The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) manages 90 percent of the state’s power grid and the majority of its power is sourced from natural gas and coal. Ten years ago, its wind power accounted for only two percent of its power mix. With the expansion of transmission capacity and market reforms, the current power generation of wind farms is at 15 percent and is continuously increasing that last week it has surpassed the capacity of coal power generation, gradually pushing coal off the Texas grid.
According to ERCOT, the initiation of commercial operations at a 155-megawatt wind farm located in West Texas caused the upsurge of the wind power capacity this month, exceeding 20,000 megawatts. At that rate, wind power outperforms the 19,800-megawatt capacity of coal-fired power plants.
The wind power’s unprecedented competitiveness and penetration in the state’s power grid trigger the gradual escape of coal industry in Texas. Vistra Energy, the state’s largest power generator, is set to shut down its three coal plants –Sandow near Austin, Big Brown east of Waco, and the 40-year old Monticello plant in northeast Texas, one of the biggest coal plants in Texas with 1,800-megawatt capacity.
In the coming years, wind power in Texas is expected to continue flourishing, expanding, and generating more power than coal-fired power plants, according to Joshua Rhodes, a research associate at University of Texas’ Energy Institute. In an interview with Houston Chronicle, he further projects that more megawatts from coal plants would come offline in the years ahead.
“There’s no coal in the interconnection queue to be built. And all power plants have a shelf life, so if we don’t build any, eventually all of what we have will retire. One of the interesting things we’re seeing, if you look at the power plants we’re building these days, we’re not building big things anymore, we’re building smaller scale. Energy demands increase has been relatively flat lately, so it’s harder to justify a big project,” Rhodes explains.
These events in Texas only demonstrate the gradual demise of the coal industry for a greener and more sustainable future.