How Texas became an unlikely leader in renewable energy

Few people think of Texas as a renewable energy leader. The oil mad state is known for drilling and Enron. So you might be surprised to learn that Texas is actually a major leader in wind power.

The story of the state’s ascent in the 80’s and 90’s to becoming a leader in wind power is recounted in a new book, The Great Texas Wind Rush by Kate Galbraith, formerly of The Texas Tribute and Asher Price of The Austin American-Statesman.

From the Observer’s review:

The story starts where so many quintessentially Texan stories start: in West Texas, where oddball dreamers in the 1970s and ’80s saw the merciless wind as not just the region’s howling soundtrack, but a resource that could be harnessed. These are great characters: a Panhandle hippie who built the first Texas wind farm on his cousin’s ranch; a Lubbock priest who scouted the best locations for church-side turbines by flying a kite Ben Franklin-style; and a father-and-son team out of Burkburnett (“Boomtown, USA!”) who took wrench to turbine in pursuit of something that just worked, dammit.

They were tinkerers and risk-takers, and their failures greatly outnumbered their limited successes. But they blazed the trail, and they are the book’s heroes, can-do Texas types who threw caution and money at the wind hoping to catch it. By 1981, Texas had built its first wind farm, the second in the nation.

The book goes on to recount how George W. Bush included a 2,000 megawatt wind farm mandate as part of a 1999 state bill that would deregulate Texas’s electricity sector. He needed broad support for the bill, and the wind farm language helped woo some environmentalists. Texas’ decision to deregulate has actually created one of the more interesting and innovative electricity markets in the U.S.

Today there are more than 12 gigawatts of wind power installed in Texas, about 10 percent of the state’s demand. Which is not to say that Texas is becoming a leader in renewables or fighting against climate change. Just that some smart folks saw an opening for another energy boom, and nobody likes an energy boom like a Texan.