West Texas

Photo Credit: Connor Murphy | Daily Texan Staff

The stars in West Texas are now competing with the glow from oil drilling rigs and gas flares in the Permian Basin, the largest oil field in the state.

UT’s McDonald Observatory teamed up with Pioneer Energy Services to address the issue of light pollution interfering with the observatory’s research abilities. Last September, the two groups published a report on good light practices, including shielding light fixtures so that the glare does not face skyward.

Oil rigs line the northeast horizon of the observatory, and light fixtures illuminate their activity 24/7. High oil and gas prices initiated the increased construction of oil rigs in West Texas’ Permian Basin during the early part of the 2010s, said Stacy Locke, CEO of Pioneer Energy Services.

“If you go look at the price of oil and the rig count in the U.S., the Permian Basin had explosive growth starting from 2010 and then into 2012 to 2014 because the worldwide demand for oil really increased, which caused oil prices to shoot up,” Locke said. “As the oil price rose, the rig count rose with it.”

Observatory spokesman Bill Wren said he began noticing the additional light clouding the observatory in 2010.

“We have data going back to 2009 that shows the sky brightening before you could really see it visually,” Wren said. “It corresponds to the boom in oil and gas exploration around the Permian Basin. For decades, the brightest artificial source of light we could see was the combined lights of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez — 160 miles off west. Now it’s safe to say our northeast horizon [is the brightest].”

The oil companies are willing to help with reducing light pollution, Locke said.

“Once we proved we could make a drilling rig dark-sky compliant, we went out with Bill Wren, and I introduced him to a number of our oil and gas clients and explained to them this concern,” Locke said. “Once they became aware of the issues, they were willing and wanting to help fix the problem.”

The observatory is in the process of a $30 million upgrade to the Hobby-Eberly Telescope to study dark energy — an unknown force accelerating the expansion of the universe — but light pollution might thwart its efforts. Astronomy senior research scientist Matthew Shetrone said despite the telescope upgrade, light pollution might inhibit astronomers’ ability to study dark energy. 

“In order to study dark energy, we need to be able to detect galaxies so faint they can not be detected from imaging from the ground,” Shetrone said. “We will be using spectrography. There may be 30 photons we detect from that very, very distant galaxy, maybe 30 billion light years away. … So if we have a brighter sky because of light pollution, that adds noise to the 30 photons we want to collect from a distant galaxy and can get washed out.”

Photo Credit: Hanna Bernbaum | Daily Texan Staff

I learned to find beauty in the violent stillness of the night sky from the catwalks of the McDonald Observatory.

For the first few minutes, the west Texas sky appears unimpressive as through the haze of a dense city like Austin. The sheer darkness is impressive, like swimming at the bottom of the deep end. But only after the first ten minutes do your pupils fully dilate, bringing into full focus a sky wet with stars.

Ursa Major, what looks like just seven stars arranged as a big dipper from inside the city, reveals itself as a thousand points of light. The Milky Way arches across the sky, the center of our host galaxy a brilliant but soft blanket of gas, dust and countless stars.

Standing still atop an ocean of darkness in west Texas, where street lamps and car headlights are few and far between, the slow pace of our Universe becomes overwhelmingly evident. The cascade of stars sits idle, each silently burning, and the gusty mountain winds are the only soundtrack to yourmidnight vista.

Occasionally, there is a flash. It is so dark that your eyes can see a bounty of meteors on their kamikaze trips through the Earth’s atmosphere. But there is a steadiness to the sky that belies its beauty.

It is easy to forget that we are standing atop a blue marble that is hurtling through space, rotating at more than 900 miles an hour. That rotation causes the stars to inch along in the night, offering a fresh face to the sky every few hours. But even the stars themselves never sit perfectly still. They roil at the surface from convection or are occasionally eclipsed, starlight momentarily blocked by an orbiting star or perhaps even an alien planet. These are the quirks in the light that allow astronomers vastly more information into stars so far away it takes light hundreds or thousands of years to reach our fair planet.

Through some perversely lucky twist of fate, I ended up spending more than 220 nights over four years in west Texas, training the 75-year-old, 2.1-meter Otto Struve telescope at the heavens. I was mostly looking at white dwarfs, the burnt-out cores of stars like our Sun, and I spent my nights watching the brightness of these dying stars change in far more detail than available to my small set of eyes.

