Wind energy in Texas creates jobs, saves water

Dianne Anderson
By Dianne Anderson

Wind energy generated by turbines has many benefits in Texas.

Move over east coast New York and west coast California, Texas leads the country in wind energy. Texas produces the most wind power in the nation, accounting for nearly 28 percent of the nation’s wind power in September alone.

Wind power recently surpassed 100 GW of installed capacity nationwide, with approximately one-quarter of that hailing from Texas.

Greg Alvarez, spokesperson for the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), is encouraged to see innovative wind turbines now drive about one-fifth of all energy production statewide.

Unlike other energy sources, Alvarez appreciates how wind energy benefits the community across the board, creating tens of thousands of jobs and saving millions of gallons of water each year.

The Lone Star State has suffered through years of drought, but Alvarez explains wind turbines generate the same amount of electricity power as fossil fuel, while using virtually no water in the process.

“Were you to generate the amount of power that wind turbines generate with conventional power plants, coal plants, gas plants, the conventional power plants need an enormous amount of water to cool them,” he notes. “We find it to be [impactful] in states that have a large wind footprint like Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, states that frequently have issues with drought.”

EWEA reports wind power resulted in annual state water consumption savings amounting to 26 billion gallons or the equivalent number of more than 196 billion water bottles saved in 2018. The EWEA also reports 54 million metric tons of state carbon dioxide emissions were avoided, or the equivalent of emissions from 11.5 million cars.

Impacts of renewable energy clear at local and global level

Agriculture is another major concern because water is a precious commodity and every drop counts to help keep the agriculturally-rich state of Texas thriving.

The World Bank says 70% of freshwater is now used for agriculture globally. To feed the anticipated nine billion people in the next three decades, the organization estimates a 50 percent increase in agricultural production and a 15 percent increase in water withdrawals will be needed.

As wind power increasingly becomes a reliable part of the grid, one positive sign is that numerous Fortune 500 companies are non-utility buyers of energy.

It’s efficient for companies because costs are falling and are expected to stabilize. Companies are making direct deals to buy output from wind projects, which are especially prevalent in deregulated energy markets, such as the market in Texas.

Recent bad weather is also proving newer technology and projects are consistently viable.

The industry has a few decades of experience in siting projects within wind-rich areas, according to Alvarez.

Broad support continues for wind power

The growing wind power industry has been good for the economy and local communities. There are over 25,000 direct wind energy jobs in Texas. Nationwide, wind turbine technicians operating and maintaining wind farms are the second fastest-growing jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These jobs are by far the fastest-growing career options in Texas.

Polling shows 85 percent of Americans supported wind energy in the past year, with wind power gaining a great presence in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Iowa.

“[They’re] all in the top five for wind capacity, a huge footprint in those communities,” Alvarez states. “The wind belt stretches through Texas up through the Dakotas where the majority of our wind is. I think a lot of people don’t know that.”

Solutions can be deployed to get agricultural farms to a place of net-zero

A wealth of technical help and financial assistance is also available at the state and national level to support U.S. farmers, ranchers and private forest landowners across the country who are interested in deploying renewable energy practices.

Through USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), staff members work with producers and private forest landowners to customize a conservation plan to meet the agricultural producer and private forest landowner’s conservation priorities.

Catherine Stanley, Civil Engineer of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, explains some agricultural producers are interested in implementing “sustainability” and “regenerative” conservation practices on their operations.

Through the 2018 Farm Bill, NRCS offers programs for farmers, including many conservation practices that help producers reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enhance carbon sequestration in healthy soils.

So far, NRCS has focused conservation efforts on energy efficiency of equipment and operations to reduce energy demands. It also offers more than 170 science-based conservation practice standards to help address agricultural needs and farm sustainability in Texas, according to Stanley.

“Working with NRCS staff, agricultural producers and forest landowners can use agency programs to achieve more comprehensive inventories, improved record-keeping, improved monitoring consumption of specific operations for energy use, and greater use of renewable energy power supplies to improve energy efficiencies on their farm or ranch,” she notes.

Other clean technology developments are on the horizon through NRCS Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG), which evaluates emerging technologies, such as soil moisture monitoring to determine when irrigation systems need to be operated, which conserves both water and energy.

“NRCS’s free tools and technical expertise are used by farmers, ranchers, private forest landowners, and the agency’s technical field staff in Texas and nationwide,” says Adam Chambers, co-Leader of NRCS’s National Energy and Environmental Markets Team.

Farming Tools help clean up the environment

NRCS COMET Planner Tools  also evaluate the carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas emissions reductions from regenerative agricultural practices such as cover crops, no-tillage and reduced tillage, and conservation crop rotation.

“NRCS’s technical experts work with agricultural producers interested in implementing healthy soil practices that build soil organic matter and soil carbon stocks, thereby enhancing sustainability of farms, ranches and private-owned forestland,” Chambers adds.

Dianne Anderson covers education, health, and city government stories with an eye on legislative impacts to diverse communities. She has received awards from the American Cancer Society – Inland Empire, and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Over the years, she has reported for the Long Beach Leader and the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin and been a contributor to the Pasadena Weekly.

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