TEXAS VIEW: Texas wind, solar industries bruised, not broken, by Legislature

THE POINT: Lawmakers picked fight with renewables but didn’t wreck Texas industry.

The 2021 winter storm claimed hundreds of lives and left millions without power during a historic statewide deep freeze. Swiftly, lawmakers and regulators vowed to make Texas’ power grid more reliable and less vulnerable to extreme weather events. Two years later, it’s troublingly unclear whether they accomplished that this session.

Lawmakers passed bills to subsidize companies to build more natural gas-fueled electricity plants that would operate when power reserves are low. The Legislature also created a state-funded, low-interest loan program, pending voter approval, and bonuses to companies that bring new gas-powered electricity plants online faster. Additional costs would be passed to consumers.

But lawmakers also picked an unnecessary fight with solar and wind energy interests with numerous bills designed to handcuff wind and solar power investments. Some last-minute maneuvering allowed renewable energy to emerge from the session with a mild bruising instead of a death blow from the most aggressive effort in years to curtail renewable energy. For example, one bill that passed the Senate but failed in the House would have subjected renewable energy projects to retroactive permitting, a process that would have chilled alternative energy development.

The Legislature’s crafting of energy policy hasn’t been an open book this year, and industry experts seriously question whether grid reliability improved this session. New plants are not going to come online soon and older plants will be retired in the coming years. The actual cost of this plan has not been fully calculated, and energy experts suggest that lawmakers missed an opportunity to increase reliability by adopting efficiency measures to reduce the strain on the power grid.

There is no doubt that the state needs more power from all sources, including natural gas plants, to address growth and extreme weather conditions. But that should not come at the expense of investments in renewable energy. More than two decades of conservative support for renewable power have made Texas an international leader in the field.

However, support for renewables soured after the 2021 storm with scapegoating of wind power for the disaster.

Lt. Gov Dan Patrick set this combative tone this session when he derailed a Public Utility Commission proposal for new market incentives for all power sources to increase additional dispatchable power. The ongoing prejudice against renewables and boost for fossil fuels won’t help the state realize the energy resources we need.

For a competitive energy market to work, the state must have an all sources approach to production. What energy production in Texas doesn’t need is an ideological assault on the state’s vibrant wind and solar investments that picks winners and losers and reverses decades of work making Texas an alternative energy leader.

The Dallas Morning News