Renewable Energy Boom Under Siege by State Legislators
Austin, Texas – The boom in West Texas wind-powered electricity generation has delivered a major economic boost to the region, including creation of over 40 new businesses and 30,000 construction jobs in 57 West Texas counties since 2001, according to data collected by Public Citizen’s Texas office.
The 40 new manufacturers and businesses make everything from wind turbine blades and steel towers to electronics, according to the data. Wind farms also generate over $85 million in taxes annually in rural Texas counties and more than $9 billion in new taxable assets in the last 14 years.
Over a five-month period in 2014 and 2015, Public Citizen’s Texas office collected data on the economic impact of wind development from county appraisers and tax assessors in the 57 West Texas counties. The data includes estimates of investment values, employment, tax revenues, and lease payments by wind farms, and it reflects review of previous research and case studies.
The results, which will be compiled in a report to be released in coming months, are supported by Gov. Rick Perry’s 2014 Texas Miracle report on the state’s industrial development. The report shows that there are over 102,000 Texans working in the renewable energy field and its support industries.
“Wind power has been a vital element in Texas’s economic success,” said David Power, deputy director of Public Citizen’s Texas office. “It’s absolutely one of the best rural economic development tools in generations. But now some lawmakers are trying to undo it — just as it’s really starting to benefit the public.”
Amid the current legislative session, Sen. Troy Fraser and other lawmakers are attempting to repeal the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), which led to the wind power boom. The RPS, passed in 1999 and implemented in 2001, mandated that electric utilities would have to purchase a percentage of their energy from renewable sources. That led to the development of hundreds of wind farms in West Texas and in the region near the state’s southern coast, as well to the start of the development of utility-scale solar power generation.
In 2014, Texas’s 398 solar companies pumped $252 million into Texas’s economy. The state’s grid operator, ERCOT, reports that 7,400 megawatts (MW) of new solar is under consideration for installation in the near future, and it predicts that Texas could have as much as 18,000 MW of electricity powered by the sun by 2030. Texas’s 330 MW of installed solar energy ranks the state 10th in the country in installed solar capacity.
The cost of solar has plummeted in recent years. It’s now so inexpensive that electricity from West Texas solar farms is cheaper than electricity from gas-fired power plants. When Austin Energy announced a year ago that it was contracting for 150 MW of solar, the utility said that the agreed price was so cheap it would slightly lower bills. Since solar farms create energy at the hottest times of the day, that energy offsets the most expensive energy – the energy produced at times of peak demand.
“To get all this cheap solar power to the market, we need additional transmission lines to be built,” Power said. “Rescinding the RPS, which is what Fraser’s bill intends to do, would make that a lot more difficult. Effectively, the bill would end our renewable energy boom.”
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