Once the epicenter of the oilfield, Texas is now buzzing with wind and solar power

A year after Texas’ fatal power grid outage sparked a backlash against clean energy, growth in its renewable energy sector hasn’t slowed.

Texas is already the leading producer of wind energy in the United States and is on the way to to become number 1 in solar electricity in a few years.

Last year’s winter storm destroyed about half of the state’s power plants, causing large swaths of outages that pushed power prices to exorbitant levels and killed more than 200 people.

Frozen wind turbines have been singled out as the main reason several parts of the state plunged into darkness for days, including by Texas Governor Greg Abbott.

But the problems were much broader as other power plants, mostly natural gas facilities, were also taken offline and the state grid was unable to move available power to where it needed to be. was needed.

“There was negative press from the start,” Jason Allen, chief executive of Leeward Renewable Energy, said in an interview at the company’s headquarters in Dallas.

“But overall most of the renewable assets performed exceptionally well during this storm. You had wind generators in the south that weren’t impacted by the storm. The high winds powering the solar generation were really strong. “

Jason Allen, CEO of Leeward Renewable Energy, at the company’s headquarters in Dallas, Texas. Allen previously worked for Calgary-based AltaGas. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

Leeward has developed large-scale wind and solar projects in Texas and has operations in eight other states. The company is owned by the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS).

Allen has worked in many power generation industries including coal, natural gas and hydroelectricity.

“I transitioned through these different technologies and found myself where I think the future is and where we’re going to grow,” he said.

The company’s wind farms in Texas are clustered south of the town of Sweetwater, approximately 340 kilometers west of Dallas. In this rural area, wind turbines outnumber local residents and livestock grazing among the cacti. The turbines tower over the relatively short mesquite and cedars that sparsely populate the landscape.

The number of wind farms has swelled in the state over the past two decades, fueled by lots of land and strong gusts of air.

WATCH | Lessons learned from the fatal power failure:

Texas power plants need to be more resilient

The renewable energy sector continues to grow at a rapid pace, even after the 2021 storm caused power outages in the state, says Jason Allen, CEO of Leeward Renewable Energy. 2:02

New rule requires winter weather measures

The storm showed that there are lessons to be learned about the need for all types of power plants to be more resilient as climate change causes more severe and frequent weather events. At the same time, more transmission lines are needed in Texas to allow electricity to better reach storm-affected areas, and increased connections to neighboring states’ power grids to allow Texas to import electricity. electricity if needed.

“When you think back to that storm, yes, there were quite a few wind turbines that went offline, but the main issues were with the thermal power plants,” which were mostly natural gas, said Samantha Bobo Woodworth, a researcher in wind power. analyst at S&P Global, during an interview in Houston.

“You can get de-icing products for wind turbines, but in Texas, why would you?”

The Texas Public Utility Commission, the state’s electricity regulator, passed in October a new rule forcing businesses to follow winter weather protection measures.

Wind power accounts for about 21% of the electricity generated in the state, while utility-scale solar projects account for about 3%, according to the US Energy Information Agency (EIA). As renewable electricity grows, the use of coal has been cut in half over the past decade.

US President Joe Biden continues to push his Build Back Better plan which includes tax credits for major wind and solar projects. If approved, it could give a boost to an industry that is already booming in Texas. (Forrest Dean/CBC)

The Panhandle region in the northern part of the state is often the most attractive for wind projects. West Texas, which has been the epicenter of America’s oil boom for the past decade, is where several solar projects have been developed.

Several Canadian companies have large-scale renewable energy projects in the state, including Algonquin Power & Utilities, Innergex Renewable Energy, and Canadian Solar.

Government incentives have helped the wind and solar industries thrive in Texas, and if passed, President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan could fuel additional growth as it includes clean energy subsidies and promotes development more transmission lines.

Government funding helps development, but renewable energy doesn’t need to continue growing in the state, said Kunal Patel, senior business economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

Patel said that as far as the economy is concerned, it is still cheaper to build solar or wind generation compared to other options of natural gas, coal or nuclear, whether or not there are government incentives. .

WATCH | Why there is a boom in the wind and solar industry in Texas:

A year after the Texas power grid outage sparked a backlash against clean energy, growth in the renewables sector hasn’t slowed

It’s all about dollars and cents, says Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas’ Kunal Patel 1:36

Currently, solar power is the cheapest source of electricity, Patel said.

Additionally, the panels produce electricity during hot summer afternoons when electricity prices are highest.

“Investors have started to take more interest in solar,” Patel said.

“It really starts to brighten the outlook for renewable energy in Texas.”