Clean Energy Is Thriving in Texas. So Why Are State Republicans Trying to Stifle It?

Texas leads the nation for generating the most electricity from solar and wind and plays an outsized role in manufacturing electric vehicles. A slew of new bills could change that.

Ranchers round up black angus cattle on the Lone Star Wind Farm on June 9, 2007, near Abilene, Texas. Credit: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images
Ranchers round up black angus cattle on the Lone Star Wind Farm on June 9, 2007, near Abilene, Texas. Credit: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

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Texas is leading the country when it comes to clean energy. But that hasn’t stopped state Republicans from introducing a bevy of new legislation that aims to stifle the state’s thriving clean energy industry, according to several recent news reports.

For several years in a row, the Lone Star State has generated the most electricity, by far, from wind and solar, producing nearly three times as much power from renewable sources last year as California. Texas is also playing an outsized role in manufacturing the nation’s electric vehicles. Tesla moved its headquarters to Texas in 2021 and announced plans to spend $770 million to expand its factories in the state earlier this year. The global manufacturing giant Siemens also announced late last year that it plans to significantly expand its production of EV charging stations in the state.

But last month, Republicans introduced a package of bills to the state legislature intended to punish renewable energy and boost fossil fuels, including a measure that would increase the amount of gas-fired electricity generated by the state by upwards of 10 gigawatts and one that would limit the development of renewable energy in the state based on how much natural gas generation is also being built. Another bill, introduced last week, would prevent state agencies from cooperating with federal agencies to enforce federal policy related to oil and gas production if they contradict state laws, which critics warned could violate the state’s constitution and cause confusion between local, state and federal government agencies.

In fact, those measures are just a handful of the dozens of Republican bills introduced to the state legislature in recent years that environmentalists and energy analysts say would harm local clean energy companies and jeopardize the nation’s larger climate goals.

Texas Republicans have argued throughout the Biden presidency that the administration’s efforts to tackle climate change threaten to upend the state’s fossil fuel industry, which generates hundreds of billions of dollars every year. But environmental groups are now accusing those politicians—many of whom are staunch advocates for free market capitalism—of being hypocritical with their attacks on clean energy.

“These bills will subsidize those dirty energy sources at a big cost to consumers and the environment,” Luke Metzger, executive director at Environment Texas, told Earther last month. “Folks at the Texas Legislature used to speak of the importance of not picking winners and losers in the energy marketplace. Well, that’s exactly what these bills do. The state of Texas is dispensing with the free market to subsidize polluting power plants and discriminating against wind and solar energy.”

In the last year alone, GOP lawmakers in Texas have introduced legislation that would prohibit cities or counties from banning gas hookups in newly constructed buildings, eliminate the state’s remaining tax credits for renewables, prevent insurance companies from considering climate-related investing when setting customer rates and increase the costs to register electric vehicles and hybrid cars in the state.

One especially peculiar bill would prohibit local governments from banning gasoline-powered leaf blowers, lawn mowers and other landscaping equipment. That bill was introduced after Dallas officials announced last year that the city was considering phasing out such equipment as part of its push to become carbon neutral by 2050.

Those moves, however, should come as no surprise to anyone. After all, Texas has a history of dragging anything remotely related to climate change into the nation’s increasingly polarizing culture wars.

Texas Republicans falsely blamed frozen wind turbines for causing the state’s deadly 2021 winter storm blackout, introducing several pieces of legislation that sought to kneecap clean energy, including a bill that would have increased costs for operators of wind and solar power. Despite overwhelming evidence that the blackout was predominantly caused by natural gas power plant failures, state Republicans continue to blame renewables.

Texas officials have also led the charge in the GOP’s broader war against so-called “woke capitalism,” refusing to do business with any financial firms that divest from fossil fuel companies because of climate change or other environmental reasons.

While most of those bills have failed to pass, the renewed push in recent weeks could prove problematic for state officials who hope to tap the hundreds of billions of federal dollars from the Inflation Reduction Act that have started to become available for clean energy and climate adaptation projects. Local officials, for example, may be hesitant to apply for federal clean energy grants if they suspect their state legislature may bar them from using those funds in the future.

On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced its proposal for new tailpipe emissions standards, which proponents say could lead to two-thirds of the nation’s new vehicle sales being fully-electric in just 10 years. The rule, if finalized as is, could prove to be a major boon to the nation’s EV industry, with Texas potentially situated to gain the most.

But it would also be a major loss for the state’s fossil fuel industry as automakers adjust their factories to build more EVs and fewer gasoline cars. Energy analysts predict that the rule could force the closure of refineries along the Gulf Coast and around the country.

“We’ve been saying refining (along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts) is healthy for the next decade, and this threatens that,” Alan Gelder, an energy analyst for the research firm Wood Mackenzie, told the Houston Chronicle in reference to the proposed tailpipe emissions rule. “The peak (for gasoline demand) could come this year or next.”

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Today’s Indicator

$177 million

That’s how much money the Environmental Protection Agency said it will spend to create 17 technical assistance centers around the country to help environmental justice organizations successfully apply for federal funds from the Inflation Reduction Act.