For a state that loves its earthbound, carbon-based fuels, Texas sure seems to be betting big on mammoth turbines that harness the howling prairie winds. In fact, last year we added more wind-power capacity than any other state.
Texas remains the unequivocal king, with more than twice the installed wind capacity of California, the distant runner up. According to a Department of Energy report, "Texas has more installed wind capacity than all but five countries (including the United States) worldwide."
Apart from occupying the lower half of the windswept Southern Plains, what exactly has attracted "windcatters" to this state? Well, generous tax credits don't hurt. Congress extended through the end of this year a tax credit set to end last December. And the massive $7 billion transmission line project that will carry wind-generated power from the sparsely populated Panhandle and West Texas to the cities will help relieve the electric bottleneck when it's completed this year.
To be sure, the wind rush in Texas has settled into a lower ebb. The state still brought some 1,800 megawatts of wind capacity online last year -- more than any other -- but low natural gas prices and the corresponding electricity market prices have taken their toll on renewables, same as they have on coal and natural gas. But the vitals of this industry are improving. The DOE reports that while the generating capacity of wind turbines is steadily increasing, wind farm project costs continue to fall. A bonus: Most of the components are made in the U.S. now.
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Wind passed a huge milestone last year. For the first time, it was the single biggest source of new electric generation capacity, outpacing coal and natural gas.