With more than 22,000 employees in Texas, America’s wind energy industry feels the pain inflicted by Hurricane Harvey. Wind companies have pledged $1 million to Habitat for Humanity to help Texas communities recover from the disaster.
But wind energy is helping Texas recover in other ways as well. Our industry has invested more than $38 billion in Texas wind projects, which pay landowners more than $60 million annually in lease payments. For many farming and ranching families, that additional income allows them to stay on their land.
Texas has also become a world leader in manufacturing the energy technologies of the 21st century, with 40 factories building wind turbine parts. Several thousand Texans work as wind turbine technicians – America’s fastest growing job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Texas produces more than 14 percent of its electricity from wind, and will soon top 20 percent, helping to keep electricity rates low and stable.
Houston has long been the energy capital of America; now it is becoming the clean energy capital as well. Many wind companies are headquartered in Houston. Some of the city’s largest conventional energy companies, like BP and Shell, have made major investments in wind energy. Many of the leaders in offshore drilling are now looking to apply their expertise to America’s burgeoning offshore wind industry.
By building a more diverse and resilient energy mix, wind also helps keep the lights on for Texas homes and businesses. As Hurricane Harvey came ashore, most of the wind projects along the Gulf Coast continued producing at nearly full output. A few went offline when the local power grid went down, but all major wind projects were back online within days. Wind output was also strong when extreme cold weather knocked conventional power plants offline in 2011, causing rolling blackouts.
Wind plants are spread around the state, providing steadier output across a large footprint. The wind projects along the Gulf Coast and in the Rio Grande Valley are especially valuable, since they tend to produce the most during the late afternoon, when electricity demand is highest.
Electric reliability in Texas has steadily increased as wind’s contribution to the electricity mix has grown. Technological advances now allow wind projects to provide the same reliability services traditionally offered by conventional power plants. Due to wind plants’ fast and accurate response, the Texas grid operator often relies on wind plants to stabilize the power system when grid frequency is high.
Most importantly, technological progress has cut wind energy’s cost by two-thirds since 2009. Wind is now the world’s lowest-cost energy source, particularly in states like Texas that have some of the world’s highest winds.
Because of these cost declines, many large companies are buying wind energy to power their operations in the state. GM, Procter & Gamble, Home Depot and others are buying Texas wind energy. Texas has won billion-dollar data center investments over other states because of its abundant wind generation.
These businesses are drawn to wind’s low and stable price. While other fuel prices may fluctuate, the wind will always be free.
If the economic benefits weren’t enough, wind energy also helps keep our air and water clean. The state’s wind generation cut carbon emissions by over 40 million tons in 2016, the equivalent of taking over 8 million cars off the road. Last year, Texas wind also saved 20 billion gallons of water that would have been used to cool conventional power plants – a significant advantage for a state that periodically struggles with drought. By reducing harmful air pollution, wind energy has saved over 12,000 lives and over $100 billion in health costs nationwide over the last nine years, according to a recent study.
Wind energy is a win-win for the economy and environment, and the Houston area is well-positioned to maintain its leadership in this rapidly growing industry.
Goggin is the senior director of research at the American Wind Energy Association, an industry trade group.