Texas is America’s oil and gas capital, but it’s been clean energy that has increasingly powered the state over the past decade. A cleaner power grid is great news for the health and economy of Texans, if President Trump and state leaders don’t threaten progress.
The ripples of transformation began in 1999 when the Texas legislature deregulated the state’s electricity market, saying goodbye to monopoly suppliers and hello to a competitive market. Competition has opened the door to new players and forced utilities to work to offer not only low-cost products, but also attributes that customers are looking for, such as clean electricity.
Shortly after the market started, technological breakthroughs in hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as hydraulic fracturing, allowed natural gas to dethrone coal as the country’s cheapest energy resource. Natural gas prices have fallen. In fact, natural gas spot prices in 2016 were at an all-time low, about a quarter of the highest prices a decade earlier.
Meanwhile, Texas was beginning to flex its wind muscle. This was largely thanks to a forward-looking policy requiring a small portion of the state’s electricity to come from renewables, which effectively revived the country’s wind industry. Texas’ next key policy authorized the identification of areas with high potential for renewable energy, such as the West Texas Wind, and then the construction of transmission lines to bring that electricity to people. In 2002, the year deregulation began, wind energy accounted for less than 1% of Texas’ electricity mix. Last year it was almost 13%.
And Texas Solar Power is now ready to take off. As costs come down, more homes and businesses are taking advantage of the sun by installing panels. Texas is also on track to become the fastest growing large-scale solar market in the country.
This perfect storm of market forces, infrastructure and technology puts the Lone Star State on the path to a cleaner, more affordable energy future.
Texas has everything to gain from the clean energy economy, starting with the lives saved. Carbon pollution – which coal-fired power plants release into the air – leads to asthma attacks, heart attacks and premature deaths. One study estimated that reducing carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants could save 2,300 lives in Texas and $20 billion in associated health costs by 2030.
The transition to a cleaner electricity grid also creates jobs. Many of them. Texas is home to nearly a quarter of the nation’s wind power jobs, and solar jobs in the state grew 34% in 2016. Some people might be surprised to learn that wind and solar power employs now more than four times as many Texans as the fossil fuel electricity industry. And energy efficiency – our cheapest energy resource – supports nearly 150,000 jobs in Texas.
Then there is water. Coal power gobbles up water like a fraternity boy with a hangover. By harnessing the power of low-water resources like wind, sun, and energy efficiency, we could reduce this waste of precious Texas water, which could go to our cities, agriculture, and industry.
For all these reasons and more, Texas has a lot to gain from our national limits on carbon pollution from power plants, known as the Clean Power Plan. For the first time ever, the federal plan sets a pollution limit for each state’s electricity sector, providing states with sufficient flexibility and time to achieve this goal.
Plus, cleaning our air with low-carbon energy is what Texans on both sides of the aisle want — 85% of Texan voters support increasing the use of clean energy. And 71% of Texans support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant, as the Clean Power Plan would.
President Trump, meanwhile, recently announced attempts to ax critical public health protections like the Clean Power Plan. The move was unsurprising given that he had repeatedly pledged to remove environmental protections, falsely promising coal miners that it would bring back coal jobs.
Numerous independent analyzes have found that states with abundant natural gas, wind and solar power resources could reap the benefits of the Clean Power Plan. In other words, it’s the perfect description of Texas. The Center for Strategic and International Studies has estimated that as U.S. states strive to meet Clean Power Plan goals, the net natural gas revenues of Texas and two neighboring states would increase by nearly 20 billions of dollars a year.
Trump’s pushback would actually hurt job growth. The U.S. solar workforce grew 25% last year, while wind jobs grew 32%. In fact, more than 3 million Americans now work in clean energy industries like solar, wind, and energy efficiency. Coal, on the other hand, supports about 160,000 jobs, meaning clean energy employs nearly 19 times as many Americans.
Additionally, the state currently spends about $2 billion importing coal from outside of Texas. Rather than buying coal out of state, Texas should help redirect that money to creating local jobs and investment here at home by harnessing more Lone Star wind and solar power.
It would also have a profound impact on pollution and health. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s own scientific analysis, the Clean Power Plan could prevent up to 3,600 deaths each year. Breaking it down means sicker Texans — children who can’t play outside or go to school and adults who have to miss work. And while our state’s air quality has generally improved over the past decade, Texas still holds the dubious claim of being home to three of the most polluted cities in the nation, according to the American Lung Association.
America is still a nation of laws, and Trump cannot capriciously repeal the Clean Power Plan by executive order. The rules are supposed to be fact-based, and gutting this essential health protection would force the administration to ignore economic and scientific facts. I can assure Texans that the Environmental Defense Fund and other groups will sue President Trump when the administration threatens vital climate and public health protections, fighting to maintain the protections that are essential in the future. the well-being and economic prosperity of Texans.
Jim Marston is Vice President for Clean Energy, Environmental Defense Fund