Wind-power projects are poised to make up nearly 70 percent of new power capacity in the deregulated market, according to ERCOT. The grid operator projects that more than 8,600 megawatts of wind power — enough energy to keep the lights on for hundreds of households across Texas — will be up and running by 2024.
Natural gas won't fare nearly as well. About 3,580 megawatts of gas-fired power potential are slated to come online in the same interval. If that forecast holds true, gas would make up only 28 percent of fresh power potential in the state.
What's causing wind production to soar?
In a word: infrastructure. Texan wind had been plagued by a major problem in the past. The windiest parts of the sprawling state are hundreds of miles away from its largest population centers. And the options for sending electricity from areas with the best wind potential like West Texas and the northernmost part of the state — known as the Panhandle — to cities like Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio have historically been limited.
In 2005, the Texas legislature approved a sprawling network of transmission lines designed to solve exactly this problem. After years of construction, the power lines — known as Competitive Renewable Energy Zones — started shipping electrons across the state in December.
Developers say the power lines are key to unlocking the state's wind-power potential. "For the longest time there was nothing there," said Jim Swafford, the CEO of Scandia Wind Southwest. Scandia is one of several companies backing a large-scale wind-power project in the Texas Panhandle. Swafford says the power lines made it all possible. "I had people coming from all over the country who wanted to build. But they'd walk away every time, because before there was no way to get the wind from point A to point B," he said.
Statistics tell the same story. Eighty percent of the total wind capacity estimated to come online by the end of 2024 will originate from the spinning blades of wind turbines set to spring up in West Texas and the Panhandle.
The boost that the power lines are giving to wind power illustrates infrastructure's ability to slow or speed an energy boom. But transmission isn't the only reason wind power is taking off in Texas.
Policy has also played a role. The expiration of the renewable production tax credit — an incentive that pays out 2.3 cents per kilowatt hour of wind produced — prompted a rush to break ground on new wind projects before the credit lapsed at the end of last year.
If the credit is not extended, the wind industry's growth in Texas could lag. And analysts warn that even with the new transmission lines, green energy could hit a bottleneck in the Panhandle as developers race to churn out more wind.
For now, however, the availability of the tax credit alongside the potential for turbines to link up with power lines means that the future of wind power in the Lone Star State is bright.