For decades, the Lone Star State has been essentially synonymous with fossil fuels. While shale oil and gas have long reigned supreme in Texas, coal has also long been a prominent part of the state’s energy mix, currently clocking in at about an 18% share. But not for long. The winds of change are blowing through Texas. In 2020, for the first time ever, wind power overtook coal in the state’s overall energy mix, “the latest sign of renewable energy’s rising prominence in America’s fossil fuel heartland” according to reporting by the Financial Times this week. As the shale revolution that put Texas on the global energy map has been cooling down, the state has been fervently building up its wind power capacity. In fact, Texas has been one of the leaders in the wind power movement across the nation, “pulling in tens of billions of dollars in capital investment over the past decade and rapidly expanding electricity generation from the fuel.”
While in the very recent past renewable energy and anything that could be even remotely related with a liberal agenda were anathema in the oil fields of West Texas, the refineries along the Gulf Coast, and all halls of government where Texans commune, from Austin to Washington DC, the huge injection of cash into wind power at the same time that the U.S. shale-based economy is collapsing has been a powerfully persuasive turn of events to bring more industry leaders on board for the clean energy transition. Money has had a depoliticizing power in the energy markets in Texas, and as petro-dogma fades, some decidedly conservative folks who are decidedly uninterested in the climate or environmental causes are getting very, very rich off wind and solar.
As such, wind power accounted for a stunning quarter of the energy mix last year, not just overtaking coal but breezily blowing past it. This makes wind power the second-biggest source of energy generation in the State of Texas, coming in behind natural gas, according to data from Texan grid operator the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (Ercot).
And Texas is just getting started. Industry experts have suggested converting previous fossil fuel operations and infrastructure into large-scale solar farms, renewable energy storage facilities, and even green hydrogen production. While the powerful symbolic weight of changing oil and coal infrastructure into clean energy ventures may be a bitter pill to swallow for many of the Texans that have relied on fossil fuel as the backbone of their economy, there is a lot of data to support the suggestion that Texas needs green energy in order to get their labor force back to work.
Back in June PV Tech synthesized “a raft of new studies” which has “come to underscore the business case of pushing renewables to the heart of the COVID-19 recovery, amid claims green energy plays offer a low-cost, high-return opportunity for investors.” And a just month after that, “physicist, engineer, researcher, inventor, serial entrepreneur, and MacArthur ‘genius’ grant winner” Saul Griffith’s organization Rewiring America “made its big debut with a jobs report showing that rapid decarbonization through electrification would create 15 million to 20 million jobs in the next decade, with 5 million permanent jobs after that.”
These studies are not falling on deaf ears: industry leaders are listening, and they are adding clean energy infrastructure at a brisk clip. In Texas, “wind, solar and batteries combined make up about 95 per cent of new generation capacity that project developers have proposed connecting to the grid in the coming years,” Ercot has found. And then there’s the boost that the industry is almost certain to get from the incoming presidential administration as part of President-elect Joe Biden’s plan to target net zero emissions in the U.S. electricity sector by just 2035.
Of course, the world still runs on fossil fuels, and it would be both naive and disingenuous to suggest otherwise. But for long-term development strategies and long-lasting jobs creation, oil and coal have lost their luster. Already, jobs have dried up in the shale sector at all levels, and the world’s last-ever new build on a coal plant is on the horizon. Fossil fuels are far from gone, but the prognosis is grim.