Texas Meets Renewable Energy Goals 15 Years Early

Texas has reached its goal of having 10,000 megawatts of renewable energy capacity this year, 15 years earlier than scheduled, thanks to an ample supply of West Texas wind.

According to a report (.doc) filed with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) Friday, the Lonestar State has 10,367 megawatts of renewable energy capacity, and generated 21,594,278 megawatt-hours of clean electricity in 2009.

Ninety-nine percent of those megawatts come from wind power. West Texas has some of the country’s best wind resources, and has experienced explosive wind power development since ERCOT’s renewable energy program was signed into law by then-Governor George W. Bush in 1999.

Under the Texas system, each megawatt-hour of renewable energy generated earns a renewable energy credit (a REC) which can be sold separate from the energy. Most utilities in the state are required to buy and use (“retire”) a certain number of such RECs each year.

But what has been surprising about the Texas experiment is that, because that Texas wind has proved so inexpensive, demand has exceeded what the law requires, fueling a voluntary market in renewable energy credits that is now bigger than the mandated market.

Cheap Texas RECs can also be used out of state, and are traded by companies like Green Mountain Energy, which provides clean energy and carbon offsets to individuals and businesses nationally.

In fact, the voluntary market is so successful Texas may do away with the mandated market altogether, according to Roy McCoy, who directs the renewable energy program for ERCOT. “Sometime around 2015 the mandate may go away, and the market will be strictly voluntary,” he said.

The main obstacle to the growth of renewable energy in Texas now is a lack of transmission lines to get the power from sparsely populated West Texas to the population centers in the East. Last year a $5 billion plan to expand transmission was announced which should help ease the bottleneck.

According to a report (PDF) by the Center for Energy Economics at University of Texas, Austin, another 50,000 Mw of wind power projects are being considered by various developers.

When asked why the Texas renewable energy program has been so successful, McCoy said, in his comfortable Texas twang, “the one big thing is everybody is ready to go for this renewable energy stuff, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”

Hear that, Congress? Straight from the Red heart of Texas. Maybe we can find some compromise on this “climate bill stuff,” too.

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.