Texas Renewable Energy Keeps Growing: Both Austin and ERCOT Showing it Can Be Done

Ok I’ve written about this before but the pace is getting to be mind-boggling. Every month, ERCOT releases its Monthly Status System Planning Report and the amount of proposed generation keeps growing. And in particular what appears to be winning is wind power, and increasingly solar. The February 2014 Monthly Status Report shows that ERCOT is currently tracking 219 proposed projects totaling over 55,300 MWs, about half – 26,700 MWs in all — of which is wind. The latest to sign what is known as a Generation Interconnection Agreement with the local transmission company is the Briscoe Wind Farm, a 300 MW facility located in West Texas. Just earlier this month we announced that Austin Energy had negotiated a cheap wind deal with Lincoln Renewable for 300 MWs in Castro County.

Here are the latest numbers from ERCOT.

Confidential Projects Projects under Study Projects with Signed Agreement Total
Natural Gas 3,544 11,437 9,521 24,502
Coal 0 30 240 270
Wind 5,538 12,777 8,413 26,728
Solar 1,335 1,414 198 2,947
Storage 0 874 0 874
Nuclear 0 0 0 0
Petroleum Coke 0 0 0 0
Total 10,417 26,532 18,372 55,321

What is pretty interesting is the geographic distribution of these projects. If you look at ERCOT’s five traditional load zones — Panhandle, West Texas, North Zone, South Zone and Coastal Zone, future natural gas projects dominate in the South and North Zone — where wind and solar resources are just not as strong. But from the Coastal Zone — where gas and wind split the pie — to West Texas and especially the Panhandle, wind and increasingly solar beat out gas projects.

Coal you might ask? Two projects – a tiny 30 MW proposed project in Milam County and the long-awaited IGCC project by Summit in Ector County, which has been delayed three times, and is currently scheduled for 2018.. maybe. Petroleum Coke, like those proposed Las Brisas and White Stallion projects that SIerra Club fought?  Dead. none. What about nuclear? Didn’t NRG and Luminant promise to build us new reactors? Dead.

In fact, other than gas, wind and solar, the only projects are three proposed storage facilities which could revolutionize the use of renewable energy, making it dispatchable just like gas.

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Webberville Project — three times more expensive than the new one they are talking about.

Now back to Austin Energy. While two weeks ago we told you about a deal to purchase wind at a bargain rate of $26 to $36 per MWh that City Council recently approved — a price rivaling what we pay for our dirty coal power — this Thursday Austin Energy will be proposing to City Council that they authorize negotiations over two utility-scale solar plants to be constructed by SunEdison. While the exact price can not be revealed, Austin Energy is reporting that it is between $45 and $55 per MWh, making it the cheapest solar deal in the country. The two plants will total up to 150 MWs of capacity, and be located in West Texas. If these deals come to fruition, Austin Energy would not only meet its 35% renewable energy commitment four years early by the time the plants come online in 2016, but even its 200 MW solar goal. With the Local Solar Advisory Committee recommending that Austin Energy double its goal to 400 MWs by 2020, Austin Energy’s initial negative reaction — based on a belief that solar would cost more in the $80 to $100 per MWh range — now seems well.. so last year. In fact, Austin Energy reports that they had over 125 proposals for utility-scale solar from 66 separate projects, and $100 per MWh was the very highest they got. In fact, most were in the $60 dollar range. Remember in 2009, we negotiated a deal for 30 MWs of solar for around $165 per MWh. So that means for Austin Energy solar energy prices got chopped by some 70% between 2010 and 2016 when the latest solar projects get built.

Folks, the news for renewable energy in Texas just keeps getting better. Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director, Lone Star Chapter

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