Friday, January 13, 2023

Texas and other conservative states embrace wind power, other renewables without acknowledging climate change

Illustration for The Economist by Brett Ryder
Red states are embracing wind power without acknowledging climate change. The Energy Information Administration predicts Texas will generate more electricity this year from renewables than from natural gas, but Texas conservatives are, well, conservative about terminology. “When someone says we are embracing green energy, it’s like shoving an ice pick through our ears,” says Matt Welch, head of Conservative Texans for Energy Innovation, told The Economist. “We just say clean energy.”

Welch spoke to The Economist's anonymous "Schumpeter" columnist, who writes, "You might think that California, which talks a good game about climate change and green energy, is on the forefront of renewables development. But Texas is far ahead." A study for Welch’s group found that in the second quarter of 2022, Texas "had three times more wind, solar and battery storage under construction than California."

That doesn't sit well with some in the energy trade for which Texas is known, oil and natural gas. "It is from their own Republican ranks that wind-energy ranchers face the most antagonism—especially from fossil-fuel producers who fear being undercut by renewables," Schumpeter reports. "Organizations like the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which lobbies on behalf of oil and gas, and the Texas Landowners Coalition, backed by right-wing beneficiaries of the fracking boom, are fighting tooth and nail to curb wind development. The TPPF’s battle extends to proposed offshore wind farms as far away as New England."

With money from the bill Democrats dubbed the Inflation Reduction Act, Texas "expects to attract big hydrogen and carbon-sequestration projects. Other Republican states like Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee are welcoming billions of dollars of clean-energy investments spurred by the IRA," Schumpeter writes. "Even conservative businesses that lobby strongly for fossil fuels hope to benefit from the energy transition. For example, Koch Industries . . . supported a big investment by Freyr, a Norwegian firm, in a battery factory in Georgia that will benefit from the law. The upshot is that there are ways to promote clean energy that do not rely on convincing climate skeptics that they are bonkers. A better sales pitch may be to play up the cost advantages of renewables rather than the climate benefits, emphasise their contribution to cutting air pollution rather than carbon emissions, and acknowledge that, owing to intermittency factors, natural gas may have a role to play in power generation for years to come."

University of Texas energy professor Michael Webber told Schumpeter, “It’s not unusual for Texas to do the right thing for all the wrong reasons.” John Davis, a rancher near Austin, noted that many others in Texas have benefited from oil and gas for generations. Finally, he said, “We struck wind.”

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