Thursday, February 28, 2019

Lease the Wind

About 40 years ago, I started working on developing a wind farm.  It would be the first in Texas and the second in the United States.

I had a lot of work to do.  I had to find a windy place with a 3 phase power line that could take the power.  And I had to get it connected. The Public Utility Policy Act had been passed and signed by President Carter in 1978 and with that law, Qualifying Facilities or "QF"s were allowed and even encouraged to plug into the grid and get paid for that energy by the utility at a fair rate called "avoided cost".

It was a revolutionary thing.  Since I had been on the PUC advisory committee that implemented PURPA, I was on pretty solid ground with these newly enacted rights that producers of energy using wind, solar and other qualifying sources now enjoyed.  But the law was new and utilities were not that excited about it.

Southwest Public Service was the utility in the Texas Pandhandle that I negotiated with.  And although quite conservative, they did ultimately offer a contract that represented their version of "avoided cost" which was the basis for the payment under PURPA.

I was 31 when the deal was somewhat complete.  I had  the lease agreement for the land (thanks to my cousin, Carl Kennedy, the county judge), the interconnect agreement with SPS for the production, the turbines had been ordered, and the financing was secured.

We began construction late in 1981 and we videotaped it.  Installation only took a very full week.  We also included interviews with Mr. Mack, the Coca Cola distributor who had two units in the same location, and Father Joe James, who put up 5 more units around his passively designed Catholic Church in Lubbock.

I used this documentary in my plenary speech to the National Solar and Wind Conference in Houston that next spring. The audio quality degraded for the first minute or so.

Since these early days, I  have been involved in the ever growing Wind Industry, securing leases for both wind developers and utilities, sometimes erecting wind monitoring systems to prove the winds, often working the legislature for tax abatements while arguing at the PUC for favorable interconnect rules and transmission line improvements.

During my time at Austin Energy, I helped oversee well over a Gigawatt of Wind Power in 14 years.  (AE now has 1850 MWs).

When I left AE and was appointed to the Electric Utility Commission, I approved over 600 MWs of Wind and another 600 MWs of solar.

Since the early 90s, like the late 70s, we  have had  Presidents and  Administrations that understood the wisdom and the importance of reaching as high a penetration of carbon-free energy as possible.  Life was not always good, but it wasn't bad.  It was rational.

But then, a not so funny thing happened on the way to dealing with the climate issue.

The Republican Party became the party of Intellectual poverty.  They nominated a pro-coal candidate who skillfully ran off with the presidential election with 70,000 votes to spare while losing the popular vote by 3 million.  And that victory has emboldened the very worst of the climate denying wing of what used to be a rational and responsible national party.

Nowhere is that more obvious than right here in Austin.  Our own heart of darkness lurks in its Congress Street headquarters spewing outright lies and misinformation fronting for their Kock-sucker benefactors.

They are trying to beat back the tide with a cane.

They are a pitiful, bitter old man who will pass with few friends,

and an army of enemies.

And they will be remembered for their crimes against their own.

They will Reap the Wind.

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