Energy transition

Why Texas, a Clean Energy Powerhouse, Is About To Hit the Brakes

The state’s clean energy boom could be impeded by Texas leaders’ push for legislation that would boost natural gas and place new restrictions on wind and solar projects.

Wind turbines are seen at sunset on a wind farm near Del Rio, Texas. Lawmakers in the Lone Star state are considering legislation that would slow the growth of new solar and wind projects.
Source: Eric Gay/The Associated Press

Already No. 1 in wind power, and home to a fast-growing solar industry, Texas is poised to become a renewable energy powerhouse—timely because President Biden’s climate bill is about to deliver billions in subsidies.

But instead of embracing the green boom, Texas’ Republican-controlled legislature has introduced a spate of bills that could slow the growth of wind and solar industries, which has their leaders alarmed.

“Every state has legislation related to the placement of projects, but what we’re seeing in Texas is far beyond anything we’ve seen anywhere else,” said Jeff Clark, chief executive of the Advanced Power Alliance, an Austin-based trade group for renewable energy companies. “The aggressiveness of some of this legislation and the volume is unprecedented.”

Texas embraces a famously laissez-faire approach to energy development, but now some of its most antiregulatory lawmakers are pushing new rules and permitting requirements for solar and wind, while backing measures that would bolster natural gas. Some Republicans have justified these moves by arguing that renewable energy is inherently unreliable and that more fossil fuels are needed to avoid another electricity blackout crisis—even though most of the loss of generating capacity during the 2021 outage came from gas power plants.

Other GOP officials say they are acting, in part, because the rapid expansion of solar and wind projects threatens the scenic character and way of the life of the state’s rural communities.

Solar and wind developers and environmental groups say these arguments are a cover for a politically driven effort to penalize renewables. After years of enjoying a hands-off environment, they say renewable energy has gotten caught up in a polarized culture war that has conservative state lawmakers attacking the industry to establish their national bona fides.

One of the bills in question would require large-scale wind and solar farms to win the approval of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, whose members are appointed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, a staunch supporter of fossil fuels. New projects would be subject to a state environmental impact review, developers would have to pay a yearly fee, and they would need a new permit anytime they made significant changes to existing projects. Senate Bill 624 would also require wind turbines to be built at least 3,000 ft from any property lines—a little more than half a mile—a distance Clark called “absurd.”

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