Everything is big in Texas, including wind power

Since oil first gushed out of wells there early in the 20th century, Texas has been the biggest U.S. oil producer. And now the mighty winds that blow across the state have made Texas the leader in wind-generated electricity too.

Wind generation has more than doubled in Texas in the past seven years.

The state last year broke records, generating 15,000 megawatts of wind energy. That’s enough to power 3 million homes during peak-demand periods, and nearly three times that number when demand is lower.

Bar graph of increased Texas wind energy (Department of Energy)

It took planning and foresight to turn thin air into a power boom. Laws were passed and investments made to support the development of a wind-energy industry. These are some of them:

  • The Renewable Portfolio Standard, adopted in 1999, requires the state to increase energy production from renewable resources such as wind, solar, geothermal and biomass. (Twenty-nine states have adopted similar standards.)
  • Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZ), which Texas lawmakers created in 2005, encourage a competitive market. Located in the windiest parts of Texas, these areas have the greatest wind-power potential.
  • A $7 billion investment in infrastructure ensured that long-distance transmission lines were ready to move wind-generated electricity to customers.

It helps that Texas has its own power grid — the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT — which delivers power to most of the state. The only state that has its own grid, Texas can invest in it at will. Two primary grids serve other states, and interstate differences can get in the way of building new infrastructure as conflicting regulations and perspectives clash. ERCOT is an independent, nonprofit corporation answerable to the Public Utility Commission of Texas and the Texas legislature.

The future also looks sunny

Sun, like wind, is abundant in the Lone Star State and, consequently, the state is looking to expand solar-energy generation.

Several solar projects already are electrifying communities in Austin and elsewhere. Major companies, including FedEx Corporation, Target Corporation and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., have installed photovoltaic projects at their stores that generate electricity directly from sunlight.

Aerial view of delivery trucks parked beside large building with solar panels covering roof (FedEx)
FedEx is one of several large U.S. companies using renewable energy. These solar panels are on the roof of its Dallas hub. (FedEx)

Some cities in Texas are going even further. The town of Denton plans to get nearly all of its electricity from the sun, wind and other renewables.