TEXAS NEEDS HARD LOOK AT
NEW ENERGY SOURCES
Tyler Morning Telegraph
April 03, 2005
Renewable energy is a topic of increasing attention and debate. The subject has not been overlooked in the current session of the Texas Legislature.
Proposed renewable energy legislation is expected to be voted on this week by the House's regulated industries committee, and the outcome there could shed more light on how aggressively the state moves.
Most people agree that renewable energy development is increasingly attractive as oil prices soar, pushing gasoline prices into nearly uncharted territory. However, there is debate on what is realistically attainable at a reasonable cost.
From a legislative standpoint, there is a question of whether the best approach is to just provide incentives for development or to have government become more directly involved by setting mandatory goals and requirements.
One proposal in the Legislature would require utilities to get approximately 10,000 megawatts of their energy from renewable sources by 2015. Sponsors note this would equal roughly 9 percent of the state's energy usage in that year and would power approximately 2.7 million homes.
"This legislation would be a major shot in the arm for Texas' economy, particularly for rural communities," said Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas, a sponsor. He claims the bill would provide benefits statewide, not just for windy west Texas.
A specific set-aside for solar and farm-based renewables is included in the bill. Waste from crops and lumber processing including rice, cotton boll stems, sugar cane stalks, sawdust and wood chips can be turned into clean, biomass energy. Some new technologies already are in use in this regard, and others are being developed.
The potential appears to be there. The State Energy Conservation Office estimates that if just half of the available biomass wastes were used for electricity production, farmers could supply 10 percent of the state's needs.
Another reason for pushing alternative fuels is the anticipated increase in demand for electricity, and renewable energy could help fill that need.
Experts figure Texas can be a hotbed for renewable energy because of an enormous potential to produce and export wind, solar and biomass resources. The Texas Public Interest Research Group estimates that the state has the technical potential to produce more than 1,696 billion kilowatt hours from renewable energy - enough to power 169 million homes.
In addition to providing vital help, pushing renewable energy development can provide a needed new crop for the Texas agriculture sector. Swinford notes that the state's farmers have plenty of difficulties including low crop prices, diminishing water supplies, high natural gas costs and rising production costs.
One of the nation's first, and most successful, renewable energy standards was signed into law in Texas in 1999 by then-Gov. George W. Bush. The law required electric utilities to purchase roughly 3 percent of their energy supply from clean, renewable sources by year 2009. Swinford said the requirement has been a huge success with farmers and ranchers the major beneficiaries.
Another reason Texas needs to step up the pace, he said, is that neighboring states are offering better incentives that may attract further investment there first.
The renewable energy discussion isn't getting the attention things like school finance reform and new tax revenues command, but the decisions and outcomes may hold just as much future significance.
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