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Texas lawmaker calls for study on 100 percent renewables target

Jordan Smith
By Jordan Smith April 14th, 2021
For business

The renewables target in Houston has been met with support and concerns.

A Texas senator wants the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to conduct a study on how the state’s electric grid could reach 100 percent renewables. Senator Cesar Blanco has introduced a bill that calls on the PUC to present the study’s results by the end of 2022.

The investigation would identify the steps for Texas to reach 100 percent renewables. It would also examine the main obstacles and outline key economic benefits. Currently, about 25 percent of Texas’ electricity grid is powered by renewables. This is led by the state’s large wind sector.

Texas last set renewable energy targets in 1999. These included a goal of obtaining 5,000 megawatts of renewables by 2015 and 10,000 megawatts by 2025. The state achieved its 2025 goal by 2009. This was because of a massive buildout of transmission infrastructure to connect wind power to the grid.

Share of renewables on the grid continues to rise

The percentage of the Texas grid powered by wind and solar has been on an upward trend over recent years. In 2019, wind power produced 20 percent of the energy for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) grid. This drew wind power level with coal for the first time. In April 2020, wind energy supplied 27.6 percent of ERCOT’s energy demand, a monthly record. Solar power generation also surpassed its monthly peak in April 2020. It accounted for 2.2 percent of the grid’s power capacity.

ERCOT recorded large increases in wind and solar capacity on its grid during 2020. The grid manager expected to end 2020 with 31,069 megawatts of wind power on the grid. This was after almost as much wind came online during 2020 as the previous five years combined. ERCOT projected solar power capacity would triple to 6,035 megawatts.

ERCOT’s list of ongoing energy projects is mostly wind, solar, and battery storage projects. As of August 2020, the queue contained more than 76,000 megawatts of solar projects, 25,000 megawatts of wind projects, and 17,000 megawatts of energy storage projects. This compares to only 7,000 megawatts of natural gas plants.

Joshua Rhodes is an energy researcher at the University of Texas at Austin. Rhodes argues renewables can provide more stability to local tax revenues and payments to landowners. This is because their costs are less subject to the fluctuations of the global oil and gas markets.

Rhodes wrote, “While revenues and royalties from oil and gas are tied to global markets that are stubbornly stalled out and declining, all indications are that, especially in Texas, electricity demand is only going to grow. That growth will mean more renewables along with the grid and financial stability they bring.”

Texas cities already pursuing renewable energy goals

Houston is known as the energy capital for its long-standing relationship with the oil sector. But the city recently adopted a climate action plan that includes renewables targets. As part of a contract with NRG Energy, the city began using 100 percent renewables for municipal operations as of July 2020.

City authorities say the seven-year contract will save Houston $65 million on its energy bills. “This announcement is a shining example of how the Houston Climate Action Plan is already in motion,” says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. “Together, we are leading by example and showing how to reduce emissions in the Energy Capital of the World.”

The Climate Action Plan aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 in four main areas. These include transportation, energy transition, building optimization, and materials management.

Renewables targets must overcome obstacles

In spite of these developments, the goal of 100 percent renewables proposed by Senator Blanco remains a long way off. Natural gas continues to play a major role in the Texas electricity grid, which relies on gas power plants to meet almost half of its demand.

Opponents of Blanco’s proposal argue that their rapid growth has taken place mainly due to government subsidies. In addition, they fear that the higher the percentage of renewables on the electricity grid, the more consumers will have to pay to cover the costs.

 

Jordan Smith is a freelance journalist and translator covering issues related to energy, the environment, and politics. His work has appeared on the independent news site Opposing Views and at the Canadian Labour Institute.

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