Think Texas Energy Is all about Oil? Think Again.

Source: Flickr/David Ingram

Source: Flickr/David Ingram

Technology is making clean energy competitive with coal for the first time in history, and that’s a game changer.

In 1999, we pushed to get the first renewable energy mandate passed in the country – in Texas of all places. There were all sorts of concerns at the time that wind could not be integrated into the system, or that it would be too expensive. Time has proven otherwise.

Yes, Texas has plenty of oil and gas, but we also have a lot of sun and wind. Those early investments in renewables paid off and today, the Lone Star State is the top wind energy-producing state in the nation.

As such, I believe we're helping to drive investments in wind across the United States.

Texas is on the cutting edge of technology – and proud of it…

I think most folks in government and most Texans are kind of proud of this fact. You can drive lots of places now and see giant wind farms that look a little bit futuristic.

Since 1999, the politics here have gotten worse, but the technology and economics are better. Renewable energy is cheap; it’s homegrown and not imported like most of our coal is. And for all its blustering, Texas likes to be on the cutting edge of technology.

We drove down the price of wind, and manufacturers and inventors saw an assured market, so they innovated and made the technology better.

If you look at the polling data, average Texans like clean energy, they like wind, and they like to protect our environment.

…even if our politicians don’t get it

Unfortunately, we have here, like in much of the country, a political system where elected officials are too-often way behind the people on this issue. Adding to the problem, electric utilities in many places still have an economic incentive to sell power from centralized plants that can last for up to 60 years – far too long to stay competitive and efficient.

The good news is, consumer choice is helping to drive the clean energy revolution, and most utilities understand two things:

1) They can’t stop the new technology that’s driving the revolution. (The history of the telecom sector tells us this.)

2) They can either get run over by new technology or embrace it, and by choosing to advance technologically they can prosper.

So one of our big initiatives, and that of the leading regulatory bodies around the country, is to generate a new business model that incentivizes utilities to more fully participate in the clean energy revolution. Despite important gains elsewhere, we’re going to be pushing a big rock up a steep hill until we solve that problem.

And let’s not forget that there are some really good people in the industry who understand that climate change is real, and that they need to be part of the solution.

What we’re proving in Texas is that by having a relatively small mandate, about 2,000 new megawatts of renewable energy, the rule of economies of scale applies to our state too.

When we overhaul obsolete regulations and give people more choice and control over energy costs, we can reduce pollution in a meaningful way while supporting a thriving clean energy economy.

If it can work in Texas, it can work anywhere.

This commentary originally appeared on EDF's Voices Blog.  

This entry was posted in Natural gas, Oil, Renewable Energy, Solar, Wind. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.
  • About the author

    Vice President, Clean Energy
    Jim Marston is the founding director of the Texas office of Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), located in Austin, where he has served since its beginning in 1988. He is also a leader of the Pecan Street, Inc., a partnership that includes Austin Energy, the University of Texas, the Chamber of Commerce, and several large high/clean tech companies aimed at making fundamental changes in the nation's electricity grid.

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    Confluence of SJR, Old, and Middle rivers

    Advocating for healthier air and cleaner energy in Texas through public education and policy influence.

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