Texas renewable energy requirement in cross-hairs at Capitol

Citing Texas’ position as the number one generator of wind power, a leading Central Texas lawmaker wants to wrap up the program that launched renewable energy in the state.

“Not only did we roar past the goal we had in place, we have more than doubled that goal,” state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, said during a hearing Tuesday on his proposal to end the renewable portfolio standard.

The 2005 version of the RPS, as it’s known, required utilities to get 5,880 megawatts of new energy renewable by 2015. The state now has more than 14,000 megawatts of installed wind capacity.

“We have done what we intended to accomplish,” said Fraser, whose bill also ends the special process of building transmission lines to deliver power from far-flung wind farms to the state’s cities. (That transmission system has cost Texas ratepayers more than $7 billion.)

Fraser was one of the original champions of the renewable portfolio standard. But if his new bill becomes law, it “will make national news that this state is no longer committed to an all-of-the-above-energy-strategy,” warned Jeff Clark, who heads the Wind Coalition, a trade group.

The bill comes in the wake of attacks by Texas policy-makers on renewable energy. Last summer, Donna Nelson, the chairwoman of the Public Utility Commission, said she doesn’t want to add to the “subsidization” of the wind industry.

The renewable industry and environmentalists struck back at the hearing, claiming that ending the renewable portfolio standard would send a message to wind and solar investors that Texas was not committed to helping their business.

“Changing our policies midstream hurts investor confidence in Texas’ famed stable business environment,” said Charlie Hemmeline.

The Pew Charitable Trusts found a drop of hundreds of millions of dollars in renewable investment in Ohio after that state took up legislation to weaken or freeze its renewable goals.

“We want your money here,” responded Fraser. “There’s no message here other than: ‘The goal was set, mission accomplished.'”

In what might be a peek at a strategy to kill the bill by rallying rural lawmakers, David Power of Public Citizen cited the value of transmission lines and wind farms to rural areas in his opposition to the proposal.

But Bill Peacock of the Texas Public Policy Foundation said the transmission lines amounted to a subsidy “no longer needed.” “They can compete in the market,” he said of renewable power — a suggestion that renewable energy industry lobbyists said ignores subsidies for other forms of energy.




Author: Asher Price

Asher Price has covered energy and the environment for the American-Statesman since 2006. Twice the Society of Environmental Journalists has named him a finalist for its beat reporter of the year award. He spent part of the spring of 2011 as an environmental science journalism fellow at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., and during the 2011-12 academic year was stationed at Columbia’s business and journalism schools as a Knight-Bagehot fellow. He is the co-author of the book The Great Texas Wind Rush: How George Bush, Ann Richards and a Bunch of Tinkerers Helped the Oil and Gas State Win the Race to Wind Power. (UT Press.) His new book, Year of the Dunk, comes out in May 2015. He lives in the South Congress neighborhood with his wife and dog.

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