So while I was inspired by the thrill of discovering new things about the Universe, using star-quakes to peer below the surface of these extremely dense objects or watching a rare pair of stars orbiting each other every 12.75 minutes slide closer together as a result of the normally puny effects of gravitational waves, I often found more perspective in just staring up at the cloudless west Texas sky.

The 450-mile drive out to McDonald Observatory can be a touch intimidating, but cruise control and a few episodes of “This American Life” make the time melt by. It is certainly worth the momentary escape from city life, for a dip in the refreshingly clear waters of Balmorhea State Park, for some inspiration in Marfa.

And there’s no better place in Texas to look up into the darkness, to slow your breathing and to sink into the rhythm of the violent stillness of the night sky.

Hermes is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Warwick. He completed a PhD in astronomy at the University of Texas in 2013, and as an undergraduate, served as editor-in-chief of The Daily Texan from 2006-2007. Some of this column was adapted from the textbook “We’re Texas: Astronomy,” published by Kendall Hunt.

Oil is in a slump and, on its face, that’s a good thing for you and me. Low gas prices mean embracing the fuel extravagances of yesteryear, like leaving your car idling in the parking all night so it’s warm when you drive to class in the morning, or playfully splashing your friends with gasoline at the pump in front of the 7-11. However, there are two sides to every coin, and low prices on crude oil could mean problems for the upcoming state budget with very real implications for UT.

Oil and gas are a huge component of the Texas economy. Although the oil and gas sector accounts for less than 3 percent of Texas jobs, it drives around 11 percent of our economic output. The last major oil bust in the late 1980s demonstrated the devastating effect of cratering commodities on the broader economy when over 700 banks and thrifts failed, according to the Wall Street Journal. Although it’s unlikely we’ll see a repeat of that disaster, many of the same macroeconomic forces behind the bust are at play now. Expansion of oil exploration in West Texas and North Dakota’s Bakken formation have increased domestic supply while internationally a weakened OPEC has done little to reduce production lest they sacrifice their own market share. Abroad, tempered global growth and increased fuel efficiency has decreased demand. All of these factors converge to create the low prices that we see today and are creating a headache for not only oil companies, but also the state legislators who rely heavily on energy price projections to write their budget.

The unfortunate elected official whose most impactful decision will be guessing what oil prices will be over a particularly volatile period is Glenn Hegar, our newly sworn-in comptroller. His office’s Biennial Revenue Estimate has to include a baseline guess of how much money will be available to the state for spending over the next legislative period. Although a barrel of West Texas intermediate crude oil has plummeted from over $100 in May to less than $50 as of this writing, Hegar has projected prices to rise back up to between $65 and $70 on average over the biennium. This means reduced state revenue in the form of taxes on energy and the firms that produce it. This isn’t to say that Texas is expected to economically stagnate in coming years. The Dallas Fed recently predicted that the state economy will continue to grow by 2 to 2.5 percent, less than in recent years and not quite high enough to continue heralding the “Texas miracle.”

If state legislators decide to reduce higher education funding due to strain from reduced energy revenues, this could lead to a bigger tuition bill for students, just as happened in the 2012-2013 biennium when former Comptroller Susan Combs underestimated state revenue. In addition to relying on tax money to pay for the portion of the higher education budget covered by the Legislature, the state’s Permanent University Fund is an endowment contributing to the support of schools in the University of Texas andTexas A&M University Systems, as provided by the state’s 1876 Constitution. The fund’s assets include billions in financial assets as well as 2.1 million acres of land (and mineral rights) located primarily in West Texas. 

Falling oil prices and decreasing returns from the West Texas oil wells could squeeze the Systems aswell as other areas of state government that rely on expensive black gold. Some politicians are already having to cope with the reality that low oil prices mean underdelivering on the important tax-cutting promises that won them their seats. Incoming Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick had been cheering on the campaign trail that school property tax cuts could be made a reality, but massive moves like that would require much more money this session to be feasible.

Like a fan’s relationship with Longhorn football, our relationship as students with low gas prices is complicated. Any benefit we get at the pump also has very real implications about how much we have to pay for school. Maybe the Board of Regents will decide in the future that tuition will go up again. In the meantime take advantage of the good prices and finally take that road trip to Marfa you’ve been putting off so long.  

Matula is a finance senior from Austin.

Decreasing international crude oil prices may affect the money available to the UT System, according to Bruce Zimmerman, CEO and CIO of the University of Texas Investment Management Company.

From June 2012 to June 2014, the market value of the Permanent University Fund, or PUF, increased from $13.1 billion to $17.2 billion, according to reports from UTIMCO, the organization that invests money for the System.

