Texas wind power lags as high-pressure system looms over the state

Texas wind turbines dropped to just 8% of their potential output this week.

By Gabriella YbarraJuly 15, 2022 1:30 pm,

Texas wind power slowed down this week after a high-pressure system bringing triple-digit temperatures depressed winds.

While Texas is the biggest wind power state in the U.S., wind turbines tend to generate less energy during high-heat events. But it comes as the demand for reliable energy is exceedingly high. This week, the state’s turbines produced only 8% of their potential output.

Brian Eckhouse has been reporting on this for Bloomberg. He joined us to talk about Texas’ wind output and how it’s impacting the state energy grid. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited for clarity:

Texas Standard: Can you tell us more about what the state’s current wind output is looking like?

Brian Eckhouse: Yeah, absolutely. Wind, as you mentioned, has suffered at times during the really excessive heat wave in Texas. It’s been an issue particularly during midday on Monday; wind was down pretty sharply. Thankfully for the state, solar is very strong there, and there is more solar power being added in the state. But given that Texas has really become the predominant state in the country for wind, when wind power is down, when people are cranking their ACs in this heat wave, it can be an issue.

What then happens when you have lower wind production during high-heat events? What happens with the power grid, and how do they recover?

There are many factors that are going on right now. First, solar power was pretty robust earlier in the week, and that’s a factor. The state power grid operator, ERCOT, when things are really strained can call on other resources to go and fill the gap. On Wednesday, wind was low midday like it had been on Monday, but then it got pretty robust in the late afternoon and helped the state grid operator get through some pretty nervous moments. Wind was not the only culprit this week: Other fossil fuel plants had issues this week. ERCOT on Wednesday reported that there was a higher-than-normal number of plants in the fossil area that were down. So, it’s not just a wind story.

Of course, this has a political component because Republican politicians in Texas have long argued that wind power is unreliable, especially during high-temperature events, and is a liability to the state’s power grid. What’s your take on those claims?

It’s very clear that wind power can be lower when there’s these high-pressure systems over the state. And, meteorologists and forecasters can plan for that. It’s a known fact that wind can suffer in these conditions. But wind and solar have been blamed before in the state. Wind was a very easy culprit during the storm last year that led to several days of outages around Texas, and it became very clear later on that the bigger culprit was gas, not wind. Wind was a culprit, but not the biggest culprit.

Recent reports say renewables like wind have been bailing out Texas’ power grid. But as climate change continues to be an issue and it becomes more common for us to experience changes in weather patterns, like stalled high-pressure systems, how can we expect state grid operators to pick up the slack in the future?

It’s a very good question, and I think the answer is still kind of to be determined. Texas has historically been a state that has had all kinds of resources. Rick Perry, when he was governor, very famously welcomed the wind. He wanted every kind of resource to be strong in the state, and he wanted the state to be welcoming to that. It’s not an accident that Texas is becoming one of the biggest hubs of solar power right now. It’s already by far the biggest wind power state. Obviously, it’s an oil and gas hub. So, I would imagine that ERCOT would probably lean on all of these resources in the years to come to try to make sure that there’s enough power to meet demand in these high heat and cold days.

But it’s more than just the heat and the weather that are a challenge to ERCOT, right?

Yeah, absolutely. The state is getting more and more residents. It’s getting more and more businesses. [Gov. Greg] Abbott clearly has tried to recruit companies and has done a very good job of doing so. And it’s happening at a time when the state’s also becoming a hub for Bitcoin mining. So, we’re definitely seeing more power demand in the state. And as heat waves and historic cold fronts come in during the winters and summers, the state is definitely facing power crunches at various times.

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