Naked City

Lege backs renewable energy

Governor Rick Perry received rare kudos from environmental advocates when he added a bill to the special session agenda that would increase the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard – the amount of electricity generated by renewable sources such as wind, solar, and biomass – to a goal of 5%. That's 5,880 megawatts by 2015, up from the previous goal of roughly 3%, or 2,880 MW by 2009. The measure, Senate Bill 20, authored by Horseshoe Bay Republican Troy Fraser, passed unanimously in the Senate last Tuesday, passed in the House on Thursday, and is now awaiting Governor Perry's approval. Indicating that he would sign the bill, Perry, whose energy plan includes large amounts of out-of-state coal and imported liquified natural gas, said, "With energy costs draining family budgets and slowing economic growth nationwide, now is the time for lawmakers to pass legislation that will help Texas become more energy independent." Aside from expanding the state's RPS, the bill stipulates that 500 MW be set aside for renewable energy sources other than wind, and sets an overall target of 10,000 MW coming from renewable sources by 2025.

Although SB 20 falls short of the 20% by 2020 standard many enviros sought, "most importantly, it fixes the logjam around [wind power] transmission between West Texas and the cities," said Tom "Smitty" Smith, director of the Texas office of Public Citizen, an environmental and consumer advocacy group. Existing power-line transmission capacity, piping wind-generated energy out of the state's gustiest regions in the western desert, is nearly maxed out. SB 20 streamlines state Public Utility Commission procedures, allowing for cost recovery measures that take the risk out of utility company investment in new wind farm construction, according to Smith. Similar legislation passed by a wide margin during the regular session, but died in committee.

"This legislation will allow Texans better access to low-cost, clean, homegrown energy," said local renewable energy consultant Susan Williams Sloan of Virtus Energy. "An expanded investment in renewable energy will help clear the air, provide critical revenue to our schools, and bring new jobs and billions of dollars in investments to Texas," Smith said. Sloan added that wind farm developers are "ready to invest millions of dollars in Texas' excellent wind sites and Texas consumers will see the economic and environmental benefits from growth in the wind industry here."

Heading into the special session, proponents of the measure called an increased RPS a "perfect match" with the focus on school finance, citing the Texas wind power industry's contribution of more than $15 million annually to new property tax revenues for school districts. Advocates predicted the bill will create $60 million in school taxes each year and cited a recent Scripps Howard Texas Poll showing that 79% of Texans prefer increasing the use of renewable energy to meet the state's future electric energy needs.

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Renewable Portfolio Standard, Rick Perry, Senate Bill 20, Troy Fraser, Public Citizen, Tom "Smitty" Smith, Public Utility Commission, renewable energy, Susan Williams Sloan, Virtus Energy

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