the legalities of wind power. “It’s like prospecting: you can basi-
cally go stake your claim and build your project.”
That means you can also lose your shirt. Billionaire oilman
T. Boone Pickens was forced to back out of his grandiose plans
for the world’s largest wind farm, in north Texas, after spending
more than $2 billion—essentially because he was too early to
market. “That was pre-CREZ,” Wetsel says. “If he’d waited a few
years he’d have been fine.”
A pair of snow-white cattle egrets winged across a field of alfalfa
as I pulled up to the Clear Crossing Substation, 30 miles from
the nearest town in the empty scrubland of Haskell County.
Built at a cost of $42 million by Electric Transmission Texas,
a joint venture between American Electric Power and Warren
Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Energy Company, Clear Crossing
is a 345-kilovolt switching station, a waypoint on the web of
CREZ lines that stretches from Amarillo to San Antonio, 500
miles to the south, and from Odessa 350 miles east to Dallas.
Clear Crossing collects power from the lines that run from the
wind farms in the north and west and sends it east. The power
lines hummed in the 100° day as Greg Blair, an AEP spokesman,
and I stood contemplating the 40-acre complex of circuit breakers and wires. Across the road a large solar farm, owned by San
Antonio’s municipal utility, was under construction.
“There’s plenty of wide-open spaces out here for big projects
like these,” Blair remarked in a Texas-sized understatement.
Electric Transmission Texas has built more than one-fifth of
the 3,600-mile CREZ system in the past decade. That system
is Texas’s answer to the basic quandary of wind power: the best
wind for generating electricity is in remote places where no one
wants to live, in part because it’s so damn windy. Without CREZ,
there would be no wind boom in Texas.
CREZ was built under Rick Perry, the small-government
Republican governor who ran the state from 2000 to 2015.
It’s clear now, says Jeff Clark of the Wind Coalition, that CREZ
“should be recognized as one of the most visionary infrastructure
projects ever built in Texas.”
It was possible because Texas is the only U.S. state with its
own power grid. The continental U.S. has three primary grids:
the Eastern Interconnection, the Western Interconnection, and
the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT. The first
two cover multiple states, while ERCOT operates in Texas only,
covering three-quarters of the state. It can invest in and build
long-distance transmission lines as it, lawmakers, and state regu-
lators see fit, without the interstate political wrangling that has
blocked other ambitious long-distance transmission projects
planned across state lines.
So unstoppable is the Texas wind boom, though, that even
the CREZ system is starting to reach full capacity. At particularly windy times, some wind farms have ended up being effectively stranded, without a way to get power east to the cities.
Top left: A Texas state waffle,
common in complimentary hotel
breakfasts in Sweetwater.
Bottom left: A tumbleweed
blows down a gravel road near
the Mesquite Creek wind farm.
Below: Rod Wetsel, wind lawyer
and long-distance motorcyclist,
in a cotton field that doubles
as a wind farm.