Renewables are being hampered by bills that would slow down decarbonisation in a power-hungry stateA renewable energy boom in Texas is under threat at the state legislature, as lawmakers take up new bills that would hobble wind and solar projects.
Texas is the US’s top state for oil and natural gas production. Texas has become the US’s leading state for wind power, surpassing California this year.
Renewable technologies had already been advancing before the US Congress passed Inflation Reduction Act climate legislation last year. This law, which includes $369bn worth of clean-energy subsidies, promises to boost solar and wind development.
The Republican-dominated state legislature debates bills that create new obstacles for wind and solar projects, and ensure fossil fuels’ future on the state power grid.
“We have made significant investments in renewables, but now we need to concentrate on dispatchable,” Dan Patrick (Texas lieutenant governor) said at a recent press conference. He used a term that is commonly used to describe fossil fuel power generation.
One bill would establish new environmental permit requirements for renewable power plants but not for other types. It also evaluates factors like encroachment of agricultural and wildlife lands. Even existing plants would be required to apply for permits under the new measure.“Texans have always prided themselves on having an open market, not picking and choosing which technologies should win, and being a state where we don’t heavily regulate. None of those things are true about this,” said Becky Diffen, a partner at law firm Norton Rose Fulbright.
It is being considered a threat. She said that renewables is a negative word at the Capitol at the moment, because there’s a lot of opposition.”
The proposed state permit regulations run counter to an important energy bill passed by the Republican-controlled US House of Representatives last week that would streamline federal permitting for big energy projects.
Many Texas Republicans are expressing concern about the rapid rise in renewable energy. They claim that the increasing share of intermittent solar and wind resources on Texas’ grid has made Texas’ energy system less reliable, and has caused a decline in the value of the oil and gas industry.
Many blame renewables, but natural gas-powered generation was also severely disrupted by the deep freeze in February 2021.
Charles Schwertner (a Texas state senator) said that Republicans sought to counter “market distortions”, caused by federal subsidies for “lessdependable generation” under the Inflation Reduction Act. This is President Joe Biden’s most important climate law. He also stated that fossil-fuel production was still being added to Texas.
Texas could be unable to benefit from the IRA subsidies due to the clean energy backlash.
Doug Lewin, president and CEO of Stoic Energy, a consulting firm, stated that Texas stands to be a major winner in [the IRA]. But a lot of our politicians just seem set on cutting off their noses to spite our faces.”
Texas will be discussing another bill in the biennial legislative session. It would spend more than $10bn on the construction of 10 gigawatts gas-fired power generation capacity. This is approximately 12 percent of its total grid capacity. The power could then be used when demand rises. The state would guarantee that the plants will earn around 10% annually.
Patrick also suggested using the state’s surplus budget to finance fossil fuel power projects at low cost.
Patrick stated, “We want to make sure there’s an incentive to build more thermal power in this state as fast as we can,”
Governor Greg Abbott stated that renewable projects should be excluded from any state-backed economic incentives programmes. These programs have been crucial in attracting big investors to the state such as Elon Musk’s Tesla or Samsung of South Korea.
Abbott stated that there is already a federal incentive to support renewable projects. “Our focus is on dispatchable electricity to ensure that we have enough dispatchable power to supply reliable electricity to everyone in the state.
Texas has the highest electricity consumption in the country. Therefore, efforts to conserve fossil fuel use would be a major blow to the federal goal of removing carbon from the national grid.
Jeff Clark, president and CEO of the Advanced Power Alliance (an Austin-based group in renewable energy), said that the Republican legislative effort placed the state’s clean energy sector “at risk.”
He said, “Companies that are looking at Texas should pay attention because Texas is abandoning clean energy.”