UPDATE: Hyperventilating over wind

Despite Jim Cramer’s declaration this week “I think Thursday will be a landmark day for wind power,” the Public Utility Commission meeting on July 17 (see item 14) isn’t likely to be when they vote on what wind power transmission plan to go with. But it will be a public airing of issues that will matter to Texans for a long time.
*** UPDATE ***
Oops, looks like the PUC chose to be decisive today.

wind_trans_map A whole lot of lines needed… Chronicle graphic.

The basics: We have a lot of wind power potential in West Texas, far from the big cities that have the demand for power. To get that potential power to where we need it takes power lines, lots of them and they need to be really, really long. And it won’t be cheap.
The choices (outlined in this study by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas):
• Scenario 1, Plan A, 12,053 MW, $2.95 billion
• Scenario 1, Plan B, 12,053 MW, $3.78 billion
• Scenario 2, 18,456 MW, $4.93 billion
• Scenario 3, 24,859 MW, $6.38 billion
• Scenario 4, 24,419 MW, $5.75 billion

We will all end up paying for whichever plan is put into place since transmission costs are socialized across all power customers.
Naturally, the major wind companies argue it’s best to go big with Scenario 3. One of the arguments is more wind power will push higher-cost plants like the natural gas fired ones that lead to Texas’ super-high rates out of business and lead overall lower power rates. There’s also that “wind is non-polluting” argument.
But others, such as power companies that are more heavily invested in coal and natural gas-fired plants, say the smaller plans are better. They point to the variability of wind and how it can’t be relied on for baseload power, and how 1 megawatt of wind power actually requires about .9 megawatts of natural gas fired plants as reliable back-up (we touched on this in a story here).
It’s not a clear cut issue. For example, Austin Energy and the Lower Colorado River Authority favor Scenario 2, but Austin Energy — widely seen as the greenest of all public utilities in the country — originally favored Scenario 1B plan.
And Florida Power & Light, the state’s biggest owner of wind power projects, is supporting the largest project in Texas, but Michael O’Sullivan, FPL’s senior vice president of development has been outspoken in what he believes are the limits of wind power. During the recent wind conference held here in Houston he noted if natural gas prices had not climbed so significantly since 2000 “I’m not sure we’d be talking a wind power” too positively.
“It’s a flawed product for the grid … it’s an energy displacement product, not a baseload product.”
The Dallas Morning News wrote about the issue here while the Chronicle’s sister paper, the San Antonio Express-News did a spin here.
Here are the basics on the PUC web site.
Want to see what everyone has to say about the plans in writing? Go to the PUC’s online document filing system
and type in “33672” where is says “Control Number.”

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