Galbraith reports that “the cost of building thousands of miles of transmission lines to carry wind power across Texas is now estimated at $6.79 billion, a 38 percent increase from the initial projection three years ago.” What will that mean for the state’s ratepayers? Higher electricity bills. Before the end of the year, the companies building the transmission lines are expected to begin applying for “rate recovery.” The result, writes Galbraith, will be charges that “could amount to $4 to $5 per month on Texas electric bills, for years.”
Imagine what the state’s grid might look like if Texas, which produces about 30 percent of America’s gas, had spent its money on natural-gas-fired electricity instead of wind. The latest data from the Energy Information Administration shows that wind-generated electricity costs about 50 percent more than that produced by natural-gas-fired generators. Thus, not only would Texas consumers be saving money on their electric bills, the state government would be earning more royalties from gas produced and consumed in the state.
Further, consider what might be happening had the state kept the $6.79 billion it’s now spending on wind-energy transmission lines and instead allocated it to new natural-gas-fired generators. The latest data from the Energy Information Administration show that building a megawatt of new wind capacity costs $2.43 million — that’s up by 21 percent over the year-earlier costs — while a new megawatt of gas-fired capacity costs a bit less than $1 million, a drop of 3 percent from year-earlier estimates.
Under that scenario, Texas could have built 6,900 megawatts of new gas-fired capacity for what the state is now spending on wind-related transmission lines alone. Even if we assume the new gas-fired units were operating at just 50 percent of their design capacity, those generators would still be capable of providing far more reliable juice to the grid than what is being derived from the state’s wind turbines during times of peak demand.
Unfortunately, none of those scenarios have played out. Instead, Texas ratepayers are being forced to pay billions for wind-generation and transmission capacity that is proving to be ultra-expensive and redundant at a time when the state’s thirst for electricity is breaking records.
A final point: Keep in mind that the Lone Star wind boondoggle is not the result of Democratic rule. Environmentalists have never gained much purchase at the Texas capitol. In fact, the state hasn’t had a Democrat in statewide office since Bob Bullock retired as lieutenant governor, and Garry Mauro retired from the General Land Office, back in 1999. That same year, Gov. George W. Bush signed legislation that created a renewable-energy mandate in the state.
What about Rick Perry, a politico who frequently invokes his support for the free market? In 2005, he signed a mandate requiring the state to have at least 6,000 megawatts of renewable capacity by 2015. Perry’s support has been so strong that a wind-energy lobbyist recently told the New York Times that the governor, who’s now a leading contender for the White House, has “been a stalwart in defense of wind energy in this state, no question about it.”
And during his last election campaign, Sen. John Cornyn, one of the Senate’s most conservative members, ran TV ads showing pretty pictures of — what else? — wind turbines.