Texas leads in wind power.

Photographer: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Rick Perry Was a Clean Energy Governor

Michael E. Webber is deputy director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin and author of "Thirst for Power: Energy, Water and Human Survival."
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The environmental community has already reacted with disappointment, even some outrage, to President-elect Donald Trump's choice of former Texas Governor Rick Perry as secretary of energy. Their misgivings over Perry’s denial of climate change and his push to expand coal power are justified. Yet a close look at his gubernatorial record offers a reason for hope.

While Perry was governor, Texas led the way on two innovations that helped the U.S. lower carbon emissions: the fracking revolution and the boom in wind energy.

Fracking began in Texas -- and eventually changed energy production throughout the country. Cheaper natural gas increasingly replaced coal as a fuel, saving on carbon dioxide emissions, water use and air pollution.

To be sure, the Texas governor cannot take personal credit for fracking, which has been boosted mainly by market forces, private investment and decades of federal R&D spending. But Perry did much to support the state’s wind industry. In just over a decade, Texas effectively ramped up from zero wind power to more than 11,000 megawatts of capacity. The state became, and remains today, the nation’s leading wind power producer. If Texas were a nation, it would be the sixth largest producer of wind energy in the world.

By the time Perry was elected governor, Texas had already deregulated its power market and mandated the construction of 2,000 megawatts of renewable capacity, unleashing market forces that caused wind installations grow so quickly, the mandate was exceeded within a few years. 

Here’s where Rick Perry played an important role. As wind power expanded, it overwhelmed the capacity of the transmission lines responsible for bringing the energy from wind farms in the western part of the state and the panhandle to cities such as Dallas and Houston. And this restricted the number of wind farms that could be built.

Governor Perry stepped in as part of a coalition of urban Democrats, who like wind for its environmental benefits, and rural Republicans, who like wind for its rural economic benefits. Texas invested $7 billion in new transmission infrastructure to connect more than 18,000 megawatts of remote wind power to the grid.

The success of this bipartisan action has been staggering. Construction jobs were created and landowners gained a new source of income. Emissions from the Texas power sector plummeted. Electricity became cheaper and the costs of regulating the grid fell, too.

Ideally, this story of success in creating a more robust grid and more efficient energy markets in Texas will set the stage for Perry’s tenure at the Department of Energy. In his new job, the former governor should have more opportunities to promote effective energy markets.

President-elect Trump has already called for expanding investment in U.S. infrastructure. If he's serious, then Perry should help make sure those investments include building out transmission infrastructure to allow the wind corridor in the center of the country to export power to the coasts. Imagine a nationwide grid of underground high-voltage transmission lines that efficiently carry North Dakota wind to Boston or Oklahoma wind to New York. 

While no one yet knows exactly what to expect from Perry as energy secretary, we cautiously hope to see more of the bipartisan, pro-infrastructure, pro-renewables leader who helped Texas reduce emissions. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the authors of this story:
Michael E. Webber at webber@mail.utexas.edu
Sheril R. Kirshenbaum at sheril.kirshenbaum@gmail.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Mary Duenwald at mduenwald@bloomberg.net