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  • Sunday, January 30, 2011


    Why Texas Is Using More Coal, Wind and Less Gas
    Kate Galbraith, January 25, 2011 (Texas Tribune)

    "…[L]ast year, nearly 8 percent of the power on [Texas]'s electric grid was generated by wind. That's more than three times the national average. And because Texas recently added several coal-generating units, coal plants — for the first time in recent memory — produced more power than any other electricity source. Nuclear power's contribution held about steady, at 13 percent of generation.

    "The big loser was natural gas. While natural gas is abundant in Texas, less polluting than coal and substantially cheaper than it was jut a few years ago, it is also easily replaced by the wind. The percentage of power on the grid generated from natural gas dropped from 42 percent in 2009 to 38 percent in 2010; coal, at 39.5 percent, slightly edged it out. Since at least 1990, natural gas has generated more electricity than coal in Texas…Hot weather and the recovering economy caused Texans to use more power overall…"

    click to enlarge

    "Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Texas figures centers on the relationship between natural gas and wind power…Texas has nearly three times as much wind capacity in place as the next-closest state…The recent growth (from 6.2 percent of the Texas grid's generation in 2009 to 7.8 percent last year) came despite well-documented transmission-line constraints in West Texas, home to the vast majority of the state's wind capacity. There, some wind turbines sometimes get shut down even when the wind is blowing, because there is not enough room on the wires …

    "Much of the new wind has come from a different part of Texas — along the Gulf coast in the south…The state has planned $5 billion worth of other transmission lines to remedy the congestion in West Texas…Wind goes onto the grid before natural gas because the "fuel" of the wind is free, unlike that of natural gas plants — so it costs nothing to add more wind to the grid, when the wind is available. Gas units are also relatively easy to turn on and off — making it a good complement to the vagaries of wind power…"

    Volatility, a problem. (click to enlarge)

    "The long-term drop in the share of natural gas on the Texas grid — as recently as 2002, gas accounted for 46 percent — contrasts to the rest of the country. Nationally, reliance on gas has increased (from 18 percent in 2002 to 23 percent in 2009), while the share of coal generation has dropped, from 50 percent in 2002 to 45 percent in 2009. The reasons for this difference are rooted in history: Decades ago, Texas depended nearly entirely on natural gas for its electricity while many other states built coal plants…Texas did not begin building coal plants until the 1970s and 1980s…so while some of natural gas plants here may be older and closer to retirement, Texas' coal generators are newer and sturdier…

    "Natural gas could regain some of its share…Electricity use on the Texas grid at peak hours — meaning hot summer afternoons — is projected to increase by 37 percent by 2030…Coal plants, which are under fire from environmentalists unless they put in expensive new technologies to capture and bury carbon dioxide, may be tough to build…Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst…has proposed phasing out old coal plants and replacing them with gas-fired generation. Tom "Smitty" Smith, the Texas head of the environmental advocacy group Public Citizen, said he endorsed this idea…Meanwhile, wind will continue to grow. Smitherman noted that the state-planned $5 billion transmission line build-out, which is proceeding, should nearly double the wind-energy capacity…"


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