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The Texas Blue
Advancing Progressive Ideas

Clean Air Smells Like Money

It used to be that business leaders might describe the odor of industrial emissions as the “smell of money”. But these days, money has an entirely different smell — that of fresh, clean air. While no state has likely made more money off of smokestack industries than Texas, the growing urgency of our state’s air quality crisis, combined with the emergence of new “cleantech” industries, is leading many entrepreneurs to new, clean ways to make money.

And boy does Texas need them. According to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, more than half of Texans live in areas where, on certain days of the year, it’s not safe to breathe. This pollution not only costs Texans their health, but it’s costing our families and our budget-strapped local and state governments significant amounts of money. A study commissioned by the City of Houston found that air pollution costs the metropolitan area some $3 billion every year in health care costs, missed work days, etc. And many companies are realizing that it’s hard to attract a talented workforce to live in cities with polluted air. Dallas learned this lesson the hard way, when in recent years Toyota and Boeing decided against locating facilities in the Metroplex because of the air quality crisis.

The good news is making the air safe to breathe will not only protect the health of our children and families, but we can also make money at the same time. Take the example of the boom in wind energy. In 1999, the Texas Legislature passed a law, known as a “renewable electricity standard” or RES, that set a minimum requirement for the generation of electricity from clean, renewable energy like wind or solar power. Since then, Texas has led the nation in wind energy with more than 3000 megawatts (MW) installed. Texas boasts the world’s largest and second largest wind farms, FPL Energy’s 735 MW Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center and the 505 MW Sweetwater project owned by Babcock & Brown & Catamount Energy, both located near Abilene.

By making a long-term commitment to building the market for renewable energy technologies, Texas has helped attract new investments and manufacturing facilities. For example, in November 2006, TECO/Westinghouse announced a partnership in which the company will manufacture technology for wind turbines at its Round Rock facility, adding approximately 100 jobs. Chemical company MEMC near Houston is now a major world supplier of solar-grade polysilicon. Last year, a group of businesses pledged to invest more than $10 billion in renewable energy projects in Texas.

Renewable energy can also play an important role in accelerating rural economic development and lowering electric bills. The American Wind Energy Association estimates that royalty payments to Texas landowners exceed $9.5 million per year, while boosting local property tax revenues. According to the Wind Coalition, by displacing use of high-cost natural gas, wind power saved $476 million in wholesale power costs in Texas last year.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. According to the Public Utility Commission of Texas, there are “expressions of interest in constructing 24,511 megawatts” of wind generation in the coming years. That’s enough energy to power more than 5.5 million Texas homes. Add to that the potential from solar, biomass, and geothermal energy, and more efficient cars, homes and businesses, and the opportunities in clean air are practically limitless.

Texas has helped lead the way in clean energy investments, and it is now time for Congress to follow. This summer, the US House took an important step in the right direction by passing legislation requiring that 15% of the nation’s electricity come from renewable energy or energy efficiency by the year 2020. The US Senate passed legislation requiring our cars and trucks get an average of 35 miles per gallon by the year 2020. Together, these policies would significantly reduce pollution, save consumers money and kick start a new energy economy.

We’re all stockholders in clean air, and with the help of many Texas businesses, we’re starting to get dividends from clean energy investments. Blue skies with the help of suits and ties. What could be more Texan?

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