The PUF is an endowment containing 2.1 million acres in West Texas that was created by the Texas Constitution to benefit the UT and Texas A&M University systems. The proceeds from the sale of oil, gas, sulfur and water royalties are invested in the form of stocks, bonds and equity interest to establish the Available University Fund, or AUF. Two-thirds of these funds go toward the UT System, and one-third goes to the Texas A&M system.

Scott Kelley, executive vice president for business affairs at the UT System, said the PUF’s market value grew as a result of increased oil production in West Texas.

“The new technology and horizontal drilling and the ability to extract oil and gas from some of the shale that’s out there has just created a whole new wave of production,” Kelley said.

In August, United States crude oil production averaged an estimated 8.6 million barrels per day, the highest monthly production recorded since July 1986, according to a report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The report also said demand for oil in industrialized economies is weakening, which may be causing oil prices to drop.

As the price of oil declines, Zimmerman said the revenue contributed to the PUF is also affected.

“Rising oil prices means more money coming into the endowment,” Zimmerman said. “Falling oil and gas prices mean less revenue.”

While the government report shows declining prices, Kelley said the market price for oil has remained steady for a number of years between $80 and $100 a barrel, allowing for an increase in production.

“If it were to drop to $50 a barrel or do something dramatic, then the drilling would likely be curtailed and even some of the production may stop,” Kelley said.

Zimmerman said even though the revenue from West Texas oil affects the PUF, UTIMCO does not invest heavily in natural gas and oil companies, making it less susceptible to the volatility of oil prices.

“We have a very diversified portfolio,” Zimmerman said. “It’s diversified globally. It’s diversified across stocks, bonds and real assets. It’s diversified across private equity and public equity [and] hedge funds. We have a relatively small amount of the endowment invested in oil and gas.”

Zimmerman said about 10 percent of PUF funds are invested in natural resources across the globe. He said UTIMCO tends to invest most heavily in stocks, since the System endowments are meant to last for an indefinite period of time.

“The biggest impact on the investment returns is whether the stock markets are going up or down,” Zimmerman said.

Recent increases in oil production in West Texas have also increased the amount of money available to the UT System, according to Scott Kelley, the System’s executive vice chancellor for business affairs.

From June 2013 to June 2014, the market value of the Permanent University Fund, or PUF, increased 19.4 percent — from $14.4 billion to $17.2 billion — according to reports from The University of Texas Investment Management Company, the organization that invests money for the UT System.

“Our revenues and the values of our assets in West Texas have grown substantially in recent years to allow for a larger endowment,” Chairman Paul Foster said after an August meeting of the Board of Regents.

PUF is an endowment containing 2.1 million acres in West Texas that was created to benefit UT and Texas A&M University systems. The proceeds from the sale of oil, gas, sulfur and water royalties are invested in the form of stocks, bonds and equity interest to establish the Available University Fund, or AUF. Two-thirds of these funds go toward the UT System and one-third goes to the Texas A&M system.

Kelley said horizontal drilling, a new oil drilling technique used to expose more surface area of oil bearing rock, can explain the increase in the value of the PUF on oil lands that were once thought to be in decline.

“Probably 20 years ago it was thought that the Permian Basin in West Texas was a mature [oil] field, and its best days were really behind it,” Kelley said. “The new technology — horizontal drilling and the ability to extract oil and gas from some of the shale that’s out there — has just created a whole new wave of production. We will probably have $1.2 billion dollars in revenue this year coming into the PUF from University lands, whereas four years ago it was maybe $200 million.”

Citing the fund’s growth, the regents decided not to increase in-state undergraduate tuition in May and approved an offset plan for the lack of increases in August. As UT-Austin is the only System institution that is legally able to directly use the AUF for academic operations, the System allocated $28.2 million in recurring revenue from the fund to the University.

“UT-Austin is very fortunate to be a beneficiary of the Permanent University Fund, especially when the fund is on such solid footing,” University spokesman Gary Susswein said in an email. “Recurring funding from the PUF and other sources is vital to our efforts to become the best public research university in the country.” 

Under the offset plan, the System decided to cover costs and activities traditionally undertaken by the other eight institutions.

In August, the growth in PUF also allowed the regents to approve an increase in PUF endowment distribution to AUF for the 2014 fiscal year, bringing the rate up to 7 percent. With the decision, academic institutions in the System will present proposals to Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa illustrating how they intend to use the additional funds.

