Saturday, March 6, 2021

In Texas, the meteoric but discreet boom in wind power

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Snowfall and polar temperatures like Texas had hardly ever experienced. In mid-February, stuck by the cold snap and a failing electrical system, the southern state of the United States had to carry out massive power cuts to avoid a general blackout. More than 4 million Texans were plunged into darkness Tuesday, February 16, and several nuclear and gas plants had to be shut down for climatic reasons. An image struck the minds: that of wind turbine blades frozen, unable to turn and blocked by ice.

If wind turbines still only represent a minority share of electricity production in Texas, they are experiencing dazzling – but discreet – growth in the “Lone Star State”. In Texas, wind turbines are invisible because you don’t want to see them. In European mythology, it is the state of cowboys and ranchers; that of petroleum, from the series Dallas and the Bush family; the paradise of shale gas and Trumpist voters. So, when we discover that the State, as large as France, has become an El Dorado for renewable energies, wind turbines and solar energy, we fall a bit stunned.

Article reserved for our subscribers Read also Texas on the brink of humanitarian crisis after historic cold snap

At four hours from Austin, capital of the state, in the western plains formerly occupied by the Comanches, on this early February morning a few days before the freezing episode, lost in the fog, nothing could be seen if it’s a few cows and an isolated oil well. A hum is heard, and finally appears a giant wind turbine 110 meters high, whose blades with a wingspan of 60 meters turn majestically. It is part of the park of 76 wind turbines spread over about twenty kilometers at a place called Live Oak, with an installed capacity of 200 megawatts for the French group Engie. Gigantic farms are found in the region, among the largest in the world, with 390 wind turbines in Sweetwater, 421 in Horse Hollow and 627 in Roscoe, around the small farming town of Abilene.

Law of the market

In total, wind power now represents a quarter of the electricity produced in Texas, or more than coal, whose share has been halved in ten years to fall to less than 20%. The flight will continue. With solar, wind will represent, in 2022, 36% of Texas electricity production, according to the American Energy Information Service (EIA), on a par with natural gas. The French Engie is one of the groups that came to conquer this flourishing market, a pioneer in the United States (in 2020, wind power produced 8.8% of American electricity and solar 2.3%, against 39, 2% for natural gas and 20% for coal).

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