Commentary Written by Trey Cox Published in the Amarillo Globe-News
Texas Wind Energy will be Breath of Fresh Air
Cowboys once cursed the relentless wind that gusted from El Paso to Amarillo and beyond, but the immense and largely untapped power of Texas wind is fast becoming the state's most promising energy resource.
Texas already ranks No. 1 in wind-generated electricity production, and a recently announced $20 million federal grant for a wind-technology research center near Corpus Christi, and word from Dallas billionaire T. Boone Pickens that he's planning an epic $6 billion wind farm near Amarillo, ensure that the Lone Star State will remain a leader in this rapidly growing energy market.
The heft behind the federal grant announcement and Pickens' major investment in wind energy gives the entire industry a boost, but it doesn't take a financial tycoon to grasp the promise that wind power holds for Texas.
The industry has exploded over the past 10 years, and states have worked double-time to meet hard targets for boosting alternative energy output and take advantage of renewable energy tax credits. For the second year straight, investments in Texas and elsewhere have helped place the U.S. wind power industry on track to grow by more than 25 percent. Wind energy is now the country's fastest-growing energy resource.
The majestic turbines that transform wind into electricity are a compelling solution to growing concerns about energy independence and climate change, and the economics of wind power are competitive with other power sources. Wind energy is even more attractive when you consider the likelihood that utilities - and ultimately us, their customers - one day will pay a price for carbon emissions of electricity generation from coal- and gas-fired plants. Wind turbines already reduce by more than 19 million tons the amount of carbon dioxide that would otherwise be produced by traditional electrical utilities and released into the air.
The rapidly accelerating demand for wind generation development has created a worldwide shortage of new turbines, and major international manufacturers now are building U.S. factories, requiring the growth of good manufacturing jobs to churn out more turbines and components to meet U.S. demand.
On June 25, Texas received a $20 million federal grant to create a research center to develop the next generation of larger and more powerful turbines. This further assures the state's dominance within the industry and could help return the U.S. to a position as a leader in wind industry innovation.
A still-pending proposal by U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., to require 15 percent of the country's electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020 would do even more. In 2006, President Bush's Advanced Energy Initiative concluded that the U.S. is capable of supplying 20 percent of its electricity consumption with wind power.
Improving technology has benefits: New turbines are more powerful, quieter and safer for birds and other wildlife. In all, wind turbines account for fewer than 1 percent of all human-caused annual deaths for birds and other wildlife.
With such positive market forces at work, wind energy players must act responsibly as wind farms increasingly are built closer to population centers. Neighbors deserve a voice in the development debate so that their needs can be taken into consideration.
Americans' support of wind energy is perhaps the industry's greatest asset. In December, in the first-ever nuisance trial involving a U.S. wind farm, a jury from Abilene ruled overwhelmingly that turbines installed a reasonable distance from residential areas do not pose a nuisance for nearby landowners.
All of these developments point to a technology whose time has come.
For a bellwether investor like Pickens, a big bet on wind energy is not a sign that a shrewd tycoon who made his fortune on fossil fuels has changed his fundamentals. This bet is like his other investment moves - aggressive, well-thought-out and full of promise. And where Pickens goes, more investors typically follow.
That's good news for U.S. wind power and great news for Texas.
Trey Cox is an attorney with Dallas-based Lynn Tillotson & Pinker.
Copyright 2007 Amarillo Globe-News & Amarillo.com
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