Wind power blows past coal in Texas
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Wind power blows past coal in Texas

By Ryan Maye Handy / Chron.

Photo: Michael Paulsen
A thick cloud of fog and morning light engulfs several 285ft tall 2.5 MW Clipper wind turbines at the BP Sherbino Mesa II Wind Farm, Monday, Feb. 20, 2012, in Fort Stockton. After cutting its solar program ... more

Wind power, by one important measure, surpassed coal last week to become the second-largest electricity source in Texas, yet another milestone in the state's march toward greater reliance on renewable energy.

When a 155-megawatt wind farm in West Texas began commercial operation this month, it pushed the state's wind power capacity to more than 20,000 megawatts, surpassing 19,800 megawatts of capacity from coal-fired power plants, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which oversees 90 percent of the state's grid. One megawatt is enough to power 200 homes on a hot Texas day.

While ERCOT still gets most of its power from natural gas and coal, wind power generation now accounts for 15 percent of the power mix — up from just 2 percent a decade ago.

The imminent shutdown of three coal-fired power plants owned by Dallas-based Vistra Energy and the loss of their 4,000 megawatts of capacity will further tip the scales in wind's favor, said Joshua Rhodes, a research fellow at the University of Texas' Energy Institute in Austin. In October, Vistra announced the pending shutdowns of its Monticello, Big Brown and Sandow coal plants, triggering the loss of more than 800 jobs and the closure of two coal mines. The shutdown of the Vistra plants are the first retirements of coal-fired power plants since Texas deregulated power markets in 2002.

"We are used to seeing wind numbers add, add, add," Rhodes said. "We are not used to seeing coal plants' numbers decreasing."

Texas power mix

Natural gas capacity: 45,800 MW
Wind power capacity: 20,102 MW
Coal capacity: 19,800 MW

Source: ERCOT


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