Kelley said the policy distribution rate is 4.75 percent but can be raised higher in response to financial returns that exceed their benchmark over a three-year period.     

“With the increase in what’s happening in West Texas and with a look at the oil and gas assets, there was a determination by the board over the last couple of years to increase that distribution, not necessarily permanently, but on a one-time, year-to-year basis to 5.5 percent,” Kelley said.

The University’s McDonald Observatory, one of the tops centers for research and education, is located in the Davis Mountains of West Texas making for ideal star gazing conditions. The observatory is currently facing threats of light pollution from growing industries in the surrounding community. 

Photo Credit: McDonald Observatory | Daily Texan Staff

The University’s McDonald Observatory rests in a seven-county light ordinance zone, deep in the Davis Mountains of West Texas, protecting it from the light pollution that plagues most cities and making for some of the darkest skies in the country.

Founded in the 1930s, the observatory is one of the leading centers for astronomical research, education and outreach, boasting more than six advanced telescopes.

Bill Wren, a spokesman for the observatory, said on any given night you can see thousands of stars there.

“The places you can go to see a naturally dark sky are vanishing,” Wren said. “We are raising people that have never seen a naturally dark sky.”

Wren said this is because light pollution, created when light is shone upward into the sky, interferes with our ability to see clearly.

Irresponsible lighting wastes energy and costs Americans an estimated $2.2 billion a year, according to the International Dark-Sky Association. The initiative was launched in 2010 to raise awareness about the effects of light pollution.

“This is not an anti-light campaign,” Wren said. “It’s about putting the light where it’s needed.”

Light ordinances encourage shielding light, aiming it downward and using solar-powered, LED lights when possible.

The biggest threat to dark skies at the observatory is the growing oil and natural gas industry in the Permian Basin region, Wren said. According to the Railroad Commission of Texas, more than 9,000 drilling permits were issued in the Permian Basin in 2012 alone.

“In the spectrum of environmental concerns, light pollution is probably low on the list for oil and natural gas companies,” said Colt McCarthy, who owns a drilling supply company. “People don’t really pay attention until it affects their pocketbooks.”

Chevron spokeswoman Dolores Vick said McDonald approached the energy company earlier this year to discuss its lighting practices near the observatory.

“We are researching current lighting practices used in our West Texas operations to determine if there are ways to safely reduce light that emanates from our operations,” Vick said.

In Austin, more than 400 miles away from the observatory, the city set aside $15 million in 2012 to replace the bulbs and fixtures on approximately 70,000 street lamps to combat light pollution in Central Texas.

By 2015, Austin Energy anticipates all the city’s street lamps will be automated, with LED bulbs and flat-glass lenses that focus light downward instead of scattering it toward the sky. The “smart street lights” will conserve energy, as well as reduce light pollution.

“We are one of the few cities in the country that are both automating their street lights and making them dark sky compliant,” Austin Energy spokesman Carlos Cordova said.

With the observatory more than a six-hour drive away, Wren said the best place to see a dark sky in the Austin area is at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Wren said pilots are particularly opposed to bright lights and use shielded lighting to safely depart and land planes.

The astronomy department also hosts Wednesday night public viewings with its telescope on the roof of Robert Lee Moore Hall, as well as Friday and Saturday night viewings at Painter Hall.

Photo Credit: Sam Ortega | Daily Texan Staff

A UT professor and a visiting scientist found a correlation between gas injections into the ground and earthquakes in the city of Snyder, a small town in West Texas. Carbon dioxide injections are used to extract more oil from the ground and have been considered a possible solution to climate change because they prevent carbon dioxide from escaping into the atmosphere. 

Previously, no other study had found correlations between carbon dioxide injection and earthquakes of magnitudes greater than three, according to geosciences associate professor Cliff Frohlich, who worked on the project. 

Carbon dioxide injection in the West Texas wells have been used since the 1970s to increase oil and gas production. Frohlich said he and Wei Gan, a visiting scientist from China, were motivated to do the study because there had been earthquakes in the 1980s, followed by a 20-year absence before they started again in 2006. 

Frohlich said the results of his research may have implications for effectively dealing with climate change through exploring the consequences of the carbon capture process, which involves storing greenhouse gasses below the ground.

“Since a lot of carbon dioxide we’re putting into the atmosphere is localized, you could collect carbon dioxide, and it’s been proposed to inject carbon dioxide into the earth,” Frohlich said.

Frohlich said students should understand the consequences of carbon injection because of the state’s close ties to the oil and gas industry.

