Wind energy generation surpassed coal last month in Texas for the first time, thanks in part to cooperating weather and tax breaks that offered rewards for investing in renewable power.
Wind energy was responsible for 22% of the energy has consumed so far this year in Texas, the biggest electricity consuming state and long known as the heart of the U.S. oil patch. Coal provided 1% less, Electricity Reliability Council of Texas data show. While the state remains the country’s biggest coal consumer, cheaper natural gas and renewable energy are helping drive a move to a cleaner energy mix.
Mild spring weather spurred the transition to wind power, because most of the state’s coal plants are used for peak demand only. This could change as summer heat, which has already reached record levels in some parts of the country, bolsters electricity use through August.
Texas was responsible for more than 25% of U.S. wind electricity generation in the last three years, according to the Energy Information Administration. Most wind farms are in the state’s rural northern and western areas, hundreds of miles from population centers in the east and south. The Public Utility Commission of Texas authorized transmission expansion projects more than a decade ago that linked the state’s producing and consuming areas.
“Wind power has grown steadily over the last 10-to-15 years, especially in Texas,” Chris Namovicz, team leader for renewable electricity analysis at the EIA, told Karma. “Tax credits and state-level policies that require renewables have helped fuel this growth. More wind capacity has been built than the state required, but growth continues.”
The main federal subsidy for wind is a production tax credit, or PTC, which offers a credit for every kilowatt hour of energy that a farm produces over a farm’s first decade. However, this is the last year in which wind operators can start a wind farm and receive the PTC.
Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa and Kansas were the four-biggest wind-power producing states last year, responsible for 52% of U.S. output, according to the EIA. The four states benefit from the country’s best wind resources and low construction costs.
The subsidy’s expiration may be advancing the construction timeline of a number of projects, Namovicz said.
Other renewables are also rising. Texas climbed one place to sixth among states when it comes to solar power production, the Solar Energy Industries Association said. The SEIA is predicting that Texas will move to second place, behind California, by 2021 with the construction of more, solar farms in West Texas, many of them near existing wind farms.