Two years ago energy baron T. Boone Pickens had visions of building the world’s largest wind farm in the Texas Panhandle, starting with a $2 billion order of wind turbines from General Electric (s GE). That project was put on hold indefinitely last year, but there are new details on it from the Dallas Morning News this morning: Pickens’ Mesa Power will still buy the turbines from GE, but the order has been cut by more than half (to 300 turbines, down from 667) and will now go toward wind projects it plans to build in Canada and Minnesota.
This latest change of plans highlights a choke point for renewable energy projects: transmission. (See GigaOM Pro’s “Renewable Energy Charging Up Electrical Transmission Tech,” sub. req’d.) According to the Dallas Morning News, Pickens said yesterday at an America’s Future Series event in Texas that the Panhandle will not have transmission lines to carry electricity from the project when he’s slated to begin taking deliveries of the turbines next year. After transmission lines get built, he said he will also build a wind farm in the region, but it’s unclear when or how big that might be.
Texas leads the nation in wind power, boasting large stretches of windswept rural plains and a regulatory environment that can fast-track wind projects. Yet drawing that power from remote areas to more populated regions is both expensive (a 2008 report estimated the state could spend between $2.95 billion and $6.38 billion building new transmission lines) and time-consuming.
The high price shouldn’t come as a surprise to Pickens. Back in 2008, he said he’d be willing to spend another $2 billion building transmission lines for the Texas project (originally envisioned with a 4,000-megawatt capacity) so he wouldn’t have to wait for the state or a utility. Well, that was before the debt markets cramped his style.
Now we’ll see if Pickens can get his wind farms built up north in the shorter term and in Texas over the longer term. But as he put it on Living on Earth ,”[E]verything has gotta happen fast for me, because I’m 80 years old.” In the wind business, it looks like there are some things even a billionaire energy baron can’t buy. Swift transmission construction is one of them.
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