Executive Director, Environment Texas
Executive Director, Environment Texas
Op-ed by Luke Metzger
As Texas politicians scratch their heads trying to figure out the thorny issues of how to fund our schools, how to guarantee adequate water supplies for the future, how to revive our struggling economy and how to protect Texas from the threat of terrorism, they need only look to the heavens for some help.
No, I’m not talking about divine intervention (although some days it seems like that’s the only thing that will get consensus on a school finance plan). What I’m talking about is looking to the heavens for the energy from the sun and wind that can help power our future.
We all know that if we produce more of our energy from renewable sources like wind and solar power that we will have less air pollution and a cleaner environment. But more renewable energy will also provide more tax revenues for schools, help save our precious water supplies, create thousands of new jobs and help reduce the threat of terrorist attack.
In 1999, then-Governor Bush signed a law that requires electric utilities to get approximately 3% of their energy from clean, renewable sources by 2009. Since then, Texas has had a boom in wind power development. In fact, in 2001, more wind generation capacity was erected in Texas than the rest of the nation combined. These new wind turbines are helping reduce pollution, but they’re also helping our state in many other ways.
According to a study by Public Citizen and the SEED Coalition, the Texas wind industry employed more than 2,500 workers during 2001, paying them more than $75 million in salary. Landowners who leased their land to wind developers reaped an estimated $2.5 million in royalty payments. Texas school districts were paid more than $11.6 million in property taxes.
Renewable energy is also helping save water. Conventional power plants use more water than any other industrial, governmental or residential activity. Using only a fraction of the water that coal or nuclear plants use, increased investments in wind and solar power will help make sure we have enough water to drink, to keep our lakes and rivers filled and to grow our crops.
More wind and solar will also help national security. Of course, it’ll help reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but it’ll also reduce the number of large, central power production facilities that are attractive targets for terrorists. Widely dispersed wind and solar facilities will also improve the reliability of our power supply.
With the potential to get many more times our current energy use from renewable sources, Texas leaders are realizing that wind, solar and clean biomass can help solve many of our problems. The cities of Austin and San Antonio have announced major investments in clean energy. Land Commissioner Patterson has announced that state lands, including offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, will be opened to wind development.
Not wanting to leave renewable energy development to chance, Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst has wisely called for Texas to require utilities to get 10% of their electricity from renewable sources. If adopted, Dewhurst’s plan would create significant economic benefits including more than 18,000 new jobs, $216 million annually in additional property tax payments to fund schools, hospitals and other county needs and $30 million a year in royalties paid to farmers, ranchers and other landowners.
Renewable energy isn’t some new idea. Texas farmers and ranchers have used windmills to pump water for centuries. Thomas Edison, in addition to inventing the light bulb, also invented the world’s first practical centralized power system. In 1916 he said, “You see, we should make use of the forces of nature and should obtain all our power in this way. Sunshine is a form of energy; wind and sea currents are manifestations of this energy. Do we make use of them? Oh no! We burn forests and coal, like tenants burning down our front door for heating. We live like wild settlers and not as though these resources belong to us.”
Our wind and solar resources do belong to us and it’s time we put them to work solving our problems. The promise of clean energy is great, and Texas is in a prime position to profit from it.
Luke Metzger is an Advocate for the Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG), a statewide, non-profit, non-partisan advocate for the public interest. Learn more about “The Promise of Clean Energy” at www.texpirg.org