Texas Wind Energy Infrastructure Lives On (For Now)

fraser rps newSummer is in full swing and this weekend we celebrate the 4th of July. As we watch fireworks explode in the night sky above us on Saturday, we can be thankful the 2015 Texas Legislative session is over. We can also celebrate a small victory for Texas wind: the death of Senator Troy Fraser’s Senate Bill (SB) 931.

Since 2011, 40 percent of all new energy generating capacity installed in Texas has come from wind, and the state installed more than a third of the nation’s new wind capacity last year. Texas also leads the nation with 17,000 wind industry jobs. Of the 12,700 megawatts (MW) under construction across the country, approximately 7,000 MW are in Texas. Moreover, Texas receives more than 10% of its electricity from wind, and that number keeps rising.

Despite these impressive figures, Sen. Fraser sponsored SB 931 to repeal Texas’ leadership-creating Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), which helped the Lone Star State become the number one wind state in the country. The RPS is an economic tool to drive renewables growth that has helped Texas secure $28 billion in private capital investment since 2008.

Back in April, I wrote about the American Wind Energy Association’s (AWEA) new report on the state of wind in the U.S., just as the Texas Senate passed Fraser’s bill. At the time, it seemed like an unfortunate slam dunk that the bill would pass the House and make its way to Governor Abbott’s desk for his guaranteed signature. But alas, a glimmer of hope. Many environmental and renewable energy groups, including EDF, stood up to this politically-motivated assault, creating negative noise and drawing attention from the media.

And it worked! SB 931 died on the vine in the House.

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What damage have we avoided?

While Texas blowing through its RPS goal twice inspired Fraser to claim “mission accomplished,” there was more sneakiness (see ALEC involvement) in SB 931 than met they eye. This was a symbolic fight.

Here are some of the ways the death of this bill is good news for Texas’ wind economy:

  • Renewable Energy Credits (REC): Under the RPS, if utilities do not produce enough energy from renewable sources, they have the option to buy RECs. If Fraser’s bill had become law, the $40 million market for RECs in Texas would have disappeared.
  • Competitive Renewable Energy Zone (CREZ): Furthering the damage to the entire investment chain, the bill also attacked the CREZ transmission projects that are yet to be completed. Approved by the Public Utility Commission of Texas in 2008, the CREZ lines are a 3,600 mile network of transmission lines that connect remote West Texas wind energy to the eastern cities – enough energy to power 3.7 million to 7.4 million homes – and increase the available wind power supply by a whopping 50 percent. Texas’ record level of wind plant construction is driven largely by the completion of the state’s CREZ project – previously, clean Texas wind energy was literally wasted when traffic jams on the grid prevented its use. Natural gas has also greatly benefitted from the CREZ infrastructure.
  • False Claims: Senator Fraser claims he was pushing for repealing the RPS because he wants to end subsidies, but the biggest subsidy for wind is at the federal level not the state. And furthermore, why doesn’t Fraser fight to repeal the massive subsidies Texas currently gives to the fossil fuel industry, which dwarf support for wind and solar? According to the Dallas Morning News, Texas incentives for wind are only $12 million to $40 million annually, while the natural gas industry received $1 billion in taxpayer subsidies in one year. In fact, fossil fuels account for an “estimated 99.6 percent of all state subsidies, mostly as tax exemptions,” so the RPS does not even level the playing field, much less give wind an advantage.

Along with our allies, EDF added a lot of pressure to Fraser and others this legislative session and we lost some very important battles for the environment and the people who call Texas home (particularly related to contested case hearings and local oil and gas ordinances). But the failure of SB 931 is a small victory and Texas wind remains to fight another day.

Let’s hold on to our place as a wind leader, especially as other states are hot on our trails. With Senator Fraser not seeking reelection, hopefully, by next legislative session we will be welcoming a new group of clean energy leaders to represent us in Austin and we won’t have to keep wasting energy on these silly fights.

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