Naked City

Texas -- The Windy State

Naked City

Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson announced last Thursday that the Texas General Land Office will begin leasing state-owned lands for wind power generation beginning in April. "The 'open for wind business' sign is on our door," Patterson said at the GLO's 10th annual Border Energy Forum here in Austin. "The oldest state agency will once again be a pioneer of land initiatives, while finding a new revenue source for the Permanent School Fund."

The GLO is responsible for generating income for the fund, which is currently worth $18 billion and pays over $700 million a year to Texas schools. Patterson said most of the leases would be available along the Texas Gulf Coast. While much of the commercial speculation for wind power has focused on West Texas, lack of transmission infrastructure has hindered development there. (Austin Energy, which has the largest wind-power customer base of any utility in the nation, has been unable to get all the power it needs to serve its Green Choice subscribers from its contractors' Permian Basin wind farms.)

The GLO says that because the Gulf of Mexico coastal waters are relatively shallow, and the state owns the underwater land out to 10.3 miles, the coast makes a good alternative. Patterson believes that many now-abandoned oil and gas production platforms currently sitting in those waters could be converted to wind facilities.

Also at the Border Energy Forum, and strongly tying in with Patterson's announcement, Environmental Defense released a report warning that an additional 60,000 megawatts of electrical generating capacity will be built in the 10 U.S. and Mexican border states by 2011, likely straining the health and environment of a region already groaning under the weight of pollution. The ED report, titled "Pollution Without Borders" and available at www.environmentaldefense.org/go/borderenergy, predicts that, among other consequences, the border region's residents will suffer increased respiratory problems, its air will become even more hazy (a huge problem in the Big Bend right now), and its limited water resources will be further strained.

Despite Patterson's optimistic outlook for wind energy and other nonpolluting, renewable sources, ED gloomily notes that "there is a high likelihood that much of [the increased generation] will be fossil fuel-fired power plants." The report makes 12 recommendations for changing course, including establishing caps on total emissions, requiring new plants to meet the most stringent environmental standards, increasing use of renewables, increasing energy efficiency, and making greater use of "dry cooling" technology, which reduces water use and in which Mexico is already a world leader.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Renewable Energy, wind power, wind leases, Texas General Land Office, Jerry Patterson, wind energy, Permanent School Fund

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