Texas could get more power from wind than coal next year — a new milestone in an energy revolution

wind turbines lorraine texas
wind turbines lorraine texas

REUTERS/Nick Oxford

  • A new report predicts that wind energy will supply more power to Texas than coal in 2020. 

  • Texas already generates the most wind energy of any US state. 

  • Wind power is becoming more affordable than fossil fuels, even though a renewable-energy tax credit will come to an end in 2019.

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Texas' wind turbines are expected to produce more power than the state's coal plants next year for the first time ever. 

In 2020, wind farms are expected to generate 87 terawatt-hours of electricity in Texas, according to a report by energy-consulting firm Rystad Energy. That would mean that almost 8 million homes could be powered solely by wind in the state (the average home uses about 10,000 kilowatt-hours per year). 

Coal, meanwhile, is expected to account for around 3 terawatt-hours less electricity than wind in Texas next year. Already, wind energy in Texas made up a slightly higher percentage of the state's power generation in the first half of 2019.

"Renewable energy technologies are reaching a level where new installations are not driven solely by policies or subsidies, but by economics," Carlos Torres-Diaz, head of gas market research at Rystad, said in a press release.

Texas is blowing away the wind-energy competition 

Texas uses a lot of power — the state consumed 13 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) in 2015, around 13% of the entire US' consumption.

The wind turbines already in place in Texas make the state a top-five global market for wind power, according to Green Tech Media. It's the US' biggest producer of wind energy, followed by Iowa, Oklahoma, and California. And the state's wind-energy capacity is growing: If every wind project under review in Texas right now gets approved and put into operation, the state could more than double its production, according to the Dallas Observer.

Meanwhile, no new coal projects are in sight.

Natural gas is still Texas' biggest energy source, though. Nearly 40% of the state's power comes from natural gas, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, and new gas projects are underway. Solar power, meanwhile, accounts for 1.1% of Texas' energy.  

Across the country in 2020, wind is expected to make up approximately 10% of the energy mix, while coal will slide down from 44% a decade ago to 23%, Bloomberg reports

wind farm texas
wind farm texas

Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

Even without subsidies, wind makes economic sense

Beyond wind power's environmental benefits, wind farms (the ones on land, at least) increasingly make economic sense, too. Ars Technica reports that wind farms can be built and operated for less than the cost of fuel for an equivalent natural-gas plant.

The majority of the wind and utility-scale solar energy projects expected to come online in 2020 will provide lower-priced electricity than even the cheapest and newest coal, oil, or gas equivalent, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.

"Even without government subsidies, wind will likely remain competitive in the midwest and south-central US markets," Torres-Diaz said, referring to the US' renewable energy production tax credit, which is set to get phased out by the end of 2019 for wind projects.

Still, the global average levelized cost of onshore wind energy — a measure of the lifetime cost of a project based on how much power it actually produces — could drop to $49.80 per megawatt-hour in 2023, according to the US Energy Information Administration. (One megawatt-hour is about the same amount of energy provided by 27 gallons of gasoline).

By comparison, the energy cost of coal plants that enter the market in 2023 with built-in carbon-capture technology is expected to top $104 per megawatt-hour.

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