“Oil and gas is one of the primary revenues for Texas, one of the primary sources that funds the University,” Frohlich said. “Everyone has interests in doing this in a responsible way.”

Biochemistry junior Rafael Vidal said if further proof demonstrates carbon injections cause earthquakes, he would not be in favor of the practice.

“I don’t think I would support injections if they triggered earthquakes because there must be alternative ways to extract oil,“ Vidal said.

Although Frohlich and Gan found a correlation in one location, they also found that similar wells nearby did not experience earthquakes, though they had similar levels of carbon dioxide injections.

Gan said one possible explanation was a lack of fault lines near the similar wells. 

“For my personal thinking, there were no earthquakes because there were no pre-existing faults in the other oil fields,” Gan said.

Their study analyzed data collected from 2009 to 2010 when the EarthScope USArray program, a program funded by the National Science Foundation, stationed many temporary seismometers in Texas.

“We had an opportunity to get more accurate locations and locate much smaller quakes than normal,” Frohlich said.

Graham Reynolds is not from Texas. Or anywhere in the South, for that matter. But the Austin-based composer’s appreciation for banjos, fiddles and all things country surpasses even the most avid fans of traditional Texas music. 

Reynolds’ melodic display of Texas pride is captured in the opening act of his three-part piece, “The Marfa Triptych,” a musical portrait of life and culture in West Texas. Part one will be performed at The Long Center for the Performing Arts on Wednesday, featuring Reynolds on piano as part of a 13-piece instrumental suite. 

Ballroom Marfa, an art collective located in the West Texas arts hub, commissioned Reynolds to create this trilogy of distinctly different performances that will premiere annually over the next three years. Daniel Chamberlin, Ballroom Marfa’s communications coordinator, has worked with Reynolds throughout his conception of the piece. 

“The project came, in part, out of the fact that Graham was traveling out here on his own,” Chamberlin said. “That’s where the inspiration comes from. He’s been interviewing people, taking pictures, reading books. He’s just really marinating in the culture of far West Texas.” 

Reynolds described his first composition as a mix of “West Texas, country music and Western movie sound tracks.” The piece will feature contributions from veteran guitarist Redd Volkaert and up-and-coming fiddle player Ruby Jane. 

“I was fascinated by country. It seemed so other-worldly to me,” Reynolds said. “[The musicians] are so generous in letting me pull them out of their box and letting me explore their world a little bit.” 

Lead guitarist Volkaert, who has worked with the likes of Merle Haggard, Tim McGraw and Trace Adkins, has played gigs in and around Austin for more than 20 years. In regards to “The Marfa Triptych,” Volkaert urges his audience to pay attention to the way the 14-piece ensemble works together.

“It’s a challenge, but that’s why I’m in it,” Volkaert said. “Reynolds, is a wonderful talent and I really enjoy working with him.”

This type of collaborative project is a different venture for Reynolds, whose work is predominantly composing, performing and recording for films. Most notably, he composed scores for Richard Linklater’s “A Scanner Darkly” (2006) and “Before Midnight” (2013). 

“While I do film, I like to balance out with other things,” Reynolds said. “I think Austin helps me keep that balance. I didn’t grow up on country music at all, so when I came here I was just as familiar with country as I was with Turkish music. Now to this day, I’ve decided the best players in town are country music players.” 

Though each of Reynolds’ three parts jumps between different music genres, they all focus around the same theme — the geography, history and culture of West Texas. 

Part two of “The Marfa Triptych” will feature layered piano scores which rely heavily on acoustics. The final performance in part three is focused more on Mexican-American traditions, both musical and linguistic, in West Texas. For this third composition, Reynolds includes vocals by a multi-lingual chamber opera. 

“With this project, I am in full control,” Reynolds said. “I get the final say over what gets played. With film, you’re trying to complete the director’s vision. This is really a collaborative process.” 

Reynolds, the staff at Ballroom Marfa and the host of musical innovators that make up “The Marfa Triptych” will premiere their final work at the Crowley Theater in Marfa on Nov. 16. The Long Center performance is scheduled as a preview event. 

Chamberlin believes the preview “will be all the more resonant here as it will in Austin.”

“We are very excited about the upcoming installments and finally seeing the whole of this epic piece of musical performance,” Chamberlin said.

Rick Kostecke, lead scientist for The Nature Conservancy, observes the 4,084-acre Barton Creek Habitat Preserve on Tuesday afternoon.  This will be the Conservancy’s fourth year tabling at ACL in an effort to attract a younger and diverse audience.

