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Renewable Transmission Superhighway Decision is a Big Victory for Consumers and the Environment

July 17, 2008

Renewable Transmission Superhighway Decision is a Big Victory for Consumers and the Environment

Dark Clouds Loom on the Horizon If So-Called Clean Coal and Expensive New Nuclear Plants Are Given Priority Over Renewable Energy

AUSTIN, Texas – A leading consumer and environmental advocate praised the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) today for its decision to authorize 18,456 megawatts of transmission lines to transport wind energy from rural West Texas to highly-populated Texas cities.

“The approval of these renewable energy superhighways will lower electricity costs, lower pollution and create new jobs all across Texas,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office. “The average consumer will pay $3 more per month for transmission cost but will see $8 in savings due to reduced fuel costs. This probably a conservative estimate since it was made at a time when the price of natural gas was just $7 and it’s now over $12.”

The ability to transmit wind energy from West Texas has become challenging in recent years. It takes less than a year to build a wind plant but five to seven years to build transmission capacity. This has resulted in transmission overload.

To address the challenge, the PUCT was charged with developing a plan to develop more transmission lines in 2005 when the Texas legislature passed Senate Bill 20. “The transmission lines serving the windy areas were like two-lane dirt roads when we needed six-lane superhighways to connect the wind to our cities,” Smith said.

The PUCT looked at a variety of levels of transmission to answer the emerging problem. “While we would have preferred the most aggressive scenario, we think the commission did a good job of balancing the need to use more wind to lower fuel costs and to develop ways to assure the grid remains stable to prevent blackouts,” Smith said.

However, dark clouds may be looming on the horizon. The commissioners delayed a decision until the end of the month on whether to give priority on these lines to so-called clean coal and nuclear plants.

“New nuclear plants and clean coal are far more expensive than wind or wind with storage. We would encourage the commission to separate that decision from this case and hold a series of hearings on the expected costs and risks of these alternatives before giving them priority on these lines,” Smith said.

“This decision will send signals to manufacturers all across the world that Texas is ready to be a world class player in the development of renewable energy,” Smith said. “There will be a large market here for the renewable energy manufacturing. We expect that this would create more than 8,000 jobs in rural Texas, generate over a $100 million on local school and property taxes, and over $90 million in landowner royalties. If you build the transmission, the jobs will come.”

Studies performed by General Electric for the state grid operator found that this decision could lower pollution from power plants too by cutting smog forming gasses by 9 percent and global warming gasses by 10 percent.