On Saturday, the Austin-American Statesman ran a review I wrote on Asher Price and Kate Galbraith’s new book, The Great Texas Wind Rush: How George Bush, Ann Richards, and a Bunch of Tinkerers Helped the Oil & Gas State Win the Race to Wind Power. Not only is it a great read and a thorough history of Texas’ wind industry, it mentions EDF multiple times; our own Mark MacLeod and Jim Marston played prominent roles in the grand negotiation that established Texas’ Renewable Portfolio Standard during the state’s electric utilities deregulation in 1999.
Today, Texas leads the nation in wind power, but it was not always so. The book charts how the early days of wind turbine mishaps and misfortunes ushered in the present state of affairs, with wind providing over 9% of state’s overall electricity in 2012 and up to 28% of the state’s power when the wind is at its best. The authors craft the story well, pulling from legendary tales of the Wild West, romantic literary and artistic accounts from the likes of Cormac McCarthy and Woody Guthrie and the gubernatorial regimes of Ann Richards and George W. Bush. To entice you to pick up a copy, here are some excerpts, including a quote from Jim Marston who, rightfully so, has the last words in the book.
Starting with the early days of the “tinkerers”, Galbraith and Price, both energy and environmental reporters from the Texas Tribune and the Austin-American Statesman, respectively, feature many characters, including Marcellus Jacobs:
One of these hobbyists was a farm boy from the northern plains named Marcellus Jacobs, born in North Dakota in 1903. The family soon moved to a lonely spot in eastern Montana, and Jacobs, one of eight children, grew up relying on kerosene lamps and a gasoline generator. He was a born handyman – ‘when I was still in high school, I built and sold little peanut radios that operated on storage batteries,” Jacobs remembered decades later – and together, Marcellus and his older brother Joseph combined the rear axle of a Model-T Ford with the fan of a water windmill and created a machine that would generate electricity. Using ideas about airplane propellers that Marcellus had learned while flying during the 1920s, they refined it to a three-bladed machine, the design that endures today…One of the brothers’ machines, installed on the South Pole in 1933, was still whirling more than two decades later.
Summarizing the future, the authors highlight wind pioneer Michael Osborne, one of the principal characters in the book:
The future of Texas wind lies, for the moment, in the very places [T.Boone] Pickens and [Herman] Schellstade could not make it work. The biggest hopes are the Panhandle and the coast, though mostly onshore rather than off. Pickens had picked Pampa not only because his folksy ways would resonate with the landowners, but also mostly because the area sported some of the state’s most consistent winds. This was the same place, after all, where nearly three decades earlier hometown boy Michael Osborne, inspired by watching a glider soar and swoop during his childhood, had plugged five spindly turbines into the grid in 1981 and pronounced it the first wind farm in Texas.
And last but not least, from the founding director of EDF’s Texas office, Jim Marston:
Texans, for their part, stand ready to claim the credit. “Whatever stereotypes people might have,” says Marston, “if Texas can do it, hell, anyone can do it.”