The credible case for Texas and its clean energy solutions [OPINION]

Recent criticism of increased Texas greenhouse gas emissions makes an important point: Without reducing emissions in Texas, U.S. climate and clean energy goals are at risk. Jeremy Symons’ Aug. 6 op-ed for The Hillnotes that there are federal solutions to address this problem, but he doesn’t discuss that Texas has the solutions to be both a leader and a model for other states if current policymaking ambition matches the level of innovation sweeping across the Lone Star state.

Texas can dramatically grow its economy and reduce emissions by encouraging more Distributed Energy Resources (DERs), reducing oil and gas methane in ways that forward-thinking companies are already doing, catalyzing market innovation to increase carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS) like it did for electricity. 

In this case, the old adage is true: Everything is bigger in Texas. A few examples:

  • Texas is No. 1 in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, bigger than the second and third states combined.
  • Texas is No. 1 in power emissions, but also No. 1 in wind with projections for significant growth of solar as well.
  • The state is No. 1 in coal emissions, but wind just surpassed coal in Texas.
  • Texas is No. 1 globally for carbon capture and storage projects and a leader in direct air capture (Occidental Petroleum recently announced they will be piloting the world’s largest direct air capture facility in Texas).
  • In February 2019, the world’s largest battery project (495 MW) was announced for development in West Texas.
  • Major corporations are investing in renewable resources, exemplified by Exxon’s buying 500 MW of wind and solar in Texas joining other industry leaders in sourcing power needs from cheap Texas renewables.

What’s driving all these big solutions? It’s simple. They’re bipartisan. They’re effective. It’s the power of markets, and the innovation these markets create.

Energy deregulation passed by former Govs. George W. Bush and Rick Perry have helped reduce Texas power emissions, but plenty of work remains. The next step for the market in Texas is to unleash DERs to replace its legacy coal. Removing barriers to individuals and companies investing in DERs and opening opportunities to better participate in the market will spawn a revolution in battery storage, self-generation, demand response, and even electric vehicles while increasing resiliency. Policymakers should ensure these technologies achieve their promise by removing current barriers that discourage investments in DERs such as restrictive municipal ordinances, onerous processes for interconnection, and discriminatory retail rates.  

There is even more work to be done in the industrial and oil and gas sectors in Texas. Texas is already the No. 1 emitter in both sectors. Projections show increased emissions as Permian production continues to boom, leading to new and expanded refineries, petrochemical facilities, and LNG exports on the Gulf Coast. Without clear and decisive action, the increased carbon emissions will more than offset reductions from Texas power emissions while also increasing air pollution. To put the scale of potential reductions in perspective, 2030 estimates from the Rhodium U.S. Climate Service show that more reductions can be made in the Texas industrial sector alone than would be achieved nationally by implementing the original Clean Power Plan or national Fuel Efficiency Standards.

New CCUS technologies like NetPower, a potential game-changer, is piloting its technology in Texas. Taking innovative technologies like this (and others) from pilot scale to ubiquitous deployment will likely require the same foresight on CCUS that policymakers had for the power sector; creating a market for carbon dioxide that enables CCUS and direct air capture. 

Methane, an incredibly potent greenhouse gas, associated with oil and gas production, is being flared and vented at record highs in Texas. Policymakers can incentivize methane reductions and require all operators to use innovative leak detection technologies being piloted in Texas by leading oil and gas companies. Companies should have more restrictions on flaring so that instead of wasting gas revenue that could be going to support Texas schools, they sell it.

Implementing these solutions will ensure Texas maintains its status as the global energy hub while creating jobs reducing emissions in ways that its current political leadership can embrace. Given the scale of Texas emissions, failure to implement these solutions likely means that eventually Washington will impose its solutions instead. The choice is clear. However, what is not clear is if current policymakers can keep up with the innovation former leaders helped create in Texas.

Drew Nelson is the clean energy program officer at the Texas-based Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation. Nelson formerly served as a director for Environmental Defense Fund’s Climate and Energy Program and as a climate negotiator for the U.S. Department of State. 

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