Texas Could Spend up to $6.4B on Transmission Lines

Texas likes getting energy from wind, but drawing that power from the middle of nowhere in West Texas to more populated regions is going to be expensive. Despite the hefty price tag, construction on new transmission lines should begin by the end of 2009.

The Public Utility Commission of Texas met today to discuss a report released last week by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), outlining the costs and possibilities for constructing the new lines. According to that report, the state could spend between $2.95 billion and $6.38 billion building new transmission lines.

Part of the problem is the sheer size of the state. Miles of wire and substations are required along the way. Another issue is the variability of wind power. It’s a complex issue and ERCOT looked at four different transmission strategies.

The first included adding to the existing transmission system, which could expose the system to overloads because the existing substations might not be able to handle large influxes of power generated by wind. A second approach, more incremental build-out, could take care of the overloads, but would require more infrastructure. A third option involved fairly costly high-voltage lines. And the fourth would rely on high-voltage, direct-current lines, which, though efficient, would require special equipment at the substations to convert power to alternate current for use in homes and businesses.

Now that ERCOT has studied the various ways additional transmission capacity could be constructed, it’s up to the Public Utility Commission (PUC) of Texas to determine which scenario it will choose. Today, the PUC decided to hold hearings related to the report in April or May, with a final decision on the new routes and makeup of the transmission lines to come in late June or early July.

Interested vendors will then file applications with the state and work to secure right of way and clear other impediments to construction. More hearings may be necessary if landowners don’t want transmission lines near their properties or homes. Luckily much of West Texas is rural, so the process should be easier than building new lines through downtown Dallas.