Don’t Mess With Texas’ Clean Energy

By Sarah Hodgdon, Sierra Club’s Director of Conservation, adapted from Treehugger, 3/8/12

When you think of Texas, what comes to mind? The Alamo? Longhorn cattle? The Dallas Cowboys?

Add clean energy to that list.

“Some might not think of Texas as a hotspot for renewables. But if you look at what cities here are doing, you might have to change your mind,” says Jen Powis, who leads the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal state-wide campaign in the Lone Star State.

Take Houston, for example: One-third of municipal buildings in the state’s biggest city run on renewable energy. Texas’s second-biggest city, San Antonio, is building 400 megawatts worth of solar. Less than 100 miles to the north of there, municipal buildings in Austin run on 100 percent clean energy.

What’s happening, says Powis, is bottom-up change that flies in the face of the state’s political climate.

“City by city, local leaders are the ones pushing the envelope for clean energy,” Powis says. And as large cities lead the way, other municipalities and universities will follow.

With more than 10,300 MW of installed wind energy, Texas leads the nation in wind power, and there are more than 800 MW of wind under construction. Current efforts to overhaul the state’s transmission lines should ensure even more. Meanwhile coal power has become increasingly unprofitable here.

Powis points out that politicians who oppose clean energy here will also find themselves standing in the way of jobs. The wind energy sector supports more than 8,000 jobs in Texas, according to the American Wind Energy Association(PDF). The state is home to dozens of clean-energy manufacturers, and annual tax revenues from wind projects are in the nine figures.

That being said, the Texas Public Utility Commission has stubbornly blocked solar companies from establishing themselves in this sun-rich region.

“It’s embarrassing to me as a Texan that New Jersey has more solar watts installed than we do,” Polis says. “The PUC and the state legislature have stood in the way of bringing in these good, green jobs. But that can’t go on much longer. Texas is great for solar. In five years, I bet 5,000 megawatts of coal will be replaced by clean energy here.”

You can help make sure clean energy gets the support it needs. Tell Congress to pass strong clean energy financing incentives – including the Production Tax Credit for onshore wind, the “1603” grants that have created jobs in the solar sector, access to the Investment Tax Credit for offshore wind projects, and credits for efficient manufacturing, homes, and appliances

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