Texas Expands Renewable Power Commitment

As someone who grew up only 20 minutes from the Texas state line, and who came of age when Dallas was the biggest thing on TV, it’s hard to disassociate Texas from oil. Yet, I know, for instance, that the state could easily be the nation’s biggest producer of wind power. It looks like the Texas legislature has made a move to tap wind and other renewable resources by “[doubling] the goal for the amount of wind power, solar power and other forms of renewable energy in the state’s energy mix.

House members voted 91 to 14 on Thursday to adopt Senate Bill 20, which was passed unanimously by the Senate on [Tuesday]. The legislation now goes before Gov. Rick Perry, who is expected to sign the bill into law.

Senate Bill 20 calls for the state to obtain 5,880 megawatts, or about 5 percent of the state’s electricity, from renewable energy by 2015.

The current goal, adopted in 1999, requires the state to obtain 2,880 megawatts of renewable energy, or about 3 percent of the state’s electricity, by 2009.

“This new goal is the next step toward Texas realizing its potential to be the nation’s leading producer of renewable energy,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office. “Wind power, in particular, will play a major role in meeting our future energy needs.”

This is a step forward, though compared to the renewable standards other states have set, the 5% goal (with 10% by 2025) is pretty modest. What’s interesting about Texas and renewable power is that the tax revenue from it goes to public schools:

Travis Brown, energy projects director for Public Citizen’s Texas office, said expanding the state’s renewable energy goal was relevant for the special session, since wind power projects already are generating millions of new tax dollars for public schools.

“Boosting our state’s renewable energy goal will not only help fund our schools, but it will create jobs, clean up air pollution and lessen our reliance on expensive natural gas to generate electricity,” Brown said. “And the cost of wind power is much cheaper now than natural gas and competitive with other forms of energy.”

Wind power projects in West Texas already generate almost $15 million annually in new tax revenues for public schools through property taxes. Each 100 megawatts of wind power produces more than $1 million annually in school taxes, according to a Public Citizen analysis of data.

“If you drive Interstate 10 just west of Abilene, you pass a brand new school in Trent,” Brown said. “And behind that new school – the first built there in a generation – you can see mesas lined with wind power turbines that made that school possible.”

So while the the goal set by the newly-passed bill undermines the old maxim that “everything’s big in Texas,” this state with its entrenched oil culture seems to be moving forward.

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