By New Year's Day, the network of transmission lines that comprise Texas' "Competitive Renewable Energy Zone" [CREZ] will be fully operational, bringing electricity from wind turbines in West Texas and the Panhandle to points east. Many of the lines are already active (and have contributed to record-breaking percentages of Texas electricity coming from wind), but the Jan. 1 deadline is cause for celebration among those who have long prided Texas' role as a leader in wind power.
“I like to compare it to something like the highway for electricity,” Russell Smith, Executive Director of the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association, told StateImpact Texas.
Just like it took a network of roads to usher in the age of the automobile, Smith hopes the CREZ transmission system will encourage further investment in renewables. He envisions a West Texas "where you have solar available in the daytime and on-peak, and wind in the evening and at night. Plus some natural gas backup and probably some large scale storage out there."
"It’s going to be a very robust system,” Smith added.
But just as this infrastructure to carry wind power is completed, the expiration of federal tax credits for wind projects could hinder investment.
"It will have an impact," Smith says.
Though Smith still thinks lawmakers will renew wind-friendly policies in 2014.
"I’ve got to believe that’s true. Otherwise, I guess I would be ready to give this up," he says. "But I do believe that our leaders will figure this out.”
If renewable energy sources aren't filling up real estate on the new transmission lines, traditional fossil fuels may.
“If all the capacity is not needed for renewable power then fossil fuel generated power could be delivered. Such as natural gas," Terry Hadley, a spokesperson for the Texas Public Utility Commission tells StateImpact Texas.
The lines are paid for by a fee tacked on to energy bills. Hadley says Texans in the parts of the state managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas will end up paying about seven dollars more a month for at least the next several years.