says the company's Bud Grebey. Commenting on the wind energy potential in Texas, he says: "It's a big state."

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