Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Texas' Wind Energy Industry Survives 84th Legislature

During the 84th Texas Legislature, Senate Republicans passed a bill that would effectively eliminate Texas’ wind power industry.

With a party line 21-10 vote in April, the Senate sent Senator Troy Fraser's Senate Bill 931, killing Texas' renewable energy incentives, to House lawmakers for consideration. SB931 did not advance on the House calendar and died when the 84th Legislature adjourned on Monday.

Texas leads the nation in wind power generating capacity, thanks in no small part to aggressive renewable energy targets — called a Renewable Portfolio Standard, created in 1999. The Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) is a regulation that requires electricity supply companies to produce a specified fraction of their electricity from renewable energy sources. Texas has shattered its goal of developing 5,880 megawatts of renewable energy by 2015, and even surpassed a nonbinding target of 10,000 megawatts by 2025.

The state currently generates almost 12,000 megawatts of wind generated electricity. Since 2011, 40 percent of all new energy generating capacity installed in Texas has come from wind, and the state installed more than a third of the nation’s new wind capacity last year, according to a report released Wednesday by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

Fraser's Senate Bill 931 would have deleted the renewable portfolio standard from state law as well as eliminate the Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZ), in effect, breaking a deal which was struck to put long-term, cost-effective power lines in place, and strip the Public Utility Commission of the authority to oversee the market in which credits for renewable energy are traded.  In the closing days of the legislative session, Fraser added an amendment to another power sector bill that, while leaving the credit program alone, would end the CREZ transmission project — but the House returned a companion bill to the Senate without Fraser’s amendment.
Fraser's bill is part of a well-funded nationwide effort led by Heartland Institute and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to repeal renewable energy standards state by state. Heartland and ALEC call their model law the “Electricity Freedom Act.”

Founded in the early 1970s to promote conservative policies at the state level, ALEC, promotes state legislation that benefits the profits its corporate sponsors. ALEC is funded by some of the nation’s largest energy corporations including Exxon Mobil and Koch Industries. The Heartland Institute is a Chicago-based right-wing ”think tank” and clearinghouse for the work of 350 other conservative think tanks and advocacy groups promoting “free market” solutions. Green energy programs, that might threaten the market positions of fossil fuel energy companies, are particular targets for ALEC, Heartland, and other conservative interests.

The Texas RPS has worked as an economic development incentive to diversify the state’s energy mix. States can look to Texas to see the benefits of putting pro-wind energy policies in place. The wind industry employs over 17,000 people in the state, and provides $42.5 million a year in payments to landowners who lease their land for wind turbines.

The CREZ transmission lines are an effective enabler of renewable energy development the state continues to build out. These transmission lines allow not only wind but also solar, gas and other types of generation to reach communities that need power.

The number one state in wind energy, Texas is an example of a long-term, pragmatic approach to renewable energy that has worked. Wind energy has become big business in Texas in recent years, with thousands of turbines popping up across West Texas and along the Gulf Coast. At least 2,200 megawatts’ worth of new wind farms — enough to power more than 400,000 homes — are expected to begin operation there before 2017. Earlier this year Warren Lasher, director of system planning for the state’s grid operator, said further build-out in the Panhandle could necessitate expanding the CREZ lines in that region of Texas.

What Is The Electric Reliability Council Of Texas (ERCOT)?
What Is The Public Utility Commission of Texas?

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