By Laura Gillies
It is easy to look at the so-called progressive states and see what they are doing, and have been doing for some time, with respect to climate change mitigation, renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy storage. In fact, many would argue states like California have driven this global trend after years of excess. However, to truly get a picture of what is happening in the US it is better to look at the more affluent and conservative states.
Known for its cowboys and nodding donkeys, Texas is a prominent producer of oil and natural gas and also, to most people’s surprise, coal. The state has been investing significantly in new forms of energy and recognizing the importance of energy diversity, but the falling cost of renewables and increased cost of fossil fuels means renewables are indeed becoming economically competitive in their own right.
Believe it or not, Texas is the largest producer of wind power in the United States, with over 24% of its energy supply coming from wind. There is also no lack of sun for solar energy, with some estimates suggesting that Texas could generate more than 100 times its current electricity needs from solar power alone. All of this combined makes Texas an ideal place for both solar and wind power, and the roll-out of this industry is well underway across many cities in the state.
Many cities in Texas have also begun to invest in energy efficiency measures. For example, the city of Austin has set a goal of reaching 100% carbon-free electricity by 2035. This ambitious goal has helped demonstrate the state’s shift towards more renewable energy. To add to this, Texas, particularly Austin, has introduced huge investments in battery storage. Battery storage plays a key role in making the electrical grids more efficient and stable as it allows balancing of the supply, which is weather dependent, and the demand, which is cyclical throughout the day. Therefore, this shift and increased investment clearly demonstrates the change in investment the state is having.
Even Houston, the so-called energy capital of the world, has started to shift towards cleaner energy. The city, like Dallas and Austin, is a Democratic stronghold and is investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency. It has set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. This decrease in emissions in a city that is renowned for its business in non-renewable energy is a massive step in the right direction. If one of the biggest oil producing cities in the world can shift in this direction, surely the rest will follow.
However, Texas has been widely criticized for its response to extreme weather events, particularly in February 2021, when great ice storms caused widespread power outages and infrastructure failures. The state’s infrastructure was designed to prioritize affordability over resiliency, which meant that the state was and still is ill-prepared to deal with the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events. This storm, along with the power outages, caused people to be without power and water for days on end. The extreme cold and lack of power led to the death of 246 Texans. This disaster was a turning point for the state, and it is clear that this marked a significant change in approach with many measures being implemented, such as weatherization, to ensure there is no further repeat.
The political landscape in Texas is also changing. The pro-business environment, low cost of living and no income tax is attracting significant relocation to the state, most markedly the tech sector from California. This is changing behaviors and attitudes and is set to continue and in particular is making the younger generation less inclined to become conservative in their views as they enter the workforce. This is impacting the cities in particular which in turn is having a knock-on effect at the state level, where the incumbent Greg Abbott, a staunch Republican, is having to walk the fine line of standing for his skepticism around climate change under the guise of energy security to meet the needs of an increasing liberal population. In fact, it is widely predicted that the state may turn blue in the coming decade given the influx from the coastal cities and the increase in size of the youth vote. Of course, Texas’ wealth was largely built on oil and gas revenues and the old money is funding a strong resistance to change. Conflict between these two forces will continue long into the future.
Texas’ investments in climate change initiatives historically have been mixed. However, whether driven by a changing demographic, pure economics, or concern for the environment, the energy center of the US is evolving its energy mix and approach. It is truly unknown and somewhat hard to believe that Texas is such a large producer of renewable energy, and whilst its carbon emissions are going away there is no sign that cowboy hats and nodding donkeys are doing the same.