A couple of weeks ago, I drove to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to visit a client, and as I passed the area near Big Spring, Texas, I saw three very large clusters of windmills.
I didn’t try to count them as that wouldn’t have been safe to do at 75 mph but I could see that there were very many. Now, two weeks later, I’m reminded of those windmills again as I see news reports of the massive hurricane that destroyed Grand Bahama Island and threatens much of the east coast of the United States.
I’m reminded because there is little question that hurricane Dorian is as powerful and slow moving as it is because global climate change has led to warmer air and seas which are the fuel for hurricanes.
Wind has generated 22% of the Texas electrical needs this year, slightly more than the 21% provided by coal, according to the Electrical Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). Just 16 years ago, in 2003, wind made up less than 1% of the state’s power, and coal satisfied 40% of electrical needs, according to ERCOT documents.
In 2017, utility scale solar generation in Texas equaled what wind generated back in 2003. Utility scale means a project big enough for a utility to buy from.
By the end of this year it will be double that and indications are it will double again within the next year or two. Distributed solar generation, meaning primarily rooftop installations, provides about 25% as much as utility scale facilities at this time.
Projections indicate that Texas will become the second most prolific generator of electricity from solar by 2021, as more solar farms are built in West Texas near existing wind farms.
Investments in transmission lines to accommodate wind generators make building solar farms nearby very cost efficient because solar and wind energy production mostly occur at different times a day allowing them to share those transmission lines.
Despite the tariffs on Chinese solar panels imposed by the Trump administration, the price of solar power continues to drop so that every year electricity from solar energy gets a little cheaper while coal and natural gas costs are basically the same as the prior year and nuclear just keeps getting more expensive.
It’s often more cost effective to build a new solar plant than it is to keep running an existing coal power plant or gas plant.
Solar alone employs around 330,000 people in the United States while wind employs about 110,000. Coal mining and generation employs about 140,000. Taken together wind and solar energy jobs nearly triple the number of coal related jobs in the electricity sector.
Seeing that more than two-thirds of Grand Bahama Island are now underwater should make anyone who believes climate change is not a big deal or a long way off rethink that position. The growth of renewable energy generation in Texas makes clear that what needs to be done to avoid the worst of the damage global climate change can cause, it just takes the will to do it.
We as voters must demand that our elected officials take this problem seriously and adjust the incentives and tax breaks offered to the energy industry in Texas and the nation to encourage speeding up the build out of renewable energy projects for the sake of our future and that of future generations.
To paraphrase Wendell Berry: “We don’t inherit the climate from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”