Part III: What’s Holding Up Renewable Energy?

By Shane Longoria and Travis Bremner

Editor’s note: This is Part III of a series by TheHub@TTU’s staff examining the state of energy in Texas. 

The common belief about renewable energy is that it is not economically viable enough to replace fossil fuels, but those who work in renewable energy disagree.

Charles Crumpley, president of Aztec Renewable Energy, Inc., says the problem is quite straightforward.

“The policy of Texas is to provide very low-cost energy — lower than any other state in the United States — so to attract large corporations,” Crumpley said. “Until we can get economists, until we get the CPAs, until we get business owners and business people to see a great return on investment, the ability to sell solar in Texas is always going to be hard.”

Despite the narrative that transitioning to renewable energy is not a cost-effective solution, data has shown that renewable energy is more economical than fossil fuels.

In the International Renewable Energy Agency’s 2014 Renewable Power Generation Costs report, it was reported that the costs for multiple renewable energy technologies were falling rapidly, becoming less costly than fossil fuel energy.

According to the report, since the end of 2009, costs of developing solar photovoltaic (PV) models have fallen 75 percent, and although renewable energy technologies in early stages may be more expensive than fossil fuels, they will become more cost-effective as development continues.

And Texas is leading the way.

According to the U.S. Wind Exchange’s quarterly report for 2017, Texas’ installed wind power capacity is 21,450 megawatts (MW), making it the highest in U.S. for potential wind power output.

Raina Hornaday, president of Caprock Renewables in Austin, said Texas’ success with wind energy has inspired the rest of the country to look to the state for resources.

Raina Hornaday (via Texas Renewable Energy Industries Alliance)

Hornaday said one of the remaining hurdles needing to be jumped for 100 percent clean energy is being able to provide it any time, day or night.

“They can’t deliver on-demand power when needed,” Hornaday said. “The sun isn’t shining 24/7 and the wind doesn’t blow 24/7, but solutions are coming online in the next few years.”

Hornaday said the retirement of coal-fired power plants has created an industry-wide shift.

According to a Reuters report, DTE Energy Co. will close all of its coal plants and replace them with renewable energy and natural gas plants by 2040. The report also states that doing so would reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent in 2050.

An international energy outlook done by the U.S. Energy Information Administration showed renewables being on track to account for as much of the country’s energy generation as coal at 31 percent by 2040. This, the report says, is due to technological improvements and government incentives.

Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas, said renewables and oil & gas already exist on the same level and a solution to becoming a completely energy reliant nation is energy storage. He said the goal, ultimately, is to do away with fossil fuels completely.

As of now, Georgetown, Texas, is one of the first cities in the United States — and the first in Texas — to run 100 percent on renewable energy.

Georgetown mayor Dale Ross said in an NPR interview earlier this year this decision was first foremost about business.

Data vis U.S. Wind Exchange

“It’s a great economic development tool because there’s a lot of high-quality companies in this country that have robust green energy policies,” Ross said.

Where is the energy that fuels Georgetown coming from? Right here in West Texas.

Contracting with Spinning Spur 3 outside of Amarillo, Texas, and the NRG solar farm near Fort Stockton, Texas — which will provide 40 percent of Georgetown’s energy — in 2015, Georgetown’s electrical grids allow the city to be powered by wind energy from West Texas.

With data showing evidence of the cost-effectiveness of renewable energy, what keeps the fossil fuel industry so strong?

Crumpley said it is in part the ignorance of lawmakers, who continue to allow special interest groups to influence their policy-making.

“They just do not believe there’s anything they’re doing that is damaging the environment,” Crumpley said. “I think that they are making so much money in the economy from the traditional models that they are blind or don’t care to even really hear the fact that they’re destroying our natural resources.”

Metzger, an advisory board member on the Texas Renewable Energy Industry Alliance, said potential new legislation is worrisome and could impact the progress of renewable energy.

Luke Metzger (via Environment Texas)

He said the proposed GOP tax plan would reduce or eliminate the tax credit and could hamper the growth of renewable energy by aiding fossil fuel companies.

On November 29, four energy companies sent a letter to U.S. senators expressing “urgent concerns” about the bill and saying it “undermines” their ability to use the renewable energy tax credit.

The solar tax credit, known as the investment tax credit (ITC), incentivizes investors to invest in wind and solar projects while allowing them to write off tax burdens of their own. If eliminated, investors could decide not to fund future projects.

Crumpley said the priority of profits over the environment has led to destructive consequences.

“They are creating the super tornadoes. They are creating the hurricanes, and they’re just not getting that message,” Crumpley said.

In order to advocate change in environmental policy, Crumpley said it will be up to citizens to demand that lawmakers no longer remain ignorant to the environmental and economic benefits of renewable energy.

“We need to find a way to use our social media platforms; we need to find a way to use our public forums; we need to find a way to get down in Austin in front of the state capitol with our video cameras,” Crumpley said. “We need to put people on fire.”

About Shane Longoria

Shane is the Entertainment Reporter for The Hub@TTU. He enjoys writing about music, reading about politics and improving his Twitter game. He is almost finished with his bachelor's degree in electronic media and communications, and hopes to pursue a career in music journalism.

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