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Texas: Wind and solar plants claim land of oil

DAWSON (USA) – Modern Texas was built on oil, and its production has long been a source of immense pride. But now areas that have moved to the steady rhythm of drilling rigs for more than a century are making the state a national leader in wind and solar power.

A convergence of factors has led to this unexpected outcome: favorable weather (plenty of wind and sun), relatively cheap land, the lure of government clean energy subsidies, and a desire to salvage a utility system that failed dramatically during a cold spell in 2021 .

Two counties south of Dallas, Navarro and Limestone, symbolize this surprising change. They have been an integral part of the Texas petroleum industry since the late 1800s and are now at the forefront of the renewable revolution.

Wind and solar projects “have Navarro County at the forefront of renewable energy in the nation,” said John Boswell, the county’s director of economic development.

Symbolic of this push is a new wind farm, inaugurated last week by French multinational energy company Engie, with 88 wind turbines capable of generating 300 megawatts (MW) of electricity.

Half an hour’s drive to the west, in the small town of Abbott, there is a 250 MW solar park, also built by Engie, which is now producing electricity.

Texas leads the nation — by a wide margin — in providing clean power to corporate and industrial customers, accounting for 35 percent of the country’s total, according to the American Clean Power Organization.

The state of Ohio has about half of Texas’ business and industrial projects, just ahead of California in third place.

“It’s true, when we think of Texas, we think of this very large oil and gas state,” said Frank Demaille, Engie’s chief executive officer.

But, he added, its natural resources aren’t all buried in the ground.

“They have a lot of wind, a lot of sun and are very good at managing all of their different resources.”

– Abundant resources –

With a huge and sprawling petrochemical industry, a population of 30 million, and a bitter history of independence, Texas stands out from the rest of the country in many ways – for better or worse.

One way his go-it-alone mentality wasn’t helping was evident in 2021, when a rare and intense cold snap swept through the state — whose power supply wasn’t connected to two major national grids — and provoked blackouts that affected millions and millions were blamed for more than 200 deaths.

Texas today remains primarily dependent on fossil fuels. Earlier this year, gas was the top source of energy (at 42 percent, according to Ercot, which manages the state’s power grid). Coal is 11 percent.

But renewable sources have played an important role.

Wind power now meets 29 percent of Texas needs, and solar power accounts for 11 percent. The rest comes from nuclear and hydroelectric power.

For comparison: two years ago, wind was still 24 percent and solar less than 5 percent.

Given Texas’ deep investment and long history in carbon-based energy, experts don’t expect it to give way to renewable energy anytime soon.

“I think what you’re going to see going forward is a combination of both because Texas is committed to both,” said Jeff Montgomery, whose company Blattner Energy is behind 400 renewable projects across the country.

Texas is a major supplier of natural gas to Europe. And now, Engie’s Demaille said, “we’re importing more gas from the US, especially Texas, because of the war in Ukraine.”

In the meantime, however, legislation supported by the Biden administration and passed last year could accelerate the transition to renewable energy through significant federal subsidies.

– ‘Show the value’ –

Robert Lowry, superintendent for the Coolidge School District in Limestone County, said the tax revenue that renewable energy projects generate could make a difference for school systems like his.

“We now have the resources to do some great things for our kids that we’ve ever had before,” he said.

But not everyone shares this enthusiasm.

John Null, an engineer who lives near Dawson, said locals don’t see the immediate benefits they would hope for from the huge wind turbines visible from his window.

For example, during an ice storm last month, the turbines continued to rotate but, connected to a wider network, failed to provide power to the neighboring community.

He said wind energy needs to be “properly presented” to the public.

“Show me the value,” he said, and people would support wind energy.

In some areas, renewable projects are being touted to provide electricity to poorer neighborhoods.

In a less affluent part of Houston, the fourth largest US city, a solar park is to be built over a former garbage dump. This project is scheduled to begin in 2024, delivering 50MW of power, said Paul Curran, CEO of BQ Energy.

A former petroleum industry executive, Curran says that fossil fuels and renewable energy sources don’t have to compete with each other.

“It’s not very difficult if you run wind and solar in the right places for the right market,” he said.

“It’s been very well received by energy professionals and oil industry folks.”

Source: Crypto News Deutsch

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