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Texas: Our National Leader in Wind Energy

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My former home of Georgetown, Texas is set to become the first city in the United States to be entirely powered by wind and solar energy. It’s remarkable how Texas has become the national leader on renewable energy. Of course, it’s not for some sort of political principle. Rather, Texas is gigantic with seemingly endless open, windy spaces in the western part of the state and the state has its own electricity grid to send that energy to the populated areas farther east. But Georgetown is a deeply Republican place. It’s not as crazy as, say, the Houston suburbs, but it’s quite conservative. Yet this is city that is pioneering the nation’s hopeful energy future.

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  • Davis X. Machina

    It has to cost a fortune to run them.

    (My governor, Landslide LePage, has reliably informed me that they put electric motors in them, to spin the blades and make it look good. Because they don’t actually work.)

    • CD

      I have heard Texas’ wind-power lead attributed to its relative lack of regulation, zoning etc. and its proud tradition of ugly energy-related development.

      I wonder if that explains why Texan wind power escaped the LePage types. Because, yeah, teapartiers in the rest of the country have all gotten the memo that windmills are a commie plot like fluoridation, and the crankish NIMBYism has been unbelievable.

      • sharonT

        T. Boone Pickens was ready to make a big investment in wind until oil and natural gas prices started to fall. He cited the fact that Texas was home to big empty spaces that were perfect for wind farms.

        Then again the Texsa legislature passed a law forbidding municipalities from instituting regulations like fracking bans (sorry Denton) so Texas is kind of half assing enlightened energy policy.

        Baby steps.

      • Michael Cain

        Interesting to note that Georgetown has a municipal electric utility, rather than depending on one of those nice investor-owned outfits. It’s been a long time since I looked at Texas’ utility statutes in detail, but I believe that Georgetown’s municipal utility is not subject to a number of Texas state-level rules and regulations.

  • curiouscliche

    This is extremely awesome news, and I don’t mean to derail, but you should know more about Houston before you paint the suburbs with a broad brush. I live within the 610 loop, but I was doing community organizing in the suburbs for over a year (including a field-test for messaging on comprehensive immigration reform). Most of the suburbs (although not FBC) are working class or lower middle class, and have much less racial segregation than the Northeast or Midwest. Of course, if you were talking specifically about political views on renewable energy, then I apologize and you’re absolutely right. Most of those working class suburbanites work in O & G. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/24/us/what-ethnic-diversity-looks-like-fort-bend.html

    • A look at who represents the Houston suburbs in Congress finds nutball after nutball.

      • Thom

        John Carter (Georgetown’s rep in Congress) is pretty hardcore conservative, but I don’t know if he’s as crazy as the people you are referencing. The city council used to be somewhat balanced, but has swung righter in the last few years. Is this the influence of our ever-growing retiree population? Probably. And of course, both here and in Houston, and elsewhere, there’s the question of who votes.

        But the energy story shows that good things can happen even for non-saintly reasons, sometimes.

  • Karen24

    Loomis lived there and knows this, that Georgetown is very conservative, but not nearly the Fruit Loop variety one finds in, say, Midland. They’re more of the “We are NOT those Dirty Hippies in Austin with their organic marijuana and use of patchouli oil in place of bath soap.” They don’t like sex, drugs, rock and roll, or labor unions, but they also don’t like foreign oil and pollution. They vote Republican because Austin is Democrat.

    • It always felt like a town that could theoretically elect a Democrat in the right circumstance, as opposed to most of non-inner city or border region Texas

      • Thom

        Again, the council was half Democratic just a few years ago.

        • Karen24

          Yeah, what Thom says. At the moment, anti-Austin and anti-Obama sentiment controls Georgetown. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next year. The most recent Lege did nothing to endear themselves to anyone but nut cases.

  • joel hanes

    Iowa gets a third of its total electricity needs from windpower.

    • Davis X. Machina

      During every fourth February, that spikes to a half…

    • Ahuitzotl

      Iowa has electricity?

    • ThrottleJockey

      If Iowa could bottle the methane from all those pigs & cows it could do even better in the energy department!

  • rm

    This post shows why renewable energy will not always be a hippy commie thing right-wingers hate. One day, suddenly, it will always have been a conservative Red State God Bless American thing.

  • Gwen

    I’ve engaged in a handful of business items in Georgetown. It’s where I took a handgun safety course, ate a hotdog at Sonic, and paid my taxes when I lived in Williamson County.

    Yup, that about sums it up.

  • Jordan

    Thats good for Texas (and Georgetown), but Texas isn’t the leader in renewable energy. Idaho is the top rated state on a percentage basis (all those rivers!), and lots of states produce more total renewable BTUs (Washington, I think, produces the most – again, all those rivers!).

    Texas, I think, does lead in wind production (as the title says).

    The Texas and Idaho thing does, I think, provide a reason to think that renewable energy can find a home in deep red states provided they have the environments that support such production.

