There's more trouble brewing in Texas. Just months after the chairwoman of the state's public utility commission issued a scathing anti-wind memo, Texas Comptroller Susan Combs has released a report arguing that wind power should no longer receive state subsidies and is too intermittent. The Wind Coalition, meanwhile, says the report is ‘transparently biased’ and inaccurate.
‘Rather than be called a research report, her document is better considered Combs' opinions on wind,’ contends Jeff Clark, executive director of The Wind Coalition. The group says Combs has been a vocal opponent of wind energy and is using the report to push her anti-renewables agenda.
The controversial report is titled "Texas Power Challenge: Getting the Most from Your Energy Dollars." In a recent press release announcing the report, Combs says, ‘It's time for wind to stand on its own two feet. Billions of dollars of tax credits and property tax limitations on new generation helped grow the industry, but today, they give it an unfair market advantage over other power sources.’
In a lengthy letter response to Combs, Clark argues that Texas wind power has not been subsidized nearly as long as its fossil-fuel competitors have and receives far less in subsidies than do oil and natural gas. He points to a 2008 report from the comptroller's office, itself, showing that the Texas oil and gas industry received 99.6% of state and local incentives.
Nonetheless, Clark says, "Because many of the incentives available to other energy producers help us achieve our national goals of providing abundant and affordable power to our economy, I am not – and would not – call for an end to the subsidies that wind's competitors receive. That said, I do believe it is time for an end to hypocritical attacks on wind's tax support, especially when presented under the official seal of our state's chief revenue officer."
Comb's report also takes aim at the state's Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZ) transmission build-out, saying CREZ is a costly subsidy for wind. The CREZ lines are designed to carry about 18.5 GW of Texas wind power from remote areas to highly populated regions.
In her press release, Combs points out how the price of the CREZ project jumped from less than $5 billion to nearly $7 billion. Citing stats from the Public Utility Commission of Texas, she says the average household in Texas will have to pay between $70 and $100 annually for up to 20 years in order to pay for the CREZ investment.
Clark, however, maintains that CREZ was a necessary upgrade that helps stabilize the state's grid and provides cheap power from wind and other resources across the state.
"CREZ is bringing low-cost power to the state's consumers, and in a helpful and unexpected twist, CREZ is providing electricity to power the boom in West Texas," he notes. "This area has seen electricity demand, driven by oil and gas drilling, grow five to six percent per year.
"Today, power is being generated inexpensively in the part of the state where it is needed and delivered by CREZ to benefit our state's booming oil and gas sector," he continues. "That's an economic benefit surely you can appreciate."
He also claims CREZ is singled out in the report; meanwhile, the report did not reference any other recent transmission projects or the 40,000 miles of older transmission lines. "We've never referred to those power lines, also paid for by consumers, as a subsidy for coal, gas, nuclear or other forms of electric generation," notes Clark.
Combs further argues that wind power is too intermittent and says it should be the clean energy industry's duty to develop energy storage. Her press release says, "Heavy investment in Texas wind generation, directly subsidized by large federal tax credits and school property tax exemptions, has produced thousands of megawatts of West Texas wind capacity that generates plenty of power at night when demand is lowest. Those turbines, however, produce little energy when Texans need it most, during hot summer afternoons.
"Because of this, wind generation must be backed up by flexible natural gas generation that can be ramped-up quickly when light winds fail to align with peak demand," the release continues. "State policy has encouraged this wind development and provided a transmission system that is underutilized much of the time."
Regarding wind's variability, Clark says the report has "missed the mark entirely."
"While mass electric storage will be a revolutionary development, it is not needed for renewable resources to contribute to our energy supply, particularly in a state with other abundant energy resources, especially natural gas," he writes, later adding, "The system works and the system is reliable, while electricity prices have been falling."
Besides trying to debunk the report's main claims, Clark also says that the document fails to point out that wind power, which now makes up about 10% of Texas' electricity supply, has an array of benefits. Such perks include long-term prices, reduced emissions and water conservation.
Perhaps most important to the comptroller, though, should be that wind power has major financial benefits. According to Clark, wind has attracted more than $26 billion of investment in Texas. He notes that $15 billion of that was partly incentivized by the Chapter 313 program, which allows local school districts to offer companies property tax abatements.
In his letter, Clark says Combs should not use her position to lobby against wind power and requests that she formally withdraw the report and have it further reviewed. The full letter is available here.