A Free-Market Energy Blog

Texas Wind Power: The Beginning (1993)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- July 18, 2023

“Another factor [for the inaugural project] is a new federal tax credit of 1.5 cents per kilowatt hour on wind power that begins Jan. 1. There was an earlier federal subsidy that fueled the first boom, but it expired in 1985.”

“Wind Farm Awaits State’s Go-Ahead,” read the title of a Houston Chronicle business article (November 18, 1993). The state’s first major wind power project was timed to receive the brand new federal Production Tax Credit enacted in the Energy Policy Act of 1992 (1.5 cent/kWh, inflation-adjusted).

Note the following:

  • This is on government land.
  • A government agency is making the long-term sales commitment.
  • The Production Tax Credit is crucial.
  • The company putting in the turbines would declare bankruptcy in 1996, leaving Enron Wind (formerly Zond Corp) as the major U.S. company.

This project and many more to follow are responsible for the Great Texas Blackout of February 2021 and the conservation orders since. Thus the wounding of the Texas grid was 25 years in the making.

The full article (not available on line) is reproduced below.

The state’s first commercial-sized wind farm, planned for the mountain ridges west of the Pecos, is expected to win approval today from the directors of the Lower Colorado River Authority.

The farm is designed to produce 50 megawatts of power, about as much as one of the authority’s dams on the Colorado River and would consist of 138 to 150 wind turbines. They would start churning in mid-1996.

U.S. Windpower, a California firm that is the apparent successful bidder to erect the turbines, confirmed that it is negotiating with private landowners who hold the windiest sites.

Dale Osborn, vice president of Windpower’s parent company, Kennetech, declined to pinpoint the location of the wind farm because of these negotiation.

However, spokesmen for the Texas General Land Office said the location would be somewhere between Van Horn and Guadalupe Mountains National Park, probably closer to the park than to the city.

A wind map produced by the U.S. Department of Energy indicates the the area has the highest sustained average natural wind speed in the state. There are smaller spots with high wind velocity but the only sufficient speed are in the Panhandle and along the Gulf Coast.

The complicated arrangement being worked out in Austin calls for U.S. Windpower to acquire either the land–from 2,000 to 3,000 acres–or easements and transfer them to the General School Fund,, which would lease them to the wind farm, said Don Cook of the land office.

The river authority would buy the electrical power from the wind farm, to be built and owned by U.S. Windpower. The authorities would use 20 megawatts of power and sell the remaining 30 megawatts to other utilities.

Mark Rose, general manager of the river authority, sees the project as only a beginning. “Ultimately, we think it could grow to 250 megawatts. We think that wind is reliable technology. If a medium-sized utility can look at it, we think it is worthy of consideration by a big one like Houston Lighting and Power,” Rose said.

The industry is on the edge of a boom because turbines are cheaper, more efficient, and more reliable than the comparable machines of the early 1980s, when there was a burst of interest, said Jay W. Carter Jr., majority owner of Carter Wind Turbines, a turbine manufacturer base in Burkburnett.

Another factor is a new federal tax credit of 1.5 cents per kilowatt hour on wind power that begins Jan. 1. There was an earlier federal subsidy that fueled the first boom, but it expired in 1985.

Carter’s firm, which dates to 1976, has been selling most of its turbines in Europe, with 11 installed in England since February. His turbines are different because they use two blades instead of the more common three blades. But they are big–80 feet across on towers 160 feet tall.

Three of these have been churning since April 1992 on the eastern edge of Amarillo. They are owned by Southwestern Public Service in a $11 million demonstration project 60 percent funded by the state.

About 4 percent of the Texas Panhandle’s land area theoretically could supply 100 percent of the state’s electrical needs, according to Carter. And cows still could graze on the 4 percent, he adds.

So far, the only real complaint is that the highest winds occur in the spring, while peak demand for electricity occurs in the summer, when air conditioners and irrigation pumps kick in, said Steve Jones, in charge of the project for Southwestern Public Service.

There was damage from lightning strikes the first year, but that problem has been largely solved by grounding, he said.

Texas Utilities Electric in Dallas has begun installing three of the Carter wind turbines in an energy park just north of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, said spokeswoman Kathi Miller.

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