    • Jordan

      (sorry, that should read that Idaho is tied with several others as the top-rated state)

    • tsam

      I think the nut jobs are fine with renewables as long as those thuggish Feds aren’t telling them to do it. Of course there will always be people who just reflexively hate anything an environmentalist or liberal likes, but for the most part, I think even right wingers don’t care where their power comes from as long as they have their porn and TV shows.

      • Lee Rudolph

        I think even right wingers don’t care where their power comes from

        though they especially like it if it grows out of the barrel of a gun! … Wait, what?

      • matt w

        Dunno, the people who are rolling coal seem like they’re targeting hippies with their environmental concerns just as much as those pesky regulations. When they call it “Prius repellent” they’re not targeting overbearing regulations.

        • Jordan

          True. But those people are only some right wingers, and often lower class (economically) ones, and therefore often aren’t actually the people in power (as opposed to the people that the people in power often have to pander too).

          Idaho’s (electrical) power is provided by a state monopoly, more or less, and they do renewable power because its way cheap. They aren’t going to give up money to truck in coal and build a coal plant for the sake of screwing those damn hippies.

          • matt w

            Oh yeah, I’m not trying to deny that the Republicans in power might be open to renewables as such–just speaking narrowly to the nut jobs. Depends partly on your definition of nut job I suppose.

            • Jordan

              Yeah, fair enough. Maybe its just cause I’m from Idaho: lots and lots and lots of nutjobs, and yet …

      • Jordan

        Yeah, if *THEY* are telling them to do it, FUCK NO.

        If *WE* are doing it, then that is just the spirit of free enterprise and entrepreneurship.

        I think you see the same thing with right wing “natural foods” and “organic” stuff, although some of that might be conspiracy-theory-tinged.

  • matt w

    When I was in Lubbock I saw some article that said, in order to produce some amount of solar energy we’d need to cover an area the size of Connecticut in solar panels. And I thought, “Damn, I could easily find an area the size of Connecticut out here that you could cover in solar panels and no one would notice.”

    …I guess King County is only one-sixth the total area of Texas, but there’s probably like twelve of those you could half cover or something.

    • It must be Elon Musk’s estimate of the land you would need to meet the entire US electricity demand, with pv panels and his batteries.

      It will never be that much. Conversion efficiencies are steadily creeping up – Trina sell a premium polycrystalline panel at close to 20%, and tandem silicon-perovskite cells are on the horizon at 30%. Efficiency gains translate proportionally into area reductions. Second, an all-solar scenario is only a thought experiment. Any real-world scenario includes as much wind as solar, plus geothermal, hydro and biomass.

      • matt w

        Responding to this late, but it wasn’t Elon Musk’s estimate I’m remembering. It was a few years ago (maybe 2005-7 when I was living in West Texas?) and it was specifically Connecticut–the “few counties in Texas” was my thought, having driven across those counties.

        …oh, well, I see I blogged it at the time and I have confabulated my memories somewhat. It was an Elizabeth Kolbert piece in the New Yorker and I had not yet experienced the vast emptiness of the drive from Lubbock to Wichita Falls. My go-to example of a place with nothing in it was Western Nebraska.

        The article I was citing is online now, for New Yorker subscribers who can figure out how to link their stupid subscription to the website.

  • MyOhMy

    This is extremely geeky, but there’s a neat animated global wind map at http://earth.nullschool.net/ . Of relevance to Texas wind farms, you can usually see the wind blowing across the Windward (natch) Islands, across the Caribbean and Gulf of Mixico and then turning north across the Texas Gulf Coast and up through Central Texas.

  • joe from Lowell

    Texas has that big natural resource you mention, but it has something else as well: an extensive, well-connected, advanced energy sector ready to take advantage of the profit potential of that natural resource.

    Something I’d like to see explained: why is Arizona lagging so badly on solar energy?

    • Jordan

      One story: they are dysfunctional. As I kinda mentioned above, Idaho ties for the cleanest state in the nation. Why? Because they have lots and lots of rivers, so hydropower. They use their natural resources (like Texas does). Arizona doesn’t because its disfunctional.

      Another story: solar still isn’t quite there at an absolutely short-term, dollars per kilowatts level. And to the extent that it is, the advantages provided by Arizona over California are mitigated by the distances to California places.

      Probably some of each?

  • Bitter Scribe

    Germany has highly developed solar power because they have sane, sensible policies and regulations that force power companies to allow local power onto the grid. In America, meanwhile, we let them charge for it.

  • Is that a real photo? It looks like something photoshopped for an attack site. Actual spacing is much wider than that, for turbulence issues.

  • j_kay

    It’s totally we ObamaCommieNazis’ fault. Seriously, Austin Energy was an early investor, and Georgetown must’ve just hooked up to us. And probably some other big liberal cities helped, too.

    Wind’s big because there was a time before solar started catching up price-wise. Like water was big before we ran low on rivers.

    But isn’t Round Rock right of Genghis Khan, much less Georgetown?

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