In 1901, a field to the south of Beaumont, Texas erupted with the largest oil gusher known at the time. It took nine days to cap the outburst, but once it was under control, Beaumont shot to the front page of every newspaper across the state. As Texas’ first boomtown, Beaumont became a hot destination for aspiring entrepreneurs looking to gain a foothold in the oil industry. Ever since, Texas has been well-known for its oil production, with companies such as Exxon-Mobil and Marathon taking up residence in the region. Even the gone-but-not-forgotten NFL team the Houston Oilers took a cue from the state’s most popular industry.
These days, a similar story is unfolding in the Lone Star State: the development of wind power. Much like oil, wind is harnessed to power homes and businesses all across Texas, but there’s a key difference: Wind power doesn’t come with the burden of all the toxic emissions you hear about with fossil fuels. Wind farms have the capability to take kinetic energy and convert it into mechanical energy with hardly any pollution at all.
Another cool thing about wind energy in Texas is that there’s no centralized location for collection and production. Wind farms – from massive, public operations to small, private fields – stretch across most areas of the state. A lot of the strongest gusts and greatest energy potential exist around the Panhandle, but that’s far from the only region Texas has capitalized on. It’s this holistic mentality that allows Texas to excel as a leader in the industry.
Texas nearly doubles the next closest state in terms of wind power production. If every one of its wind farms were to operate at full capacity, Texas would be able to generate more than 10,000 megawatts. Iowa, which dons the silver medal, would only be able to produce around 4,300 megawatts. The largest wind farm in Texas is the Roscoe Wind Farm, located in west central Texas. It has 627 wind turbines and the capability to power more than 250,000 average homes in Texas.
With the way our society is moving, it seems only logical that Texas will be an integral part in transitioning our large-scale energy production to a more sustainable model. In addition to all the wind power opportunities that Texas provides, it’s also a prime candidate to house the expansion of solar energy. In any case, Texans should be proud of the way their state is headlining the boom of renewable energy.
When it comes to options for renewable energy in Texas, biomass is one of the most traditional choices. Biomass—which is simply plant or animal matter—has been used as an energy source since the earliest humans discovered how to burn wood. Today, biomass is still an energy resource with much to offer.
A renewable energy source with distinctive properties
There are several features of biomass resources that make them distinct from other renewable energy options. For one thing, users of biomass energy do not have to worry about intermittence, as they do with wind and solar energy. The energy in biomass is chemical, so you don’t have to wait for the wind to blow or the sun to shine. Another disti=nct property is that heavy competition already exists in the biomass industry. In fact, Texas’ role as a leading agricultural state means that it is one of the country’s major biomass producers.
Raw biomass comes in many different forms, from wood to animal manure to waste paper. Ancient biomass is even the source for modern fossil fuels. In Texas, waste from the foresting industry is an important form of biomass, and several mills in the state use residues like bark and wood chips to generate their own electricity. Sometimes mills will even sell their excess electricity back to the grid.
When biomass waste is used as an energy source, landfills also benefit, since this waste would otherwise be taking up precious space. It’s obvious that there are many positive results that can come from using biomass as an energy source. However, there are also some other aspects to consider.
Important issues facing biomass users
One of the things to consider when it comes to biomass resources is that many materials which can be burned for fuel can also be used for other applications. According to the InfinitePower.org website (a service of the Texas State Energy Conservation Office), it is unlikely that many biomass resources will be grown solely for fuel—instead, they are likely to still have “at least some valued dual use or co-product.”
Solid biomass can be burned directly to produce energy. However, there have also been advances in the area of biofuels, which are fuels derived from biomass that can be used in specialized engines or other devices. Biofuels include substances like bioethanol, biodiesel, and even vegetable oil in some cases. While biofuels currently provide only a small percentage of the world’s transport fuels, the International Energy Agency claims that biofuels have the potential to meet over 25% of transport fuel demand by 2050.
