in Houston, Texas
Texas Public Utility Commission pushes for $7 billion transmission lines for wind power
Wednesday, Dec 07, 2011, 01:41PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
light bulb

With a shale oil and gas revolution bringing us an era of inexpensive fuel and greater energy independence, an ever-resourceful state has found a way to add $7 billion to our electric bills.

The Public Utility Commission, chafing because deregulation has left it out of actual power generation decisions, wants ratepayers to pick up the tab to run wind power lines from West Texas to North Texas and Houston, according to a skeptical story today by the Dallas Morning News.

Quite unlike the downward plunge in fossil fuel prices, a project that just a few years ago was estimated to cost $5 billion is now almost $7 billion. And when Donna Nelson, the chairwoman of the Utility Commission who thinks laying the lines is prudent at either price, says the current figure is only an estimate, its track record would suggest the number will not be getting smaller.

The Morning News does some math making it convenient to see that $7 billion could build a natural gas-fired power plant that could generate 7,000 megawatts of electricity. Or pay the electric bills for seven months for every homeowner in Texas. Or, Congressman Joe Barton forbid, pay for enough LED lights to replace 175 million lightbulbs and close down 10 coal plants.

That $7 billion might also make a great investment in a shale gas industry that is expected to bring $118 billion in economic growth and 870,000 jobs over the next four years in the U.S.

And while that is going on, an energized American fuel industry is expected to make the country a net exporter for the first time in 62 years.

But, of course, there is always subsidizing an energy source, like solar power, that is free only in the sense that everything on and around the earth is free until you need to use it. As the Morning News story points out, wind power is much more expensive when the wind isn’t blowing.

On Aug. 3, when Texas set its single day power use record of 68,378 megawatts, roughly 880 were supplied by wind.

“Given the cost of the wind and the wind turbines and the transmission, does it make sense as good overall public policy?” Ross Baldick, who has studied wind power costs as an engineering professor at the University of Texas, asked. “I think it is worth us taking another good look at that question. I don’t know that the state of Texas has a very clear and logical policy on why it’s supporting renewables.”
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of lightbulb by flickr user Tim Cummins, used via a Creative Commons license.
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