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As the temperatures rise, Texas wind power cools down

Video Graphic: Wind turbines, how they’re built and how they work

Texas is the nation's top wind energy producer, with at least 125 wind farms and more than 11,500 turbines. We look at how tall the towers are built and how the energy is produced.
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Texas is the nation's top wind energy producer, with at least 125 wind farms and more than 11,500 turbines. We look at how tall the towers are built and how the energy is produced.

Temperatures are soaring across Texas, and that’s bad news for the state’s wind power generators.

Wind farms – which now account for about a fifth of the state’s power mix – are forecast to generate significantly less electricity this week as the heat builds and keeps turbines from spinning. Wind generation may peak at about 5,900 megawatts on Thursday and 6,900 megawatts Friday, less than two-thirds of what they totaled a week earlier, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT.

The decline in wind power may hit just as Texas needs it most. Temperatures are forecast to reach 100 degrees this week in some areas, which will have people using more power to blast their air conditioners. That may touch off a rally in Texas’s wholesale electricity prices as more costly fossil-fuel generators such as coal and natural gas plants step up to meet demand.

“Wind could trend less beginning on Wednesday, with continued low wind generation through Friday,” Chris Coleman, senior meteorologist at ERCOT, said by email.

Texas is the nation’s leading generator of wind power, with 20,321 megawatts of installed capacity, according to a fourth-quarter market report compiled by the American Wind Energy Association. Iowa ranked No. 2 and Oklahoma No. 3, the trade group said. The industry provides 25,000 jobs in Texas, from technicians who maintain turbines to factory workers who build components.

Heat can hurt wind prospects because it’s generated by high-pressure ridges known for clear skies that allow the sun to beat down. If one of these ridges sets up over turbines, the air is relatively docile directly underneath. Winds blow clockwise around high-pressure systems in the Northern Hemisphere, so wind turbines positioned away from the center of them usually get enough to keep spinning.

“If you are on either side of it, you are getting a flow around the center,” Coleman said.

Turbines along the Texas coast may actually offer an upside for the wind power market this week. When the land heats up, differences in temperature between it and the ocean widen, delivering better conditions for wind farms in that region.

“There is a huge contrast between the ocean and the land mass,” said Dan Kottlowski, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania. “When it gets real hot in Texas, the winds generate off the ocean.”

This article includes material from Star-Telegram archives.

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