Could a Growing Green Economy Turn Texas Blue?

By Julia Pyper, host/producer of the Political Climate podcast

As Hurricane Laura pounds Texas with winds of over a hundred and fifty miles an hour, looking ahead to the future of wind power in the state is more than a little ironic. From a climate perspective, the rapid expansion of low-carbon energy resources in Texas couldn’t come soon enough. Former Texas Public Utility Commissioner Pat Wood explains in a recent Political Climate podcast, why wind and solar are growing so fast in the oil and gas-heavy state (listen to the full interview here).

Why This Matters: Texas has dominated the U.S. crude oil and natural gas industry since the early 20th century and remains the leading producer of these fossil fuel resources. But the falling cost of renewable power generation coupled with Texas’ prime wind and solar resources and business-friendly regulatory environment are positioning the state as a leading renewable energy producer, challenging the conventional wisdom that it is solely an oil and gas state.

Whether or not Texas’ growing green economy will have any impact on the state’s politics, even in today’s highly politicized environment, remains to be seen. But it might.

It Began With Governor George W. Bush

“We like wind. Go get smart on it.” This simple statement in the mid-90s from then-Governor of Texas George W. Bush to then-Public Utility Commissioner Wood, launched a statewide campaign to move Texas to a competitive power market where renewable energy resources would ultimately play a major role. 

Wood tells the Political Climate podcast that when Texans were presented with the costs and benefits of renewable energy as part of public opinion research on transforming the state’s energy market, respondents said they were willing to pay slightly more for those benefits, prompting the adoption of the first renewable portfolio standard (RPS) in Texas in 1999.

Today, Texas leads the nation in wind-powered generation, producing roughly 28% of all the U.S. wind-powered electricity in 2019. At the same time, solar in Texas is on a tear, with the state grid operator forecasting 150% growth in utility-scale solar capacity this year and another 130% growth next year. Last year, Texas generated more energy from renewable sources than from coal.

From Red to Green: Traditionally a Republican bastion, there are signs that Texas may now be turning from red to blue on the political ideology spectrum. In 2018, Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke gave incumbent Republican Ted Cruz a tight race for reelection to the U.S. Senate. This year, Democrats see another opening for a win in Texas with Joe Biden polling neck and neck with President Trump. Could support for the state’s clean energy industry translate to support for Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan?

It’s not clear that Texas is becoming a reliable swing state. Pat Wood tells Political Climate that Texas is really becoming a reliable “green state,” and that the shift is happening outside of partisan politics. While climate’s role in driving clean energy policy has been a sticking point for Republicans, Wood argues that there are many other selling points that Texans have embraced:

“The fact it’s local, the fact it’s cheap, the fact that somebody gets to put it on their land and get paid royalties for a wind [turbine] being there, the fact that there’s a lot of domestic jobs – all those things that are classic economic development.”

To Go Deeper: Listen to the full interview with Pat Wood on Political Climate!

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