LUBBOCK, Texas — The demand for electricity is constantly increasing as more and more of our lives depend on electronic technology.
Tolk Station, a coal fired power plant, has been serving customers in Texas and New Mexico for the past 37 years.
This facility is capable of producing 1100 MW of electricity, and the plant can service roughly 500,000 to 700,000 customers.
Tolk Station is owned and operated by Xcel Energy whose goal is to be carbon free by 2050.
This means in the next thirty years completely eliminating coal, natural gas and any carbon-based form of generation, according to Xcel.
Although not an impossible task, there are some challenges in moving away from fossil fuels as they are a critical part in keeping the stability of our system for our country going.
Tolk Station Plant Superintendent Barney Jaramillo said this could be accomplished by wind or solar energy, but there are pitfalls associated with those technologies.
He said in order to generate electricity, the wind needs to be blowing or the sun needs to be shining.
Each wind turbine is capable of generating 2 MW of electricity on the best day. That is if the wind is blowing at least 30 m.p.h. consistently 24 hours a day, which doesn’t happen that often.
The generation output at Tolk Station on an average day is 550 MW versus 1 to 2 MW for each wind turbine. This would translate to requiring around 275 wind turbines to generate the same amount of power as Tolk Station on an average day.
There are two generators at Tolk Station where each specific generator is about the physical size of one single nacelle. The nacelle being the part that sits on top of the pole of a wind turbine.
To produce wind energy wind speeds need to be anywhere from 7mph to 57 m.p.h., anything below that is not economical or feasible. If wind speed is above 57 m.p.h. for over ten minutes the turbines go into neutral where they stop producing power.
There are also the challenges of where to place a wind farm says Bryant Coon, Land Rights Agent for Xcel Energy.
“There are so many variables that go into where it’s a good spot to build a wind farm,” Coon said. “You get things from having land owners that are interested in it, all the way to having communities that are not against it. To having access to the transmission lines that you need to be able to take that power and get it to the customer.”
Xcel Energy has a meteorologist on staff that can predict wind loads in addition to marketers and traders that look at when loads are going to be high.
“We are in a situation where we are more or less following the wind, chasing that and making sure that we supplement the wind loads when they are down,” Jaramillo said. “We have to be reliable and we have to be ready to generate at a moments notice.”
“Coal is not a big bad monster,” Jaramillo said. “We just have to be wise about the way we use it and we have to be forward thinking on how we are truly going to replace it and what kind of technologies have to be developed because the technology to completely eliminate coal and natural gas and any carbon-based form of generation is not there today.”