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May 11, 2005


Goal in Bill Before House Won’t Make  Texasa Renewable Energy Leader

AUSTIN – Results of a Scripps Howard Texas poll released Wednesday and a new report by Waco economist Ray Perryman lend support for a new renewable energy goal much higher than the goal in a bill now before the Texas House of Representatives.

“This new polls shows Texans know that getting more wind power and other renewables into our energy mix makes good sense,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office. “Texans know that using more renewable energy can lower electric bills, boost our economy and help clean up air pollution.”

The House is expected to vote as early as this week on Senate Bill 533 by state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay. That bill, passed by the Senate two weeks ago, proposes to increase the state’s renewable energy goal from the current goal of 2,880 megawatts (or about 3 percent of the state’s electricity) by 2009 to 5,880 megawatts (or about 5 percent of the state’s electricity) by 2015.

The state’s renewable energy goal, called a renewable portfolio standard, is important because it tells the Public Utility Commission how much power transmission line capacity is needed to move wind power from West Texas to the cities, Smith said.

Texas has tremendous potential to produce electricity from wind power, but a lack of transmission lines to West Texas has stymied development, Smith said.

“The renewable goal is the primary driver for how much transmission we get built for wind power,” Smith said. “But the goal now being considered is too small to ensure enough transmission capacity is built to make Texas a wind power leader.”

Smith said that’s because 5,880 megawatts by 2015 is less than what Texas already will achieve under wind power’s current development rate. That rate will yield almost 8,000 megawatts by 2015.

Smith said that under the Fraser bill, wind power in Texas in 2015 will be in much the same shape it is today: short on transmission capacity.

A better choice for Texas is a new goal of 10,880 megawatts (or about 9 percent of electricity) by 2015.  State Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas, and state Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, authored legislation calling for the higher goal, but their bills did not get out of committees.

“Clearly, the better choice for Texas is the higher renewable energy goal,” Smith said. “And we call on members of the House to vote for an amendment that will increase the goal to 10,880 megawatts.”

A new Scripps Howard Texas Poll released Wednesday shows:

  • 79 percent of Texans prefer increasing the use of renewable energy to meet the state’s future electric energy needs.
  • 81 percent of Texans said they would pay up to $2 more per month on their electric bills to build more transmission lines to carry renewable energy to Texas cities if that meant an overall decrease in their electric bills.

The poll also found that among Texans who support raising the state’s renewable energy goal:

  • 55 percent favored raising the goal by 20 percent (17,500 megawatts) by 2020
  • 34 percent favored raising the goal by 8 percent (10,000 megawatts) by 2015
  • 11 percent favored raising the goal by 4 percent (5,000 megawatts) by 2015

The new report by Ray Perryman concludes that a 10,880 megawatt by 2015 goal would result in more than $7 billion in net economic benefits to the state by 2015 and $2.6 billion in total power cost savings to consumers by 2015. The report also found that the annual power cost savings would be greater than the annual cost of building new transmission lines for wind power. The report is called “Texas Power: The Impact of a Substantial Expansion in Renewable Power Capacity and Electric Transmission Infrastructure on Business Activity in Texas.”

Opponents of the 10,880-megawatt goal have expressed concerns about the ability of the state to integrate that much renewable energy into the power grid and to get enough transmission lines built fast enough to accommodate that power.

But Smith referred to information from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) that refuted those concerns. In a May 3, 2005, letter from ERCOT president and CEO Thomas Schrader to Rep. Swinford, Schrader said, “There is no known absolute technical reason why Texas could not strive for 10,880 MW by 2015.”  

Smith also said that the Fraser bill could end up discouraging, rather than encouraging, wind power development in Texas.  That’s because of a provision in the bill that, in effect, puts a cap on renewable energy development in Texas.  Smith also expressed concern that the Fraser bill will be amended on the House floor with a provision that could make wind power companies pay an unfair share of transmission costs.

“Let’s hope the Legislature doesn’t blow this great opportunity to help make Texas a wind power and renewable energy leader,” Smith said.