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The Texas Blue
Advancing Progressive Ideas

A New Energy Future

While the debate about our energy future rages among the Presidential candidates, a similar debate is quietly taking place here in Texas. A few weeks ago, the Governor's Competitiveness Council released a draft Texas Energy Plan to guide Texas' energy decisions in coming years.

With the rush to build new coal plants in recent years without proper consideration of impacts to local communities and the environment, it is very clear that Texas needs a plan to guide our energy future and to make sure our energy decisions properly consider the law, the impacts on public health, our environment, and water usage and public preferences.

Irresponsibly, the draft energy plan does not at all consider what new coal or nuclear plants will mean for compliance with federal air quality standards, for our water supplies or for our safety. And rather than develop a plan to reduce carbon emissions as scientists tell us we must do to avoid dangerous climate change, the Council proposes using taxpayer money to subsidize a lobbying campaign by Exxon and other polluters against global warming legislation. All in all, the recommendations are very much skewed in favor of maintaining our dependence on dirty fossil fuels and nuclear power.

Texas is one of the most technologically and economically advanced states in the nation, blessed with vast natural and intellectual resources. We have a track record of responding to major challenges and achieving unthinkable goals. If any state in the union is capable of creating an energy system that can fuel our economy while preserving our environment and our long-term security, it should be us.

But our energy situation today is less secure than it has been in recent memory. Our domestic production of oil peaked decades ago and our production of natural gas may be peaking now. As a result, we import more of our energy than ever before, leaving our energy supplies and national security vulnerable to political instability abroad. We have ample supplies of coal, but mining it causes severe environmental damage and burning it releases large amounts of global warming pollution. Nuclear power has been tried and found wanting for economic, environmental and public safety reasons. And virtually every year, Texans consume more energy in our cars, homes and businesses.

For Texas to retain our economic vigor, security and environmental health, we must build toward a New Energy Future — one based on homegrown, environmentally friendly energy sources and the sensible use of energy throughout the economy. We have the tools to achieve a better energy future — in the technological prowess of academia and industry, the cutting-edge public policies that were pioneered in Texas, and in our vast reserves of energy from the sun, wind and crops.

Despite the serious flaws of the draft Texas Energy Plan, it does include some important policies that would help support clean alternatives, including support for expanded energy efficiency programs and transmission investments to bring clean wind power to our cities.

It also includes some incentives for solar power, for which Texas has tremendous potential. According to the State Energy Office, the sunshine falling on just one acre of land in west Texas is the energy equivalent of 800 barrels of oil a year. If we put solar panels on an area thirty miles by thirty miles in west Texas, we could generate enough electricity for the entire state.

Unfortunately, as the rest of the global solar industry is growing at an astounding rate, Texas is starting to fall behind. Other states like California and New Jersey and the nations of Germany, Spain and Japan are far ahead in creating solar programs, attracting a growing number of investments, jobs and manufacturing plants. The Energy Plan's proposals to eliminate the sales tax on solar equipment and installation and allow consumers to get a fair price for extra solar they produce are a good first step, but by themselves are probably not big enough to really get things rolling.

In April, Governor Perry announced a $1 million state grant to support construction of a solar manufacturing facility in Austin. I hope he will continue this kind of strategic investment and lay out an ambitious solar agenda.

Texas should follow the lead of the cities of Austin, San Antonio and Bryan by offering rebates to help consumers install solar. We should also create a solar program, modeled on the successful renewable portfolio standard first established by the Legislature in 1999, which sets enforceable goals for utilities to generate solar power.

Texas has the potential to be a world solar leader. A small investment now could bring billions of dollars in investment to the state over the next decade and help bring clear, blue skies back to Texas.

Luke Metzger is the Director of Environment Texas, a statewide citizens advocacy group working for clean air, clean water and open spaces.


In light of the recent devastation inflicted by Hurricane Ike, solar power initiatives in west Texas could have another upside: dependability.

The Gulf of Mexico is home to nearly a quarter of the nation's oil output, and 15% of its natural gas, but these refineries, platforms, and other infrastructure can be quite vulnerable to hurricane damage. During Hurricane Ike, offshore platform production was shut down for evacuations, and 49 platforms were completely destroyed. As a result of global warming, the increased occurrence of severe hurricanes is sure to continue. With all the recent political discussion of offshore drilling, one has to wonder whether it is wise to continue our dependence on an energy source that is not only devastating to the environment, but whose very production models are vulnerable to predictable and expected natural disasters.

more information on environmental damage of Ike

Here's a good AP article on the environmental damage (read: releases of oil, gasoline, and other hazardous substances) of Hurrican Ike:

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