"Green Star State"

In an influential article in Texas Monthly and in a series of lectures, UT Engineering Prof. Michael Webber argues that Texans, who by an undeserved twist of good fortune, led the world into the carbon-burning age, may well be the ones who are doubly fortunate to lead us out.

Webber so argued today at this month’s monthly talk at The Austin Forum, a series of public talks held at the TACC/UTIG facility where I work, and I attended.

He doesn’t mince words:

Despite the general perception of our energy consumption, Texas is already doing much more to promote clean energy than the world realizes. For example, we created the nation’s first comprehensive municipal green-building program (in Austin) and the first technology incubator designed explicitly to encourage clean energy start-ups. Our biggest impact has been the aggressive use of renewable electricity—we were one of the first states to establish a renewable portfolio standard, which requires that a certain percentage of an energy company’s power generation come from renewable sources. Today half the states have something similar, following, to their surprise, in the footsteps of Texas (and Nevada). The renewable portfolio has been a huge success, leading us to create the largest installed base of wind capacity in the nation, about 9,000 megawatts, nearly three times as much as second-place Iowa. Our quick ramp-up of wind farms has pushed the U.S. ahead of every other nation, including Germany, the former leader, in terms of installed renewable capacity.

One of the ironies is that in Texas, our lack of concern about the environment enables us to do great things for the environment. You hardly need permission to build a wind farm here, and your neighbors cannot sue you for blocking their view. It’s much more difficult in environmentally inclined states like Massachusetts or California, where activists worry about the impact of the turbines on wildlife and ocean vistas. We don’t mind raising wind turbines, building transmission lines, or laying pipelines, all key advantages for renewable energy, which is diffuse by nature and requires vast tracts of land and sprawling infrastructure to be effective. Texas has a long history of trading blight for money. Why stop now?

He also notes that by a combination of extensive experience in big energy, geographic enormity, and dumb luck, Texas is well-positioned for wind, solar and biomass. While it is not obviously dominant in any of these categories it is easily the best positioned to move resources among the three. Also, not only does Texas have good geological formations for carbon sequestration, Texas also has the companies with experience running CO2 pipelines and pumping it underground.

I think a strong majority in the audience, myself included, agreed with Jeffrey Sachs (This was originally on Grist but several efforts by me today to find it there failed. If David or somebody over there wants me to file a bug report on how the site search went drop me a line. Linked is the Guardian’s version.)

That leaves the U.S. with no choice but to develop and use CCS technology, despite the fact that it’s never been successfully implemented, he said. Renewable energy sources and improvements in efficiency won’t come close to meeting the world’s growing energy demand, he said.

“There’s no quantitative way to get this right without the nuclear industry playing a really large role,” he said. “It’s not a happy thought, but it’s unavoidable.”

Well, agreed except for the “never successfully implemented”. Hey. Guys. We do it all the time. We have CO2 pipelines runnin all over WesTixes and N’Mexico.

There was some CO2/greenhouse skepticism in the audience, but it was polite and intelligent, for which I am grateful.

Most of the Austin Forum talks have been excellent, by the way. July’s is being given by me. Y’all come.