For all the talk about the urgent need for a green energy revolution, few seem to have noticed that one is quietly underway already in an unlikely place.
Since 1999, when Texas implemented voluntary renewable energy targets, the state has installed nearly 15,000 turbines, increasing its wind energy capacity from just 116 megawatts in 2000 to nearly 29,000 in 2018.
It’s no accident that Texas has produced more than one quarter of America’s wind energy for each of the past three years. It’s the result of two decades of sound policy choices such as the partial deregulation of the state’s energy market and the later establishment of Competitive Renewable Energy Zones and construction of 3,500 miles of transmission lines.
Far more familiar are Texas’ exploits in fossil fuels. Spurred by technology such as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, its natural gas output has increased 50 percent since 2000. America’s recent energy independence is powered by the state’s eye-popping oil production, amounting to 41 percent of the national total.
If Texas were still its own country, it would be the world’s fifth biggest producer of oil — and wind energy.
The secret to Texas’ success in energy lies in its embrace of an all-of-the-above approach. According to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the state’s electric grid, so far in 2020 natural gas has provided 40 percent of Texas’ electricity, with another 26 percent from wind. Just 16 percent of the state’s electricity was sourced from coal this year, less than half its share in 2007.
Instead of insisting on energy purity, environmentalists should celebrate this trend. Falling utilization of coal for electric power has largely driven domestic emissions reductions over the past 15 years. Decreases in coal consumption explained almost all of America’s 2.1 percent emissions drop in 2019.
Others would be wise to replicate the Texas model. In the meantime, responsible exploitation of vast domestic natural gas reserves will provide a commercially viable, lower-emission bridge from the current alternative.
Of course, to achieve this outcome we must first weather grave threats posed by an international oil price war and the coronavirus pandemic. Stakeholders should cooperate with international producers to rein in oil production amid unprecedented volatility, an effort in which the Railroad Commission of Texas could play a key role.
However, even drastic production cuts are unlikely to keep pace with the estimated 24-million-barrel glut brought on by plummeting global demand for oil.
The Texas energy miracle has proven that the United States can achieve energy independence while cutting emissions. However, if domestic oil and gas production should founder before renewable energy sources are prepared to shoulder the lion’s share of our energy needs, much of the last decade’s emissions reductions could be erased.
Besides, as the coronavirus pandemic has reminded us, there is a strategic rationale for fighting to preserve our strength in energy: an America dependent on foreign nations for crucial resources may be unable to implement its best intentions in times of crisis.