Today was the last day for the Texas Public Utility Commission (PUC) to pass the 500 Mw non-wind RPS rule. After 6 years they failed to implement a provision by passed by the legislature setting aside a portion of the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard for renewable technologies other than wind (like solar, geothermal, or storage). Citing cost concerns, the PUC once again failed to provide guidance and support for a group of emerging industries that needs strong government policy to get them kicked off, much like the wind energy received back in 2005, during a time when Texas currently is experiencing some of the lowest price electricity in decades.
The PUC has consistently dragged its feet, sided with the large corporate interests, offered overly complicated rules and then fail to act. So while our leadership is yelling foul at new EPA rules that will help clean up our air, and may force us to finally shut down dirty polluting 50-year old power plants that were grand fathered in under the clean air act and expected to close decades ago, the state has failed to encourage cleaner, renewable sources of power for Texans. Other concerns that have been expressed were whether the industry would be able to supply the needed capacity to meet this tiny goal. This concern was being aired at the same time municipal utilities like San Antonio and Austin and electric co-ops like the PEC were committing to build projects that combined exceed the states still unleashed goal.
Traditional Generators and other vested interests are trying to keep their antiquated highly polluting fleets running and are fighting new clean energy resources. In this instance they appear to have gained an upper hand with this commission. With Chairman Smitherman’s resignation from the PUC to take a position at the Railroad Commission (which oversees the oil and gas industry) there is an opportunity for new leadership. Will the new commissioner be able to get anything done, only time will tell?
In the meantime, the new energy economy is finding homes in China and India (and not because they are concerned about the environment, but because it makes economic sense, while Texas rides into the 21st century on the back of a fracking gold rush that continues to feed the same industries with billion dollar tax breaks.
The price of solar is sliding down at a rapid pace and annual job growth in all sectors of this emerging industry are being reported at over 26% per year. So where is the leadership when we need it? Where are those whose mantra has been “Jobs, baby jobs?” Down in San Antonio they are making things happen while the rest of the state goes on playing the same old song of “drill, baby, drill” as we listen to our children “wheeze, baby,wheeze” and our Governor whines “Why’s the EPA always Pickin’ on me“.
As I was reminded today by one of our coworkers it was here in Texas that JFK spoke the words, “we do these not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win…”
In a state that made a name in energy as big as Texas through its intrepid vision, we should be leaders. This new era brought us the largest wind industry in the country, but its potential to disrupt the status quo is sending Texas sliding back from being in the energy “bidness” to going back to being in the oil and gas “bidness”.
So we start the dance all over again and hope that the PUC opens a new rule making – while time, the world and the opportunities for jobs and new industries pass us by us by. We now look to our cities and co-ops for leadership and innovation. PUC Project # 35792, I bid you adieu. May we we meet again, somewhere, sometime. And now the sun slowly sets on our bright Texas sky.