Roger Real Drouin

How Conservative Texas Took the Lead in U.S. Wind Power

When the King Mountain Wind Ranch was built in 2001 south of Odessa, Texas, it was the largest wind project in the world, with 214 turbines capable of generating 278 megawatts of electricity.

Fourteen years later, the company that constructed King Mountain, RES Americas, has developed a total of 15 wind farms in Texas capable of generating about 2,200 megawatts of electricity — enough to power about 600,000 homes under average wind conditions. The developer has yet another wind farm currently under construction, all because the windswept Texas prairie “provided a great natural resource and Texans were supportive of wind energy,” says Chad Horton, vice president of development for RES Americas.

The steady expansion of RES Americas in Texas mirrors a surge in wind energy production in a state better known for its oil and gas booms, its conservative politics, and its skepticism about human-caused climate change than for its flourishing renewable energy sector. As it turns out, though, Texas now leads the United States in wind power production.

In 2014, wind generated 10.6 percent of Texas electricity, up from 9.9 percent the previous year and 6.2 percent in 2009, according to the U.S Energy Information Administration. Wind energy generation that falls under the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages the grid for 24 million Texans, nearly doubled from 2009 to 2014. Currently, Texas has more than 12 gigawatts of wind power capacity installed across the state — equivalent to six Hoover Dams. That figure could jump to 20 gigawatts in a few years with upgrades to the current transmission system, according to Ross Baldick, an engineering professor at University of Texas at Austin.

“I don’t think any state has been quite as fast at blowing past their [wind power] goals as Texas has,” says Nathanael Greene, director of renewable energy policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

So how has the Lone Star state done it? Strong government incentives, sizeable investments in infrastructure, and innovative policies have played an important role. So has the backing of governors of all political persuasions, from liberal Democrat Ann Richards to conservative Republican Rick Perry. But at heart the profit motive has driven the state’s wind energy boom, with ranchers and landowners seeing gold in the spinning turbines on the Texas plains.

“We rarely talked about the environment,” recalls Michael Osborne, co-founder of the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Alliance (TREIA) and developer of the state’s first wind farm in the early 1990s. “We talked about farmers and ranchers getting rich on windmills.”

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As Fracking Booms, Growing Concerns About Waste Water

An hour south of Pittsburgh, in Pennsylvania’s Washington County, millions of gallons of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing wells are stored in large impoundment ponds and so-called "closed container" tanks. The wastewater is then piped to treatment plants, where it is cleaned up and discharged into streams; trucked to Ohio and pumped deep down injection wells; or reused in other fracking operations.

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