This commentary originally appeared on our Texas Clean Air Matters blog.
Over the past several years, a combination of market forces and targeted policies has brought about enormous growth in clean energy technologies around the United States. A clean energy economy has developed around these new technologies, creating tens of thousands of homegrown jobs each year. Despite the industry’s initial surge, recent economic uncertainty has led to a plateau in clean energy job growth in most, but not all, regions in the U.S.
According to a report released by Environmental Entrepreneurs, the U.S. created 10,800 clean jobs in the third quarter of 2013, down from 37,000 in the previous quarter.
Notably, Texas doesn’t follow the national trend. Texas clean energy companies created over 660 jobs in the fall quarter of 2013 alone, up from less than 500 jobs in the previous quarter, cementing Texas in the list of top 10 states for clean energy jobs.
Texas’ sustained clean job growth doesn’t come as much of a surprise. The state passed a forward-looking renewable portfolio standard (RPS) and the nation’s first energy efficiency resource standard in 1999. Furthermore, Texas invested in a groundbreaking transmission project, the Competitive Renewable Energy Zone (CREZ), that is set to come online in a few weeks and roll out through 2014. This 3,600-mile transmission line will carry wind energy from West Texas (one of the largest U.S. wind resources) to eastern cities that need its power. These policies propelled the state to lead the nation in wind power. Last year, nearly 10 percent of Texas’ electricity came from wind—and that number is on the rise.
The recent plateau in national clean energy jobs is a cautionary tale for Texas, re-affirming that policy matters. Traditional markets and rules don’t always reflect the value of novel clean technologies like customer-facing, demand-side resources – defined here as demand response (DR), renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy storage. If Texas is going to continue its clean job growth, the state must proactively establish policy that enables these new technologies to compete on a level playing field.
Right now, the Public Utility Commission of Texas and state legislators are debating the future of the state’s electricity market. Specifically, they are considering whether Texas should modify its electricity market to pay power plants and other energy resources for their ability to be ‘on-call’ and available, in addition to actually providing energy.
Any new rules resulting from this debate will have a lasting impact on the state’s clean energy economy. Highly flexible demand-side resources, such as demand response and energy efficiency, are both more economically sensible solutions than simply building new fossil fuel power plants, which are expensive to construct and rely on fluctuating fuel costs. Any market changes should support the state’s ability to harness the benefits of clean energy resources.
Furthermore, Texas policymakers should not ignore present environmental considerations like rising temperatures and persistent drought, which are effects of climate change caused in part by fossil fuel power plants. The reality is, in the face of uncertainty, we need energy resources that are flexible, affordable and clean as well as good for business, people and the environment.
Doing so will ensure Texas continues its leadership in innovative clean energy technologies and growth in clean energy jobs.