Clean Power

Published on September 19th, 2012 | by Nicholas Brown


Wind Power in Texas Keeping Out New Natural Gas Power Plants

September 19th, 2012 by  

CPS Energy CEO Doyle Beneby recently wrote an op-ed blaming wind farms for impeding the commission of new natural gas–fired power stations.

To many, it is difficult to guess why wind farms would make it more difficult to construct gas power plants. Let’s dive in.

Wind Farms Generating Cheap Electricity

Modern wind farms generate electricity at a low-cost of $0.097 per kWh (9.7 cents) without subsidies. (This is an average — as wind speeds at wind farms increase, the cost of wind power decreases because the ratio of power generated to the cost of developing the wind farms decreases. Some wind farms, of course, produce electricity much more cheaply than others.)

Add in subsidies for this young technology, and the price drops further.

Now, additionally, it’s worth noting that, while winds are blowing, wind farms can bid to sell their electricity for about as cheap as they need to — because their fuel is free, so it doesn’t really cost anything extra to produce electricity once the wind farms are built. For this reason, we’ve seen wind farms bring the wholesale cost of electricity down to $0 some nights (yep, $0.00).

In the most recent Fall, Spring, and Winter, wind farms generated such a large amount of cheap electricity in Doyle’s region that they undercut natural gas power plants during all three seasons (although only 2.5% of the time). At wind speeds of 21 mph, the average cost of wind power drops to as little as 2.6 cents per kWh.

Texas is a Wind Power Behemoth

According to Gov. Rick Perry’s officials report (page 10), wind energy growth has been tremendous in Texas and it would rank 6th in the world if Texas was a country, with a total wind electricity generation capacity of 10,394 MW (10.4 GW).

That is almost a quarter of the United States total, which is 46,919 MW.


Wind Farms Don’t Need Much Land

For those concerned about wind farm “sprawl” wasting land, the study also made some good points about that (also on page 10).

Wind farms require as much land as they do because their blades need to be substantially spaced to permit efficient turbine operation. This is why wind farm ground space is mostly unused or farmland, and the blades are literally hundreds of feet above the ground — this is also why wind turbines are fairly quiet.

Most (if not all) wind farms can be used for farming, so the land does not have to be wasted. When the land is put to use, wind turbines end up using the least space of all types of power stations because the only space they actually occupy on land is equal to the width of their towers, which are not very wide.

In other words, most of the mass of a wind turbine is well above ground and out of the way, so the size of wind turbines does not have to be a space issue at all.


The basic conclusions are that wind is so cheap that it is even driving natural gas production out of some areas, and it is extremely efficient when it comes to land use.

Source: My San Antonio
Photo Credit: Paul Moseley, McClatchy-Tribune News Service / Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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About the Author

writes on CleanTechnica, Gas2, Kleef&Co, and Green Building Elements. He has a keen interest in physics-intensive topics such as electricity generation, refrigeration and air conditioning technology, energy storage, and geography. His website is:

  • We take issue with your characterization that Beneby “blamed” wind. Here’s clarification, which includes links to the original op/ed piece and the rebuttal, which also used the word blame:

  • Yes, with time of day pricing, there are times at night when the power “should” be free. Since the suppliers had to pay to put it on the wire. Texas and Germany have been seen this. But is that a problem or a opportunity? Texas peak is for cooling, if you are a biz in Texas, and can have free power at night, why are you still running a air conditional during the day? Super chill/freeze a liquid at night and use that for cooling during the day. The difference between night time rate and peak rate will pay for the “ice” storage very fast. It is just a bump in the road, while we keep storage comes on line.

    • SmartPowerGeneration

      Good point. Negative pricing does indeed open some interesting business opportunities. For instance, in Denmark one utility built a district heating plant that can generate heat both from gas and electricity (project name “Skagen”). They also have a very large heat accumulator included in the plant. This allows them to exploit negative prices for wind power to generate heat and store it in the accumulator. Longer story and more details can be found here:

      Best regards,
      Kimi Arima
      Wärtsilä Power Plants

  • SmartPowerGeneration

    This is all fine and good, we need more wind. But, we have to recognize that wind alone does not constitute a power system. Other forms of power generation, e.g. natural gas, are required to take up the slack when the wind speed is low. But, because wind power is pushing the wholesale price to zero (or even negative, as is already happening in some European countries), all these other plants are losing money. Thus, there’s no incentive to build these other plants. And yet they are needed for the power system to function.

    This is not a zero-sum game. What is needed is a system with proper incentives for both intermittent renewable power generation and dispatchable power generation, such as gas power plants.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Gas plants, used as fill-in for wind, are not going to loose money. If the wind is not blowing then the market will pay gas plant price for their electricity. As long as fill-in gas plants can sell their product for a profit people will build them.

      Even shills for the natural gas industry should realize that.

      When “smartpowergeneration” sponsors are going to be in real trouble is when their price for fill-in power exceeds the cost of stored wind/solar electricity. And that time may be soon arriving.

      But, hey, you gave it a try. You might attempt to disguise your motives a bit more next time….

    • we’re nowhere close to 100% wind, and never will be. the question is more like 50% wind / 10% natural gas or 50% natural gas / 10% wind. (just example #s for demonstration of the point.)

      • SmartPowerGeneration

        Dear Zachary,

        thank you for the reply. I fully agree, the tables should be switched to, as you said, 50% wind / 10% gas. Even IEA noted in one of their recent reports that the role of gas in the future will be to provide a backup for wind and solar.

        But: the 10% gas power is not the made up of the same plants we have today. Ask any operator of a combined cycle gas turbine plant, they hate ramping up and down and shutting down and starting up to balance wind (in industry lingo, this is called “cyclic operation”). The reason for this is that a combined cycle gas turbine plant is designed for steady state operation, and cyclic operation dramatically (1) increases operation & maintenance costs; (2) decreases efficiency, and (3) increases emissions (as a result of (2)).

        So, new plants are needed to be better able to function in the role of backup for wind and solar. But, due to the deteriorating effect of price uncertainty on feasibility projections, these new plants are not getting built. Hence the discussions in the UK and Germany, among other countries, for a market mechanism (e.g. capacity payment) to support such backup capacity.

        Kind regards,
        Kimi Arima
        Wärtsilä Power Plants

        • thanks, nice to get the perspective from that side.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Well, the first part of the combined cycle plant ramp up is the gas turbine part and that’s what a gas peaker plant is. Combined cycle uses the waste heat from the gas turbine to build up steam which is then used to run a different turbine.

            Peakers are never going to be as efficient as CCNGs. That’s just how physics works. There will have to be some intelligent operation decisions as to whether it would make sense to do a bit of ‘peaker’ fill-in or go for full CCNG production over a longer amount of time. As we bring battery storage on line we can forego some of the gas peaker runs and then use CCNGs when there are prolonged supply issues that can’t be filled by the storage available.

            The new GE gas plant that is optimized for wind and solar backup may be what utilities need to install as we wait for better storage tech.

            If something like the Ambri battery pans out there’s going to be some serious blood-letting in gas peaker land….

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