Stuck in middle of fight over clean energy

The Supreme Court halted President Obama’s Clean Power Plan requirements for now, but a recent survey of Texans showed broad support across party lines for the state to create a comprehensive clean energy plan, even if the federal government doesn’t.

For the wind- and solar-rich Texas Panhandle, this could mean investment in the region to meet renewable energy goals or it could mean an energy isolation of the area.

The study, conducted by a Republican research firm, polled 801 residents for the Texas Clean Energy Coalition and found that 85 percent of Texans would support a clean energy plan regardless of whether the court overturns the Clean Power Plan. Republicans were 81 percent in favor, and Democrats were 89 percent in favor.

Whether the plan is driven by popular opinion or federal fiat, experts in the field agree that the Texas Panhandle could benefit from any renewable energy requirements.

“We do have great resources for renewable energy here—not only the best wind resources in the country, but also great solar resources,” said Wes Reeves, spokesman for Xcel Energy in the Texas-New Mexico region. “These installations enhance the value of rural land and just in speaking with farmers and ranchers, they are always interested in looking for new revenue sources by having wind turbines or panels on their land.”

In 2015, Southwestern Public Service, Xcel’s service provider for West Texas and New Mexico, utilized wind in 18.5 percent of its energy mix. The utility also used 43.6 percent coal, 37.3 percent natural gas and a portion of solar. By 2020, Xcel hopes to draw 22 percent of its electricity from wind.

Using state numbers, the Environmental Defense Fund estimated that Texas is on track to achieve 88 percent of the goals of the Clean Power Plan through market forces already in play. The EDF counts deregulation of the energy market in 1995 and West Texas wind to be two important market forces.

“In Texas, there’s a lot of the goals that have been set forth in the Clean Power Plan being met here in the Panhandle,” said Adam Young, lab director at the Wind Turbine Test Lab at West Texas A&M University. “We are one of the major contributors to clean energy, but I would like to see more companies come to the Texas Panhandle to produce items that are used in the turbines.”

Texas counts eight wind energy farms in the Panhandle’s Competitive Renewable Energy Zones toward their renewable energy sources.

A majority of the state is on a separate electrical grid, called the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, and much of the Panhandle is connected to the southern region of the Southwest Power Pool, which connects into the eastern grid.

“The advantage we have here in the Panhandle is not being electrically connected to the rest of the state and being served by one of the cleanest utilities in the area; Xcel Energy is very cognizant of renewable energy,” said Ken Starcher, instructor of engineering, computer science and math and a former associate director of the Alternative Energy Institute at WT. “The trouble is that now, with the new extension of the (transmission) lines, wind turbines here in the Panhandle are not electrically affecting us here. They are going downstate.”

The Southwest Power Pool and ERCOT do not connect with each other, which effectively isolates the Texas Panhandle from the rest of the state in terms of electricity, but connects it to New Mexico, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas.

In the Clean Power Plan, states can decide whether to allow interstate trading of carbon allowances or emission rate credits. A state could choose to trade either or choose not to trade.

Analysts at Southwest Power Pool looked at a regional approach to implementing the Clean Power Plan among just the Southwest Power Pool states and concluded that compliance would be 40 percent less costly when the grid could trade emissions allowances between borders.

“If the entire nation said all states are trading-ready and everyone should meet mass targets, then we would have a national trading market,” said Kelsea Allen, senior engineer in the economic planning department at Southwest Power Pool. “(But) the Panhandle would have very limited options with how they would comply if Texas was prescribed (a plan).”

Since the Texas Panhandle is connected to four other states through the Southwest Power Pool, it would be able to trade through the grid. However, if Texas did not allow interstate trading, then the Panhandle would not be able to sell allowances or credits from its abundance of renewable energy, because it is not connected to the state’s energy grid.

Reeves did say that there was an opportunity, though. The Western Interconnection, Eastern Interconnection and Texas grid all converge around Clovis, N.M., and the potential Tres Amigas SuperStation nearby would connect all three grids.

“It’s been delayed, but the concept is that because we are at a crossroads, there should be a way to help develop renewable energy and move it among those grids,” Reeves said. “We move a little energy between the states, but the (Texas) grid is not connected to the other two and are not under federal jurisdiction because they don’t cross state lines.”

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