Wind energy works in Texas. Will Gov. Rick Perry support it in Washington?

Wind energy

Texas recently reached an exciting milestone: more than 15,000 MW of electricity supplied by wind, the highest amount in the state’s history.

By Mary Gable

Just after Thanksgiving 2016, the state of Texas reached an exciting milestone: more than 15,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity supplied by wind, the highest amount in the state’s history. That’s enough to power 3 million homes during peak conditions and more than 7 million under milder demand.

On average, wind energy supplies about 15 percent of Texas’ power. But in winter, the weather gets gustier, meaning wind can provide a greater fraction of the state’s energy mix. On November 26, when the state broke the record (topping the previous one set in March), wind accounted for a whopping 45 percent of Texas’ electrical power.

Even on a lower-use day, Texas leads the nation in its use of wind energy. If Texas were a country, it would rank sixth worldwide in its use of wind. Nationally, Texas is first for both installed and under-construction wind capacity. The state’s wind industry supports 38 manufacturing facilities, more than 24,000 jobs, and $33 billion in capital investment. And in 2015 alone, wind energy enabled Texas to avoid emitting 28.3 million metric tons of CO2.

A national example

Though Texas continues to rely heavily on fossil fuels, it has also become a model of what renewable energy can achieve. “Texas has its own electrical grid and hosts a deregulated power market, which has spurred innovation and competition,” says Peter Bryn, CCL’s Conservative Director, who is based in Houston.

One person to thank for Texas’ wind boom might come as a surprise to some: former Governor Rick Perry.

In his 15 years as governor, Perry the supported the creation of Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZ), designated geographic areas where wind generation facilities would be built—plus the utility poles and transmission lines to carry energy throughout the state. Today, CREZ-enabled infrastructure stretches 3,600 miles and can supply up to 18,500 MW of wind and solar power to Texas.

As Jeff Clark of the Wind Coalition told MIT Technology Review, the CREZ “should be recognized as one of the most visionary infrastructure projects ever built in Texas.”

Governor Perry also signed legislation in 2005 committing Texas to increase its renewable energy capacity to 5,880 MW by 2015—a goal the state has far surpassed.

A mixed legacy

These gains came about in the context of Perry’s “all of the above” approach to energy development. Oil and natural gas production increased 260 percent and 50 percent, respectively, under Governor Perry’s leadership. He signed an executive order permitting the construction of nearly a dozen coal-fired power plants (of which two were built). He has called for an end to the ban on deep-water drilling and, until December 31, was a board member of Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. Perry is also known to be skeptical of climate science.

President-elect Trump has made Governor Perry his pick to lead the U.S. Department of Energy. If and when Governor Perry arrives in Washington, will he continue to advocate for the development of wind and other renewable energy sources? Here are a few reasons Perry—and our incoming president—should embrace wind:

It creates jobs. Across the country, the wind industry supports more than 77,000 jobs and comprises over 500 manufacturing facilities, many of them in the communities hardest hit by the Great Recession. Demand for wind turbine technicians is growing fast—an expected 108 percent between 2014 and 2024. Today, nearly three times as many Americans work in the wind and solar industries as work in coal.

It makes good business sense. The cost of wind energy has dropped 90 percent over the past 25 years. And when negative externalities like public health and environmental impacts are taken into account, it becomes one of the lowest-cost generation energy sources around. Thanks to the CREZ initiative, Texans have saved $1.7 billion a year in electricity production costs and enjoyed more than $5 billion in economic development benefits.

Putting a fee on carbon—such as that proposed by Citizens’ Climate Lobby—would further encourage the market to seek out cleaner, cheaper alternatives like wind, and would allow leaders to better plan for new capacity investments while returning money to taxpayers.  

It has broad popular support. Leaders needn’t worry about public backlash for supporting wind. According a recent Pew research poll, 88 percent of Clinton voters and 77 percent of Trump voters were in favor of more wind farms. Wind power also has strong bipartisan Congressional support.

President-elect Trump has been critical of wind energy. If confirmed as Energy Secretary, Governor Perry will have a chance to help him see it in a new light. Investing in wind could help the Trump administration make progress toward many of the goals set forth on the campaign trail: Putting people to work, especially in overlooked rural communities. Modernizing America’s infrastructure. Reducing dependence on foreign energy.

Bryn is hopeful. “I think if President-elect Trump adopts Governor Perry’s ‘all-of-the-above’ strategy, coupled with an adequate price on carbon, we would see the free market develop and implement job-creating technologies, from lower-cost wind power to carbon capture and sequestration. This could help us export the clean-energy renaissance we’ve enjoyed in Texas to the rest of the country.”

Perry—and other Texans—understand wind’s potential. Will they seize the economic, environmental, and political opportunity right under their noses? The answer, as they say, is blowing in the wind.

Mary Gable
Mary Gable is a writer and editor who focuses on sustainability and innovation. She's based in Seattle, but takes her work on the road whenever she can.