The corporate sector is pushing renewable energy full steam ahead into the next phase. Apple, eBay, Samsung Austin Semiconductor and Sprint have announced a joint agreement to purchase power from a new wind farm in Texas owned by Apex Clean Energy. The wind farm, roughly located midway between San Antonio and El Paso, is expected to come online in 2021. A partnership like this, from several companies with offices in the Austin metro area, is an innovative way for companies to pool their energy demands and support larger-scale renewable energy projects. It brings down the cost to each partner company and enables more renewable energy to be brought onto the grid.
The 500-megawatt White Mesa Wind project is expected to begin operations during 2021 in Crockett County, Texas.
Apple also recently announced plans to open a new $1 billion office in Austin, a decision that will bring 15,000 jobs to the region. The tech giant already powers 100 percent of its global operations with renewable energy; for this project, Apple reached out to the other business partners to join its pursuit of additional renewables investment in Texas. Hence this strategy fits well with the other tech companies’ commitments; for example, eBay aims to reach 100 percent renewable energy at its offices and data centers by 2025.
In addition to bringing that additional 500 megawatts of wind power to the Texas grid, this investment by four market-leading brands focuses more attention to renewable energy’s potential. Though Texas is the top wind energy-producing state in the country, state lawmakers have repeatedly tried to limit its reach. Solar has only recently become a player in Texas despite the state’s vast capacity for this source of power. This increased deployment of solar is due more to market forces, including the drop in the price of solar compared to coal and natural gas, as well as the reality that coal no longer makes economic sense. Investments like the one announced by these companies will only help drive costs down further.
The investments Texas has made in renewables may not generate big headlines when compared to other states like California. This news may even make some clean tech advocates on the west coast yawn. After all, the Golden State has stood out by setting statewide policies to achieve higher renewable energy penetration rates as well as greenhouse gas emission reductions targets. This new Texas wind farm project, however, is a step in the right direction.
But Texas, though many citizens are proud of its wind energy sector, is not typically a champion of environmental solutions at the state leadership level. In fact, the top government leaders in Texas have been vocal in their opposition about taking on climate change. Despite being on the frontline of climate change—from droughts to floods, from hurricanes to heat waves—the conventional energy sector, based largely in Houston, has overall resisted calls for greater investment in renewable energy.
Nevertheless, change is occurring at the local level across Texas. And here is where the corporate sector, along with cities, is changing the face of energy in the state: All the major Texas cities have either set climate goals or are in the process of setting them, and those same cities welcome corporations who align with those goals. The high-tech sector, centered in Austin, which is affectionally called “Silicon Hills," has more incentive than many other industries to invest in renewable energy, given their emissions footprint due to operations such as data centers, which have a very high electricity demand.
In the absence of political leadership in taking action on climate change, particularly when it comes to investments in renewable energy, corporations are stepping in to fill the void. High-profile technology companies have the potential to make a difference in the states where they operate, and this announcement shows that they are seizing such opportunities.
Image credit: White Mesa Wind
Kate is a writer and policy wonk, with a focus on water, clean energy, climate change and environmental security. She spent over a decade running energy-water nexus and energy efficiency programs at Environmental Defense Fund as well as time at the U.S. Departments of Energy and Defense, U.S. Government Accountability Office, and state and federal legislatures. She serves as an Advisory Board member of CleanTX, which aims to accelerate the growth of the clean tech industry in Texas.