Politics & Government

Texas' wind power boom could head for bust if Congress doesn't extend tax credit

Texas remains the runaway leader in wind-power generation capacity among the 50 states.

While only ninth in wind generation added during 2011, with 297 megawatts, it has nearly triple that amount under construction this year, the American Wind Energy Association said Thursday.

Association officials and wind industry executives said in a conference call that 2012 looks like a big year for added wind generation. But 2013 and beyond could be disastrous if Congress fails to quickly approve an extension of a federal production tax credit for wind power, they say.

If the credit isn't extended, wind industry jobs are likely to be "cut in half," association CEO Denise Bode said.

Greg Wortham, executive director of the Texas Wind Energy Clearinghouse, said that if the credit isn't extended, Texas companies in the wind-equipment manufacturing and supply sectors will have to let many employees go because "they'll just have no work, no order books for 2013."

Wortham is also mayor of the West Texas wind-energy hub of Sweetwater, whose economy, thanks to wind-power development, "is probably more bustling than it ever has been," he said in a telephone interview Thursday.

The wind association said Texas is still the nation's wind-generation powerhouse, with 10,377 megawatts of capacity, far ahead of No. 2 Iowa (4,322 megawatts) and No. 3 California (3,927). The U.S. installed 6,810 megawatts of wind capacity in 2011, increasing total capacity by 17 percent, to 46,919 megawatts.

Texas has 857 megawatts under construction this year, second only to Kansas, the association said. But Kansas had less than one-eighth of Texas' installed capacity at the end of 2011.

Critics of wind energy note that West Texas and the Panhandle --home to most of the state's wind farms -- don't have much wind on blazing-hot summer afternoons when electricity demand peaks in Texas. Some members of Congress want to halt large subsidies for wind and solar power.

Renewable-energy proponents suggest pairing wind and solar farms, since the sun generally shines on hot summer days, even if the wind isn't blowing.

Texas set a wind-power generation peak record of 7,400 megawatts Oct. 7, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the operator of the power grid for most of the state. Most came from West Texas and the Panhandle, but 967 megawatts were generated along the Gulf Coast.

That record is equivalent to 11 percent of the record peak-power demand of 68,379 megawatts in the ERCOT region Aug. 3.

Bode said that she believes that Congress will extend the production tax credit, but that it is imperative for lawmakers to act soon to give wind companies time to plan projects for 2013 and beyond.

If Congress waits until year's end, it could cost tens of thousands of wind-related jobs, so "there's an incredible urgency" to act, Bode said.

To read more, visit www.star-telegram.com.