Clean energy would mean big boost for West Texas economy

An economic study released Monday indicated a clean energy economy would create an increase of more than 22,000 jobs and $280 million annually in local and state tax revenue in the next decade.

During a presentation on the Texas Clean Energy Economy report at Texas Tech, a panel of speakers said the increasing development of biomass, solar and wind energy would not only generate benefits for the state, but also West Texas.

Billy Hamilton, the former Texas chief deputy comptroller of public accounts, started the study about six months ago through the support of the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation.

He said it is vital for Texas to utilize a combination of alternative sources of energy beyond oil and gas and become a leader in the clean energy industry since it has a wealth of resources: wind power, sun, open space and biomass materials.

“As a state, as a legislature, you give a lot of thought to what role you want to play in a clean energy future,” Hamilton said. “I hope it’ll be an active one.”

Specifically looking at Lubbock, John Osborne, president and CEO of Lubbock Economic Development Alliance, said this region is a good, central location for both the suppliers and businesses using the energy.

With the booming solar farms in New Mexico, wind farms across West Texas, wind research at Texas Tech and energy customers in Austin, Dallas and Houston, he said Lubbock will definitely reap some of the benefits highlighted in Hamilton’s study.

“It takes just a little bit of investment to create a tremendous number of jobs on an annual basis,” Osborne said. “It’s my firm belief that many of those jobs will take place here in West Texas as a result of the resources that we have and the type of industry that it is.”

Although many of those jobs will be related to construction, he said “sustainable jobs,” such as wind turbines technicians, will be needed to make sure the turbines are functioning properly.

The purpose of his study was to dispel misconceptions about the industry and inform legislators and the public about expanding and enhancing the clean energy production in the state, Hamilton said.

Although Texas may have come a long way in the past 10 years, several states on the West Coast and in New England are leading the nation in financial incentives and state renewable energy programs.

Since Texas consumes the most energy in the country, Hamilton said it made sense that it should also be the leader of alternative energy development. But, like all industries, giving a boost to the state’s emerging clean energy industry is not without its challenges.

In his report, Hamilton cited concerns about price, need for efficient energy transmission infrastructure, desire for long-lasting energy storage units and an intermittent supply of solar and wind energy.

Lubbock Mayor Tom Martin said he disagreed with a mindset in Washington, D.C., where some believed this type of energy should be free for everyone. There are costs for producing and transmitting energy, he said, so there must be a “commercialization,” not a “socialization” of energy.

Hamilton said continued state support for programs is necessary to encourage businesses to adopt these new technologies and enable Texas to generate 20 percent of its electrical power through renewable energy.

One of his recommendations to lawmakers was making changes to the Renewable Portfolio Standard — the policy that requires electric utilities to produce a specific amount of electricity. Hamilton suggested changing the RPS measurement from megawatts to a percentage of overall energy generation and create mandatory target goals in five-year increments.

Other ideas were additional financial incentives, such as rebates and sales tax exemptions for equipment and installation costs.

Although the use of clean energy is focused on a business use rather than personal use, Osborne said, more people are considering installing solar or wind devices on their homes.

In the future, West Texas may become known for its renewable energy as well as its cotton. “Whether it’s in my lifetime or after my lifetime, we’ll see West Texas where we have farmers who will not necessarily be growing crops,” Martin said. “They’ll be growing energy.”

By Alyssa Dizon,