Wind turbines in Solano County. (Craig Miller/KQED)
Wind turbines in Solano County. (Craig Miller/KQED)

The commercial wind industry was born in California, and the state has one of the strongest renewable energy incentive programs in the country. Still, when it comes to wind, Texas has us beat by a long shot, according to a new report from the Washington, D.C.-based American Wind Energy Association.

California generates 5,829 megawatts of wind energy, compared with 12,354 megawatts in the Lone Star State. Iowa is a close third at 5,177 megawatts.

At least one explanation is simple: Texas is a bigger and windier place.

“California was first out of the gate to promote wind, so we got a reputation for being the biggest and best wind state,” says Nancy Rader, Executive Director of the California Wind Energy Association. “But our resources pale in comparison to Texas and other states in that Great Plains region.”

While California has pursued both wind and solar energy, Texas has focused on wind.

California currently gets seven percent of its electricity from wind, through turbines in Altamont Pass and the Tehachapis, among other places. But our remaining windy spots are harder to access.

“Transmission is a key enabler of wind,” says Ryan Wiser, a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “We need to expand our transmission system to be able to access the higher quality wind resource sites.”

California’s wind industry has gotten a big boost from one of the most aggressive renewable energy policies in the country. Wind energy in the state has tripled since 2002, when the state set a goal to get a third of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

But that goal, says Wiser, has “largely been met.”

Wind is still more expensive than non-renewable energy, says Wiser, so bringing more wind power online will require new government incentives.

The state’s renewable energy goals “will need to be re-upped in order to stimulate additional demand for not only wind, but other renewable resources as well,” says Wiser.

Rader says another hurdle has been convincing federal managers to open up land to wind development, particularly in the desert.

“The Bureau of Land Management is going to have to make itself a little more friendly to wind energy development,” says Rader. “Almost all of the developments are on private land, and frankly, those resources are tapped out now.”

  • Read the report here.
  • And our own award-winning series on California’s renewable power goals is here.
California Trails Texas in Wind Power, Says New Report 15 April,2014Amy Standen

  • wildlifegypsy

    Could part of the difference also be in what environmental regulations CA has that TX does not? I know CA requires windfarms to have pre-surveys and post-surveys for raptor and bat fatalities, but I don’t know if TX does anything of the kind. (and therefore, is TX’s wind boom such a good thing??)

  • GeraldWilhite

    Texas regulations protect birds better than California..

  • Joe E Goodart

    Texas spent 7 Billion to put in transmission lines. They started Planning 2005 finished in 2013. The plan was to link different areas of the state where the most wind is and Ship it to the big cities. It worked pretty well since rates are low. They Plan to be at 20,000 Megawatts by 2019, we’ll see.


Amy Standen

Amy Standen (@amystanden) is co-host of #TheLeapPodcast (subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher!) and host of KQED and PBSDigital Studios’ science video series, Deep Look.  Her science radio stories appear on KQED and NPR.

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