Jarrid Denman | Daily Texan Staff

Photo Credit: Jarrid Denman | Daily Texan Staff

From West Texas to the Rio Grande Valley and from the High Plains to the vast expanses of East Texas, The Nature Conservancy has left an indelible mark on Texas. 

The conservancy, a solution-oriented, science-based organization, is dedicated to protecting nature and conserving land and water in various regions worldwide. Ranked as one of the world’s most ethical companies in 2013 by the Ethisphere Institute, the conservancy is an honest worker in the conservation space, according to Barbara Laing, director of marketing and communications at The Nature Conservancy. 

For the past three years, the conservancy has had a booth at Austin City Limits where staff members inform visitors about the conservancy’s mission and work.

“We get thousands of people at the festival who turn up at our booth, wanting to know more about the conservancy,” Laing said. “We want more people to be involved. There is something in nature for everyone.” 

The Nature Conservancy has been involved in all 50 states and more than 35 countries worldwide. In Austin, the conservancy works to maintain the Barton Creek Habitat Preserve. Its work in the preserve exists to protect the water quality of the Barton Creek watershed, which in turn protects the quality of the water that recharges the popular swimming hole at Barton Springs.

Across the street from Barton Springs is Zilker Park, where Rick Kostecke, associate director of conservation research and planning, said the The Nature Conservancy will have a booth during both weekends of this year’s festival.

“Staff, including myself, will be at the booth to talk to folks and provide information about TNC’s mission and our work here in Texas — everything from freshwater to Gulf of Mexico to land protection,” Kostecke said.

Kostecke also said having a booth at ACL gives the conservancy the opportunity to interact with a younger and more diverse audience — an audience that they would not have been able to reach by other, more traditional means. 

“Hopefully, some of the people we meet will become interested in our work and … long-term supporters of TNC,” Kostecke said. “At the least, we hope they come away better informed about the importance of conservation. Nature is worth saving, not only for its own sake, but because it has a profound impact on all of our lives. Conservation is often viewed as a luxury, but we consider it to be a necessity.” 

Two wind farms situated atop University Lands in West Texas contribute to Texas’ dominance in wind energy production, while providing funding for the University and clean energy for thousands of Texans. 

The Woodward Mountain Wind Ranch and Indian Mesa Wind Farm have been operational on University Lands since 2001. The office of University Lands leases the 2.1 million acres for various purposes, including oil and gas production, as well as the installation of pipelines and even a commercial winery, said Richard Brantley, associate director of surface and mineral interests for University Lands. 

“Energy companies pay a commercial lease, and they pay a royalty on the power that they produce,” Brantley said. “Everything we do is commercial. Our mission is to make money for the University of Texas System.”

The Woodward Mountain Wind Ranch is a 160-megawatt wind generation plant capable of providing power for 72,600 homes. The Indian Mesa Wind Farm is a smaller operation, producing 82.5 megawatts that can provide power for 20,500 homes. 

The wind farms are operated by NextEra Energy Resources, the largest wind energy generator in America. NextEra is one of 1,300 companies in industries directly and indirectly related to renewable energy that operate in Texas and employ nearly 100,000 workers, according to the 2012 Texas Renewable Energy Industry report. 

According to the report, Texas’ 10,394 megawatt wind energy capacity exceeds that of all but five countries. Much of Texas’ dominance in the renewable energy field is a result of the Texas Renewable Portfolio Standard, enacted in 1999 and extended in 2005 to increase the minimum statewide capacity for renewable energy production. According to the report, the state’s installed capacity reached the 10,000 megawatt target in early 2010 — 15 years ahead of schedule. 

The distribution of wind energy in Texas has not come without its pitfalls. Because the majority of operational wind farms are installed in West Texas, finding ways to transport energy eastward toward metropolitan areas has posed problems. 

“We don’t have enough capacity to bring the wind from where it’s being produced to where it’s needed,” Lance Manuel, an engineering professor at UT, said. “The amount of energy the farms in West Texas are producing is much more than that area needs. Wind is only needed where people can use it, like major metropolitan areas.”

Manuel said the expansion of wind energy production in Texas is likely to slow in the future. 

“We don’t have enough capacity to bring the wind from where it’s being produced to where it’s needed,” Manuel said. “It is possible to get the energy from West Texas to metropolitan areas in the east. However, it can’t happen at a sustained rate without some infrastructure by way of transmission lines and expansion.”