April 24, 2014

Texas needs to get on the renewables bandwagon

The state can lead the nation into the energy future.

In the weeks before Earth Day 2014, Citigroup and the United Nations panel on climate change became unlikely allies in extolling the possibilities of renewable energy sources like solar-, wind- and hydro-generated electricity.

Proclaiming that the “Age of renewables” is upon us, Citibank predicted growth (and good stock opportunities) in wind and solar energy industries.

The investment bank also predicted that renewables would continue to cut into market share for coal- and nuclear-powered energy.

Last week, the International Panel on Climate Change, the U.N. group of hundreds of climate change scientists from all over the world, reported that half of the globe’s new electricity generation in 2012 came from renewable technologies.

The report said that renewables have shown “substantial improvements,” “cost reductions,” and ability to be deployed “at significant scale.”

Translation: renewables are getting a lot cheaper and more feasible for large population centers.

This news should alert Texas leaders to what the state should do to help in the global battle against climate change.

Texas has a rare chance to lead the nation into its energy future.

The IPCC report, the fifth and most dire from the panel, also warned that the world has just 15 years to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The good news is that Texas can do that cheaply by shifting from fossil-fueled power plants to renewables, which will put Texans to work and be a lot easier than cutting carbon pollution from cars.

Texas already produces more wind-generated electricity than any other state. Our state’s thousands of wind turbines have generated as much as 38 percent of the electrical power on the state’s largest power grid, according to a recent media report.

Texas is No. 1 in the nation for solar resources. We could be a leader in developing solar energy.

In March, Austin agreed to a solar energy deal with Sun Edison that will more than double the city’s solar capacity — and it’s cheap. According to a March 7 article in the Austin American Statesman, the solar-powered electricity will cost about 4.8 cents per kilowatt hour, allowing Austin Energy to “slightly lower” its rates.

Yet Texas also continues to be the No. 1 producer of greenhouse gas emissions.

If nothing else, self-interest should propel Texas toward renewables. Our state is among the hot, dry regions that climate change scientists have said will suffer disproportionately with a warmer planet.

Texas is in a long-running heat wave and historic drought. We are seeing public health impacts in the form of heat-related diseases, and insurers have reported that Texas is suffering from more weather-related disasters each year than any other state.

If we take the right course, we can not only lessen the impact but contribute to this century’s most important global battle while generating well-paid jobs in a 21st century industry for Texas.

Tom “Smitty” Smith is director of Public Citizen’s Texas office in Austin. texasfeedback@citizen.org

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