(Source: AP)

Wind turbines spin busily outside Wingate, Texas at one of Texas' many wind parks.  (Source: Lm Otero / AP)
Texas is rapidly becoming the U.S. leader in wind generated electricity

With oil prices and fossil fuel prices high, and with federal support of alternative energy expansion programs, wind power is picking up steam.  The west is leading the way with Minnesota, Iowa, Colorado, Texas, California, and Washington all having in excess of 1,000 MW of wind production capacity.

Of all the states, the greatest leader is Texas, with 4.296 GW in capacity -- and it's just warming up.  Texas is not a state many associate with alternative energy.  It leads the country in fossil fuel production, both for oil and natural gas, containing approximately one fourth of known oil reserves in the U.S.  Typically, alternative energy conjures up images of California or Washington; both which do have strong wind programs.

However, these "green" states fall short of dusty Texas in green energy, thanks to the state’s leading commitment to wind power.  And Texas needs it -- Texans consume the most energy in the country, both per capita and as a whole.

Texas plans to aggressively expand its wind capacity.  Among its efforts, it just committed to the largest wind power infrastructure expansion yet, spending billions on power transmission lines to pump power from the park, located in remote but windy west Texas, to urban areas in eastern Texas.  The project will solidify Texas' leadership position in the world of alternative energy, according to Texas officials.

The state's Public Utility Commission Commissioner Paul Hudson, who approved the move, states, "We will add more wind than the 14 states following Texas combined.  I think that's a very extraordinary achievement. Some think we haven't gone far enough, some think we've pushed too far."

Patrick Woodson, vice president of E.On Climate & Renewables North America is among the wind entrepreneurs benefiting from Texans' thirst for wind energy.  His company has 1,200 MW of capacity in operations or planned.  He states, "People think about oil wells and football in Texas, but in 10 years they'll look back and say this was a brilliant thing to do."

Wind power has received a mixed response among the environmental community and from landowners. Some believe the energy source to be an essential step to generating clean energy and moving away from fossil fuel reliance, but others argue that the designs are inefficient, that they interfere with migrating birds, and that they bring down property values by marring the view.  Landowners have protested expansion at Cape Cod in Massachusetts to Idaho and Texas' South Padre Island.

However, the new project is less controversial as it builds no new turbines in desolate west Texas.  Rather it merely seeks to add power lines to better utilize the capacity, sending it to thirsty Texas cities.  From five scenarios ranging from $3B USD to $6.4B USD, the PUC decided on a middle-of-the road scenario of around $4 to 5B USD.  The PUC describes the timeframe stating, "It is expected that the new lines will be in service within four to five years."

Supporters laud the move saying it will encourage wind energy projects, grow jobs, reduce energy costs and reduce pollution.  They're terming the project a "wind energy superhighway".

Citizens will be feeling a bit of financial impact from the project, paying about $4 more, on average, a month on their electrical bills, or about $50 a year.  Tom Smith, director of the Texas office of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen says $50 a year is a small price to pay for energy independence.

He argues, "We have all these wind plants up and operating. What we're asking for is the superhighway to get the energy to the cities.  This will send signals to manufacturers all across the world Texas is ready to be a world-class player in renewable energy."

Rate increases are expected to be a couple years away.  The increases are no different in structure to those used to pay for power line expansion from traditional fossil-fuel burning plants.  Wind does have the advantage of a 2-cents-per-kilowatt-hour tax credit from the national government, which is due to expire in December.  Congress is currently mulling over a permanent extension.  Tax credit or not, though Texas has made it clear that it seeks to be the dominate leader in the wind power industry.

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