Texas to Invest Record Amount into Renewable Energy
July 25, 2008 -- Texas utility regulators announced the largest renewable-energy investment in the U.S. when they recently approved a $4.9 billion plan that will build extensive transmission lines to carry wind-generated electricity from remote western parts of the state to urban centers like Dallas, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio.
Since 1999, Texas has gone from producing approximately 7 percent of the wind-generated electricity in the U.S. to 26 percent by installing more than 4,100 megawatts of capacity in that time frame. Despite its current level of energy production, there is a major hurdle to overcome -- the lack of sufficient means for transmitting the electricity being produced. In fact, the transmission of electricity derived from wind energy is such a fundamental problem that turbines are sometimes shut off even when the wind is blowing strong. The state’s goals are to develop renewable energy resources and decrease dependence on fossil fuels, reduce carbon emissions, and surpass environmental requirements for the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standards. By 2013, when it’s estimated the transmission lines will be completed, the public utility officials hope to be able to transmit upwards of 18,000 megawatts of electricity derived from wind energy throughout the state.
Wind energy produces no greenhouse gases or any other air pollutant. The landscape of Texas in particular lends itself to wind farms because it has large expanses of unpopulated, windy areas and several large, rapidly growing, centrally populated urban areas that will benefit from the energy. Thirty-six states currently produce electricity generated by wind, which accounts for 1 percent of all electricity in the U.S.
As wind-energy production grows, it is important to understand the impact it has on the environment, and to weigh the long-term benefits and costs. Wind facilities can have certain adverse environmental effects on a local or regional level, by damaging habitats and killing birds and bats that fly into turbines, although scarce data make it hard to say how these deaths affect overall populations. Also, a common objection raised to proposed wind projects is that they will have a negative aesthetic impact.
In 2007, the National Research Council issued the report Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects, which analyzes the environmental benefits and drawbacks of wind energy. It says that government guidance to help communities and developers evaluate and plan proposed wind-energy projects is often lacking, and offers an evaluation guide to aid decision-making about projects. As a case study, the committee that wrote the report looked at the mid-Atlantic highlands, a mountainous area that spans parts of West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania; the report does not examine the environmental impact of offshore wind-energy projects.