Texas Flood’s Climate Change Irony

Texas Flood’s Climate Change Irony

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USA TODAY 05/27/15
By Michael Shank

The state is actually leading the nation in green energy.

From devastating droughts to flash floods, it seems that Texas can’t get a break from extreme weather associated with climate change. Emerging recently from a multiyear record-breaking drought, with reservoirs at near record lows, now the state is suffering from flooding and record precipitation. We are entering a new normal. Texas is definitely being messed with.

Texas is witnessing an increase in extreme high temperatures. That means more hot days and heat waves, which make illness, death and disease more common (with Texas projected to see the highest death tolls nationally). That also means more severe droughts, which makes forest fires more likely, fire seasons more lengthy and groundwater more stressed.

That’s the bad news. And it’s not pretty, people are dying while others are still missing.

The good news is that Texas has been responding to all this global warming-induced extreme weather in innovative and entrepreneurial ways.

Given that Texas has its own power grid, it can move more quickly in shedding fossil fuels and integrating cleaner, greener energy supply. As a result, the state is leading the country in wind power generation, doubling what California has installed.

If you haven’t been there, West Texas is mighty windy, and the state is profiting mightily from it. It has been powering hundreds of thousands of homes on wind for years, and wind power has been outpacing coal and gas growth for some time.

Texas now generates twice as much wind power as any other U.S. state. Now that’s leadership. Other states should catch up.

In fact, Texas reached its 2025 goal of 10,000 megawatts of installed renewable energy capacity years ago. There’s that much renewable energy for the taking. That’s why many of the nation’s clean energy jobs are being created in Texas.

Much of that innovation is happening in the 35th congressional district and specifically in San Antonio, where a Clean Energy Incubator is fast and furiously fostering new business in the clean-tech field.

One utility in San Antonio, CPS Energy, has already wholly embraced a low-carbon strategy, in support of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, creating hundreds of local green jobs, building solar plants and investing hundreds of millions of dollars into the local economy.

This is the way of the future. Yet, despite this incredible, and extremely profitable, growth in green energy in Texas, the state Senate just voted to kill the Renewable Portfolio Standard that incentivizes this kind of energy transition. Without the RPS, which built Texas leadership nationally on wind energy, the state could regress back into its old fossil fuel habits, which are the very dependencies that exacerbated the very droughts and flooding that we’re trying to avoid. That would be a tremendous shame, and a hard hit to the state’s economy.

That’s why it’s time to call a Texan bluff because it’s not really about subsidies that Sen. Troy Fraser, author of the legislation to eliminate the RPS, is trying to end. If it were, then the state Senate would go after the $1 billion in tax breaks given to the natural gas industry, paid for by the taxpayers of Texas. That’s in comparison to the mere $12 million to $40 million needed to run the Renewable Portfolio Standard.

The fossil fuel industry has contributed heavily to Sen. Fraser, making this vote more about special interest lobbying than public interest policymaking.

The irony in all this is that Texas, the Lone Star state that prides itself on its freedom and independence, would be freer and more independent if it harnessed wind and solar locally. No imports. No dependency on trucked-in or trained-down Canadian tar sands or shipped Saudi oil. No meddlesome fallout from fracking lawsuits. Just pure clean energy, harnessed without harm and without hassle.

The great state of Texas can still lead this country in an energy transition. It has done so before and can do so again. And hopefully soon, before climate change messes with it some more.

Michael Shank is director of media strategy at Climate Nexus.

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