Texas leads the US in renewable electricity production, but Republican lawmakers want to curb that and boost fossil fuels instead.
Texas is a leader in renewables… and fossil fuels
Texas generated 136,118 gigawatt-hours from wind and utility-scale solar in 2022, according to the EIA. (Compare that to No. 2 California, with 52,927 gigawatt-hours.) Texas’ predominant renewable source was wind, and in fact, Texas produced about 26% of all US wind-powered electricity generation in 2021.
But Texas also leads the US in fossil-fuel production. Wind and solar were just 34.3% of the total from all sources. In 2021, Texas accounted for 43% of the nation’s crude oil production and 25% of its marketed natural gas production. Texas has the most crude oil refineries and the most refining capacity of any state.
Yesterday, Republican state senators Charles Schwertner and Phil King filed bills designed to restrict renewable energy in Texas and boost fossil-fuel power plant development. Specifically, they want more natural gas power plants in the state, and they have the backing of Lt. Governor Dan Patrick.
There are nine bills, and the Dallas Morning News reports that details remain scant, including costs to taxpayers. Bills of note include [via the News]:
- Senate Bill 6 would create a 10,000-megawatt reserve of gas-fueled power plants for times of high demand as well as a low-interest loan program for the construction of new gas plants.
- SB 7 would put in place a market construct that would steer electricity sources toward natural gas power plants and would force wind and solar power sources to either have dispatchable power on site or buy electricity to place in the market when they are not producing.
- SB 2014 would eliminate any remaining state incentives for building renewable energy.
- SB 2015 would prevent the development of renewable energy in Texas from outpacing natural gas by placing a cap on the amount of new renewable megawatts based on the amount of natural gas generation in the pipeline.
They’re citing the Big Freeze in 2021 as a reason for boosting natural gas in these bills, claiming that renewables were the biggest reason for grid failure, and that’s false. Governor Greg Abbott released a statement during the extreme weather incident in 2021:
Due to the severe weather and freezing temperatures across our state, many power companies have been unable to generate power, whether it’s from coal, natural gas, or wind power.
The source of energy that was the biggest failure during the Texas Big Freeze was actually natural gas. Natural gas production, transportation, and supply were significantly impacted due to the freezing temperatures and high heating demand. As a result, some gas-fired power plants failed or were forced to shut down, leading to a shortage of electricity supply.
Wind and solar also experienced reduced output, but they didn’t fail to the extent that natural gas did. Coal-fired power plants also experienced issues, but they weren’t as significant as those experienced by natural gas.
Patrick also cited “fairness and equity” as reasons for the new bills. Fossil fuels make up the majority of Texas power sources. That purely political argument is pretty stupid, since they’re effectively potentially kneecapping a booming and necessary new industry.
The Dallas Morning News rightly warns that if the bills pass, “They would unleash market forces that have the potential to disrupt billions of dollars in upcoming renewable energy investment in Texas while placing a thumb on the scale on the side of fossil fuel.”
Texas has been successful with wind and solar due to a previously friendly regulatory system. While the Inflation Reduction Act and the momentum of renewables in the commercial sector will help, I’m not optimistic that Texas lawmakers will do the smart thing and throw out these bills. And it won’t just be Texas that suffers for it.
Read more: Here’s how rooftop solar could have prevented 2021’s Texas big freeze power outage