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PUC Official: Cut Subsidies for Texas Wind Energy

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    The chairwoman of the Public Utility Commission of Texas says federal subsidies for wind energy must be curtailed and developers should pay to strengthen the grid that brings wind power to market.

    In a memo to fellow commissioners last week, Donna Nelson said renewable energy like wind and solar are "mature industries" that don't require further extensions of federal tax credits.

    She says wind developers in Texas should "have skin in the game" in improving the delivery of their electricity.

    Just a few years ago the PUC mapped routes for $6.9 billion in transmission lines to deliver wind power from the Panhandle and other part of West Texas to cities in Central Texas, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

    Natural gas was responsible for 45.5 percent of energy generated in Texas in 2007, while wind produced 2.9 percent. But by last year natural gas had dropped to 40.5 percent and wind had grown to 9.9 percent.

    In a sign of the trend, the national wind energy industry in 2010 received 42 percent of electricity production subsidies and support while natural gas received 5.5 percent.

    The shift by the PUC reflects efforts among conservatives nationally to cut federal investments in renewable energy.

    "This is part of a full-court press nationwide to roll back renewable energy," Russel Smith, head of the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association, told the American-Statesman. "Rolling back all government support for renewable energy ignores the obvious -- that all energy sources have and continue to receive governmental support in one form and another."

    Texas leads the country in wind energy production, largely due to Republican support dating to when then-Gov. George W. Bush signed a 1999 law mandating utilities get a portion of their energy from renewable sources.

    But Nelson says ratepayers are being saddled with the cost to deliver those renewable sources.

    "Should we ask electric customers to fund further investment in the (wind) transmission system to improve stability or should some of the risk be borne by generators?" she wrote in her memo.