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Tina Casey headshot

From Oil Patch to Renewable Energy King, Texas Shows COP21 How It's Done

By Tina Casey

While certain U.S. elected officials continue to tar renewable energy as a job-killing economic disaster, the state of Texas seems delighted to show that the opposite is true.

The state's long-term planning has included a healthy dose of wind energy, and it is also emerging as a solar leader in the U.S. Far from killing jobs, strong renewable energy policies in Texas appear to be one of the factors enabling this oil-producing state to weather the ongoing collapse of the global oil market.

A renewable energy surge, Texas style

The latest figures on Texas renewable energy come from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the agency that manages a grid supplying 24 million customers, or about 90 percent of the state's total electric load.

Earlier this week, ERCOT released its updated analysis of future renewable energy growth as Texas adapts to President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan, which effectively prevents the state from relying on new coal power plants to increase its energy supply. Though state and federal policies enable natural gas as a replacement for coal, ERCOT projects that wind and solar will far outstrip natural gas over the next couple of years. Here's a summary from our friends over at FuelFix.com:

"Since May, the grid has added nearly 3,000 megawatts of power capacity — about two-thirds from new wind farms and the remainder from two new gas-fired power plants. In 2016, ERCOT anticipates adding more than 4,200 megawatts of new power capacity, including nearly 2,800 megawatts of wind power, more than 1,000 megawatts from solar farms and the rest from a new gas plant."

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) also paints a glowing picture of wind energy growth in Texas.  According to the organization's latest figures:

"Texas is a national leader in the wind energy industry. Texas ranks first in the country for both installed and under-construction wind capacity, while supporting over 17,000 wind-related jobs. The wind energy industry in Texas has provided over $26 billion in capital investment and has thrived thanks to smart state policy, such as legislation that created Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZ) for wind power transmission."

As a corollary to its renewable energy growth, Texas is also expanding its energy storage capacity, highlighted by a major new grid-scale solar energy storage project that is expected to provide relief for the state's notorious "electricity island."

For the record, TriplePundit is not surprised. Back in September 2012, we took note when the integrated energy company Direct Energy began marketing 100 percent wind-powered electricity for its Texas customers. Under the title, "For a Look at the Future of U.S. Energy, Go to Texas," we said:

"Texas is lagging a bit when it comes to solar power, but it is becoming a national centerpiece for algae biofuel research and its wind power industry is coming on strong."

Texas survives the petroleum roller coaster

So, here's where it gets interesting. With the global oil market in a state of permanent collapse, one would expect the economy of oil-producing states like Texas to head south, too. However, despite a rash of layoffs, facility closings and project cancellations, the state is doing pretty well so far. The Texas economy was surging throughout 2014 and though growth has tailed off this year, a recent article in the Houston Chronicle put a positive spin on things:

"Overall, though, we are doing much better than in similar oil price collapses, thanks to a more diversified economy and strong growth in other parts of the country. If the Houston economy catches a mild cold instead of the flu from the oil price collapse, we should consider ourselves very lucky."

Other observers also put the state's relative good health down to the growth of a more diversified economic field, including manufacturing. With that in mind, look at what the wind industry has contributed to growth in the Texas manufacturing sector, according to AWEA:
"The wind energy industry in Texas has provided over $26 billion in capital investment and has thrived thanks to smart state policy, such as legislation that created Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZ) for wind power transmission. The state is home to at least 46 manufacturing facilities, including turbine manufacturer Alstom, tower manufacturer Trinity Structural Towers and numerous component suppliers."

Another interesting twist to the story is the role of Texas's fossil fuel industry in the growth of electricity demand, and by extension, the growth in renewable energy generation.

In its latest, update, ERCOT said it expects the peak demand for electricity to top out at more than 70,500 MW in summer 2016 and continue to increase after that, climbing to almost 78,000 MW by summer 2025. This is an increase from earlier forecasts, and it is partly based on anticipated demand from the a forthcoming liquefied natural gas facility, expected to be up and running by midyear 2019.

So there's that.

Texas and the COP21 Paris climate talks

According to a recent study of ERCOT's figures by the Environmental Defense Fund, Texas is already on track to meeting 88 percent of its Clean Power Plan goal even if it just follows current market trends rather than enacting new policies.

The water-energy nexus could also leverage adoption of renewable, water-sipping technologies over conventional electricity generation. EDF also points out that water resource issues in Texas could provide a non-controversial rationale for accelerating the adoption of renewable energy.

Add it all up, and it's clear that despite the state's long history in fossil fuels and the anti-environmental proclivities of its political leadership (we're talking about you, U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz), Texas makes a great case for a strong outcome at the COP21 Paris climate talks.

Image (screenshot): Online wind projects and manufacturing facilities via American Wind Energy Association.

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

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