Commentary: Renewable energy boom has brought Texas virtual gold rush

A recent piece in the Statesman concedes the happy points that growing use of renewable energy sources in Texas has increased grid reliability by diversifying the state’s wide portfolio of energy sources, lowered costs for consumers by an average of 27 percent and has been great for the environment.

The author argues that it’s conceivable renewables might capture too much of the energy market in the future. If that happens, it’s possible that source diversity could decline and grid reliability could be compromised. He suggests we should pre-emptively act against this small, speculative possibility by further subsidizing fossil fuels.

Subsidies can no longer block the forces of market demand, innovation and the rapid advancement of technology. Energy markets and systems are transforming rapidly. Here’s why: The growth of renewables in Texas is not being forced by regulation but driven by customer choice; the distributed grid model, which renewables enable, turns out in many ways to be more reliable than the current, centralized grid model powered predominantly by fossil fuels; and a distributed grid model incorporating renewables ensures even greater reliability by facilitating quick recovery after natural disasters.

Let’s look at each point in a bit more detail:

• Texans prefer renewables. Renewables aren’t being forced on anyone today: They’re in growing use because consumers like their low cost, abundant availability, environmental friendliness and growing reliability. It’s not liberal or conservative. Note: 75 percent of Trump voters support taking action to accelerate the development and use of clean energy in the United States, a recent survey found. An overwhelming majority in the same survey say that it’s very important that their candidate share their opinions on energy issues. Eighty-five percent of Texans (including 81 percent of Republicans) believe Texas should develop its own comprehensive clean energy plan, regardless of the result of litigation over federal clean power rules.

• A distributed grid offers Texans more reliable power sources — not fewer. Let’s start by reiterating what the author concedes: Both that the current growth of renewables “has not impaired the grid,” and that “the current diversified U.S. supply portfolio lowers the total cost of electricity production.” In other words, renewables to date have done nothing but make life better for the consumer, offering her more options, increased local control, reduced risk and lower cost. It’s hard to credibly argue that having more choices does anything but add reliability by increasing back up options.

• When disasters hit, renewables sources help Texans come back online most quickly. Keep in mind the model used to build most of today’s centralized, predominantly fossil fuel-powered energy grids 50-70 years ago. All the power is centrally generated, and then distributed out via high power wires to disparate local points. If a hurricane hits that central plant, it could wipe out power for dependent locations 100 miles away for weeks on end — even if those locations weren’t even hit by the hurricane. An electrical grid increasingly built to incorporate renewables, on the other hand, is likely to have dozens of energy-generating wind, solar and hydro energy sources immediately kicking in to provide back up just in a single neighborhood.

That is not the entire story. The renewables boom has brought Texas a virtual gold rush of tens of thousands of clean energy jobs, as well as a growing international reputation for innovation and a cleaner environment.

It’s advancing technology, distributed sources of energy, and a consumer ready to embrace the future that will shape Texas and the world. It won’t be fossil fuel subsidies.

Bates is the global general manager of energy at Intel Corp. in Austin.

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