President Obama journeys to Austin on Thursday, kicking off a series of speeches around the country meant to highlight a national priority: job growth.
Unemployment fell in April to 7.5 percent — its lowest level in four and a half years. Still, with 11.7 million jobless Americans — 815,000 of them in Texas — the president is right to focus on putting the country back to work.
One thing that’s helping, across the Lone Star state, and around the country, is a wind energy boom that’s creating jobs, giving rural communities a needed boost and helping to keep the family ranch and farm intact.
Wind power is also helping to drive Obama’s larger goal of creating clean energy options nationwide. By promoting alternatives to fossil fuels and the industrial carbon pollution they produce, we can strike a blow against climate change, even as we make our economy stronger, our country more secure and our future brighter.
Nowhere have those benefits been greater than in Texas, which leads the nation in wind turbine installations and is home to four of the five largest wind farms in the country.
Last year, wind generated 9.2 percent of the power provided by members of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which account for 85 percent of the state’s consumption.
Statewide, wind power employs more than 6,000 Texans.
Those jobs are growing and they pay well, according to Texas Tech University in Lubbock, where graduates of the wind energy program can expect to earn up to $42,000 a year for entry positions.
Texas is also a wind energy manufacturing center. Turbines, blades, towers and other components are built in more than three dozen Texas facilities, reports the American Wind Energy Association, the industry trade group.
The Texas wind boom is powering one of the largest infrastructure projects in the nation, the Competitive Renewable Energy Zone, a system of 3,600 miles of new transmission lines.
On track to be completed by year’s end, the lines will link the wind-swept reaches of West Texas and the Panhandle to Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio. That will bring clean, renewable Texas power to these urban population centers, while adding needed transmission capacity that enables wind power to continue growing in Texas.
As in the rest of the country, most Texas wind turbines are located on land owned by Texas farmers or ranchers, who receive more than $30 million a year in lease payments for that purpose.
As drought and searing heat ravaged crops and pasture land last summer, while driving up the price of feed for livestock, wind turbines provided a badly needed income supplement for Texans who make their living off the land.
It’s also helping to rejuvenate lackluster economies in small Texas towns like Sweetwater and Oldman, increasing the county tax base in ways that have made it possible to repair aging roads and renovate schools without raising tax rates for homeowners.
Not every state, of course, has the steady winds that sweep across the Texas plains. Nationally, though, wind produced 3.4 percent of our electricity last year, more than four times the 2007 level.
By 2030, the Department of Energy has found, we can get 20 percent of our electricity from the wind – roughly the amount we now get from nuclear power.
We need, as a nation, to continue to invest in wind power. We need to invest in solar and other sources of renewable energy as well. And we need to build the energy efficient cars, homes and workplaces of tomorrow, even as we work to transition, over time, away from our long reliance on traditional fossil fuels.
In 1901, near the east Texas town of Beaumont, wildcatters uncapped the historic gusher at Spindletop. It blew out 34 million gallons of crude in eight days, ushering in the age of oil.
Today, Texas is leading an energy revolution once more, one that can deliver the kind of cleaner, safer, more sustainable power that can fuel our 21st Century economy into a future bright with promise.