Worth reading: two articles on Texas blackouts

Among the many articles written (and still more to come) in the wake of last week's rolling blackouts in Texas are two well worth reading.

The first, by Eli Kintisch of Science magazine, is entitled "When Wind Is Reliable: Turbines Help Texans Avoid the Dark," touches on the fact that wind energy provided 3,500 MW to 4,000 MW during the worst of the Feb. 2 power shortage, and adds, "There's also a cost issue there: wind variability is generally fairly predictable, so so-called nonspinning reserves can be deployed to react when wind power resources are expected to produce less. (For example, a small gas plant can start up in 10 to15 minutes if wind capacity is dropping.) By contrast, power operators must maintain more expensive 'spinning reserves' at power plants to be able to respond to big, unexpected shutdowns of coal, gas, or nuclear plants."

The second, "The Curious Case of the Texas Wind Industry," is from the Americans for Energy Leadership blog and is authored by Christopher Head. It describes the remarkable job that Texas decision makers have done in propelling the state to its current position of national leadership in wind energy: "Texas has managed to create a favorable policy environment by streamlining regulatory processes, tapping into rural development concerns, and supporting transmission and distribution projects, all of which allow investors to confidently sink money into utility-scale electricity generation projects." The results are clear. In 2005, Texas's legislature passed a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) requiring the installation of 5,880 MW of wind by 2015 and 10,000 MW by 2025. As of the end of 2010, the Lone Star State had already surpassed the 2025 goal (!), with 10,085 MW of wind capacity in place.

Increasingly, Texas stands as the national example of what wind energy is capable of, both in terms of rapid installation of new generating equipment and in terms of its potential to supply clean, affordable, homegrown electricity (in 2010, wind generated 7.8% of the electricity used in the service territory of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, ERCOT, which covers the bulk of the state). It's a remarkable achievement for a state with a large economy (as large as Russia's or India's) that has long symbolized the production and use of fossil fuels. If it can happen in Texas, clearly, it can happen in America as a whole.

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