The state's biggest power grid says electricity provided by wind farms hit a record at 10:21 a.m. Nov. 10, when 8,521 megawatts made it to transmission lines. Lest the achievement draw uncritical cheers, however, along come the free-marketers at the Texas Public Policy Foundation in Austin to point out that big wind means big taxpayer subsidies.
According to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which serves most of the state, wind power at its peak on Nov. 10, a Saturday, accounted for 25.9 percent of all electricity demand, which was at a relatively low 36,423 megawatts. The Wind Coalition, an industry group, also notes that wind power topped 6,800 megawatts the entire day and capped a three-day run that saw wind power remain near or above 5,000 megawatts. The previous record for wind power to the grid was 8,368 megawatts, hit on June 19 and again Nov. 9, the coalition said. As a percentage of electricity demand on ERCOT, the Nov. 10 share was just about triple wind's typical share, which was 8.5 percent for all of 2011, according to ERCOT data.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation sees another number: $22, as in the federal production tax credit for every megawatt-hour of wind power put on the grid. That means for, say, that three-day run when wind topped 5,000 megawatts, wind drew at least $7.92 million in subsidy (72 hours x 5,000 megawatts x $22 per megawatt-hour). In their November report, researchers Bill Peacock and Josiah Neeley figure wind's federal production tax credit in Texas at $597 million last year alone, even after accounting for the PTC's 10-year limit. Using past figures and making projections for future years, the report comes up with more than $4 billion in wind subsidies for the 10-year period from 2006 to 2015.
-- Jim Fuquay
Editor's note: Since there have been some interesting comments on this, here's a link to the March 2012 report by the Congressional Budget Office on federal energy subsidies. The Star-Telegram also published a rebuttal from the American Wind Energy Association on Nov. 28, which likewise has drawn a number of comments. A link to that item is here.