Stay informed about your renewable energy options
The Infinite Power website serves as a good introduction to different renewable energy options in the state of Texas. You can also see our previous posts on wind energy and solar energy.
One of the benefits of being able to choose your Texas Retail Electric Provider is that you can choose to support renewable energy to whatever extent you want. Retail Electric Providers don’t generate electricity on their own, but it’s easy to find information on how much electricity the provider buys from renewable energy sources (see our post on Electricity Facts Labels for more information).
The history of the CREZ project
In 2008, the Public Utility Commission passed legislation that placed an even greater emphasis on making renewable energy accessible across Texas. Known as “order 33672,” this bill assigned an impressive $4.93 billion to creating more transmission lines from competitive renewal energy zones, or CREZs. CREZs are areas designated by the PUC for the construction of renewable energy facilities.
These projects are to be constructed by seven of the state’s transmission and distribution utilities, and will make it even easier for customers across the state to choose renewable energy options. When the transmission lines are completed, 18,456 megawatts of wind power will be accessible by some of Texas’s most populated metropolitan areas.
Wind power facilities are natural choices for the first designated CREZs, given Texas’s significant amount of wind farms. According to an August 5, 2011 article by the Odessa American, “The wind industry has spurred the revitalization of many small communities, bringing in much-needed jobs and tax revenue when some small towns were all but drying up and blowing away.” However, many of these sources are currently located in remote areas like West Texas and the Texas Panhandle. The CREZ transmission project will make wind-generated electricity available in areas like Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, and San Antonio. As more clean energy is made available to customers across Texas, there are also expected to be benefits to the state’s air quality.
The status of the CREZ project
The build-out of these new transmission lines began in 2011, after ERCOT completed its CREZ Reactive Power Study (which recommended new improvements for controlling and routing renewable energy). The lines are expected to be completed by the end of 2013. However, the state is already seeing benefits from its wind-powered energy sources. During increased electrical demand in the first week of August, wind energy sources were able to provide additional megawatts of power to deal with the emergency (according to the Odessa American).
The best place to find up-to-date information on the CREZ project is at the PUC’s official project page, www.TexasCREZProjects.com. Here readers can find information on the five different Zones, along with information about the state’s different Transmission Service Providers and their projects.
Like wind energy, solar energy is a renewable resource with significant opportunities for future development in the state of Texas. That’s because Texas experiences solar radiation around the state—although West Texas experiences approximately 75% more direct solar radiation than East Texas. In fact, according to the Texas State Energy Conservation Office, Texas ranks first in the nation in solar resource potential.
Solar energy can be used in two different general ways: active or passive.
Active systems collect and store the sun’s energy, and then convert it into either photovoltaic or thermal energy. These systems are typically used for space or water heating.
Passive solar energy is much simpler, and uses the sun’s energy itself for heating and cooling. These systems generally have no mechanical systems and few if any moving parts. Instead, the building materials and setting itself are used to heat and light the building.
There are many steps to taking full advantage of solar energy, and finding the sunniest spot is only one of them. The amount of radiation collected by solar equipment can be increased by 10 to 15% when installed at an angle, rather than horizontally.
Solar power plant generating electricity for consumers have been implemented in certain areas, but the low energy density of solar radiation requires these plants to be significantly bigger than with other forms of renewable energy. For instance, according to the Texas State Energy Conservation Office, “[a] 200 MW solar plant in West Texas would need about 1,300 acres of land.” This means that such solar plants would be more effective in West Texas, where the direct radiation is higher.
In 2007, Austin was designated a Solar America City by the U.S. Department of Energy, and San Antonio received the same designation in 2008. Both of these cities received funds to help integrate solar energy in their cities.
It’s clear that solar energy in Texas holds potential for residents and electricity providers alike, but there are also issues to be worked out before this technology can be embraced on a wider scale. In general, active solar heating systems can only provide 40%-80% of the heating for a home. In many cases, a back-up heating system will be required, and in that case you can rely on a Texas electricity provider with green energy options.
Keep checking back on this site for more important information on Texas electricity providers and options!