I live in West Texas, and some of the stereotypes are true. There are more SUVs and trucks here than you can shake a stick at. Oil wells are more common than trees. And if you ask people here if humans are changing the climate, most would say no.
Texas is the number one producer of carbon pollution in the United States. If Texas were its own country, it would be the seventh largest emitter in the world. That puts it ahead of Iran, South Korea, and even my native land, Canada. There’s no getting around it, Texas is a big part of the problem.
Everywhere you turn, you see oil wells scattered across cotton fields. But these days, you can barely drive an hour without running into a new wind farm going up, or a convoy of trucks carrying giant turbine blades.
A few years ago, I had an opportunity to spend a day with a farmer down by Midland, Texas. I noticed that his neighbor had wind turbines all across his land, but he just had a few oil wells. So after we’d had lunch, and had figured out that he knew someone who went to my church and I knew someone who went to his, I gathered up my courage and asked: was there was a reason he didn’t have any turbines himself?
“Yes,” he said, “It’s because I got on the list after my neighbor. I’ve been waiting two years for my turbines!”
“Why do you want them?” I asked.
“Those oil people are always driving on and off my land, messing up my fields,” he replied. “The turbines? They set them up, run them from Florida, and the check arrives in the mail.”
In 2015, ten percent of Texas’ electricity came from wind. In 2016, it’s already up to fifteen percent. And one day last December, it was so windy that turbines generated a full 40 percent of the state’s power for 17 hours.
Texas is the national leader in wind energy and, though it has yet to break into the top ten in solar, it’s on its way. West of San Antonio, laid-off oil patch workers are finding new jobs building some of the many solar farms that are already cropping up today. There’s a gigawatt of solar already under construction, and an estimate of four gigawatts by 2020.
The city of Georgetown, north of Austin, made news in March 2015 when they announced that all the power in their city would come from renewable sources. Why? It was primarily a price decision, they said.
A few months later, Facebook announced it would be powering its giant new data center in Fort Worth entirely by a new two hundred-megawatt wind farm in Clay County.
And this year, Fort Hood, the biggest military installation in the U.S., broke ground on a solar farm that, along with an off-site wind farm, will generate enough electricity to power half the base—saving taxpayers about $168 million over the lifetime of the contract.
All across Texas—from the Teslas on the streets of Austin, to Dallas LEED certifying city buildings to save money—there is a growing commitment to investing in a new clean energy economy that will lead to a more resilient society and a better future for us all.
Texas’ example reminds us that climate change isn’t just an economic challenge; it is also an economic opportunity to wean ourselves off our old, dirty ways of getting energy, and replace those with homegrown, clean renewable energy sources.
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