Clean, green... Texas?

Move over California. The amazing growth of Texan wind power proves renewables can be a real global player, today


Andrew Leonard
November 19, 2009 2:44AM (UTC)

According to the World Wind Energy Association, by the end of 2008, wind power accounted for 1.3 percent of global electricity consumption.

Doesn't sound like much, does it? But at growth rates of 30 percent a year, it can start to add up quickly, particularly in areas where wind farms are concentrated, such as Texas, or Spain. Just over a week ago, wind power accounted for over half of Spain's electricity consumption for five hours (albeit in the middle of the night, when overall usage hit a low.) Even more amazingly, as the Wall Street Journal's Environmental Capital blog informs us, on Oct 28, at about 8:30 p.m., wind power accounted for 18 percent of all of Texas' electricity consumption -- or about 6223 megawatts.

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There are many reasons why Texas is suddenly the U.S. leader in wind power -- lots of wind, fewer bureaucratic constraints on siting new facilities, generally high electricity prices that make wind power relatively more attractive. Some of these can be replicated elsewhere and some can't. But maybe the most important fact to consider about Texas is how fast the wind power marke thas grown. Ten years ago, Texas had an installed capacity of just 180 megawatts. In 2007, 4296. Two weeks ago...6223 at 8:30 p.m.

So whenever you hear someone pooh pooh the idea that renewable energy will ever account for a significant proportion of global energy consumption, just refer them to Texas. If the economics are right, change can happen, very, very quickly. If, for example, a cap-and-trade system rejiggered energy prices to make wind and solar even more competitive, investment would flow to the cleantech sector like the Mississippi flows to the Gulf of Mexico. Sure, there are storage and transmission issues, but these can and will be solved, if the prices are right.

Now, it is true that many Texan wind farms are operated by foreign companies, and that has caused a brouhaha of late, because stimulus money aimed at boosting the deployment of wind farms inevitably gets spent on wind turbines that are manufactured in foreign countries. There are still jobs, especially for depressed rural areas, in wind farms, but the really good jobs are in building turbines. The political heat on one recent project got so intense that the developer has now promised to build a wind turbine plant in the United States, as part of the deal.

Balancing green jobs and green power is always going to be tricky. If the U.S. wants to ramp up green power as fast as possible, other nations will benefit, because they have emphasized the development of their green power sector more consistently than has the U.S. But that is all the more reason to push forward on a climate/energy bill that resets marketplace parameters in the United States. Because if Texas-sized wind power growth tells us anything, it is that abrupt transformative change is entirely possible. And where growth at that rate occurs, there will be jobs, and lots of 'em.


Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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