Monday, March 10, 2008

NY Times does Texas (wind power, diversity, and politics)

The NY Times recently had a couple good in-depth articles on Texas I wanted to pass along and excerpt. The March 4 primary is over, but this first article on the incredible size and diversity of the state - and the political complications it creates - is still an interesting one.
Pieces of Texas Turn Primary Into a Puzzle
The rapidly mounting fight in Texas has reminded national political strategists yet again of the state’s unwieldy size and stark geographical differences.
The vast, immigrant-heavy Texas of Houston, where more than 100 languages are spoken in the city’s schools

...trying to make sense of a state as large as New England, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and North Carolina combined, and probably even more diverse.
And the rapidly mounting fight has reminded national political strategists yet again of Texas’ strange largeness — or large strangeness — a state that Congress decided in 1845, the year it joined the Union, might well be later divided into four more states should it consent.

That provision stemmed from the debate over slavery, but it was an acknowledgment of the state’s unwieldy size and stark geographical differences, from prairie towns with plainly descriptive names like Notrees and Levelland (used to visit my grandparents there) to the swamps and cypress forests of the Big Thicket National Preserve in the southeast to coastal towns like Galveston, with old Victorian neighborhoods reminiscent of San Francisco.


Texas is also separated into 20 media markets, among the most of any state in the country, with the added necessity of buying advertisements in Oklahoma and Louisiana if you want to cover every corner of it.

The next one covers the incredible growth of wind power in Texas.

Texas, once the oil capital of North America, is rapidly turning into the capital of wind power. After breakneck growth the last three years, Texas has reached the point that more than 3 percent of its electricity, enough to supply power to one million homes, comes from wind turbines.
Aesthetic and wildlife issues have led to opposition emerging around the country, particularly in coastal areas like Cape Cod. Some opposition in Texas has cropped up as well, including lawsuits to halt wind farms that were thought to be eyesores or harmful to wetlands.

But the opposition has been limited, and has done little to slow the rapid growth of wind power in Texas. Some Texans see the sleek new turbines as a welcome change in the landscape.

“Texas has been looking at oil and gas rigs for 100 years, and frankly, wind turbines look a little nicer,” said Jerry Patterson, the Texas land commissioner, whose responsibilities include leasing state lands for wind energy development. “We’re No. 1 in wind in the United States, and that will never change.”

Texas surpassed California as the top wind farm state in 2006. In January alone, new wind farms representing $700 million of investment went into operation in Texas, supplying power sufficient for 100,000 homes.

Supporters say Texas is ideal for wind-power development, not just because it is windy. It also has sparsely populated land for wind farms, fast-growing cities and a friendly regulatory environment for developers.

“Texas could be a model for the entire nation,” said Patrick Woodson, a senior development executive with E.On, a German utility operating here.


Texas is better equipped to deal with the transmission problems that snarl wind energy in other states because a single agency operates the electrical grid and manages the deregulated utility market in most of the state.


At the end of 2007, Texas ranked No. 1 in the nation with installed wind power of 4,356 megawatts (and 1,238 under construction), far outdistancing California’s 2,439 megawatts (and 165 under construction). Minnesota and Iowa came in third and fourth with almost 1,300 megawatts each (and 46 and 116 under construction, respectively).

Iowa, Minnesota, Colorado and Oregon, states with smaller populations than Texas, all get 5 to 8 percent of their power from wind farms, according to estimates by the American Wind Energy Association.

It has dawned on many Texans in recent years that wind power, whatever its other pros and cons, represents a potent new strategy for rural economic development.

Since the wind boom began a few years ago, the total value of property here in Nolan County has doubled, and the county judge, Tim Fambrough, estimated it would increase an additional 25 percent this year. County property taxes are going down, home values are going up and the county has extra funds to remodel the courthouse and improve road maintenance.

“Wind reminds us of the old oil and gas booms,” Mr. Fambrough said.

I'd like to end this post by acknowledging the 3-year anniversary of this blog. Approaching 600 posts and counting. It's been a fun 3 years, and I look forward to keeping it going many more. If you're a relative newcomer to Houston Strategies, or if you're just feeling curious or nostalgic, you can browse highlights from those three years here.

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At 5:55 PM, March 10, 2008, Anonymous Neal Meyer said...


We Texans will be generating 6GW from wind power soon? How much more will we be generating in the future? Aren't we supposed to be powering down by now? Everybody knows that modern day civilization is simply unsustainable.

But then again, leave it to some people who are more worried about wildlife and aesthetics than they are about making sure that their family, friends, and neighbors can turn on the lights and heat their homes at night. It almost seems that no solution for generating energy is acceptable for some people. Or, it isn't when its in their own backyard.

What this really goes to show is that we will never run out of energy as long as we continue to keep trying new (and sometimes old) ideas.

At 9:51 AM, March 11, 2008, Blogger ian said...

Wow Neal, a post I can read in less than 5 minutes! Cheers for your new-found conciseness :)

I don't really see the need to pit environmentalists against civilation. Environmentalists aren't all crazy luddite people-haters; in fact, I'd say most people are "environmentalists" at heart.

The trade-off for energy production is far more complicated than you make it sound. We're not pitting the lives of a few dumb pigeons against the needs of freezing, starving families that are barely clinging on to life. If that was the case, then yeah, environmentalists would be jerks. But it's not. This is the case of endangered migratory birds and bats who are bound to the patterns programmed into their little avian brains. Versus starving neighbor children who must sleep on the floor in their cramped living quarters? NO! Versus huge, 3000+ square foot houses and extravagant, excessive lifestyles. That's what I refuse to feed at all cost: our culture of enormous excess. People aren't any more happy living in exorbitant houses with exorbitant heating and cooling bills than they would be living in more modest arrangements. But I can guarantee you that a flock of birds that have all been decapitated by a monster wind turbine probably ain't all that happy.

However, I don't personally feel that the risk to wildlife offsets the huge advantages created by Texas' wind power production. So, in essense, I agree with you. But if we're going to discuss the pros and cons, what do you say we frame the discussion fairly and honestly?

At 11:31 AM, March 11, 2008, Anonymous kjb434 said...

"Versus starving neighbor children who must sleep on the floor in their cramped living quarters? NO! Versus huge, 3000+ square foot houses and extravagant, excessive lifestyles. That's what I refuse to feed at all cost: our culture of enormous excess."

So what do you proposed to do? Legislate lifestyles? This is where I truly get aggravated with most environmentalist. If I want a 3000+ sq ft house and I'm willing to pay for the energy it takes to run it, i should be able to too. I'm not going to live in a cramped flat to support an argument regarding energy that is being taken apart very rapidly. More and more scientist are criticizing the concept of carbon even being a pollutant. Last week in New York City, an entire convention met to present papers and research to the other side of the argument.

We are in no energy crisis except for the one self imposed by our crazy leaders in government.

At 11:36 AM, March 11, 2008, Blogger ian said...

"If I want a 3000+ sq ft house and I'm willing to pay for the energy it takes to run it, i should be able to too."

Right. I agree. You should be able to pay for it. . .and you will! But be prepared to swallow those costs -- all of them. Don't live your life of excess and then expect nature, the environment, and the poorer sectors of society to pay up. That wouldn't be fair, would it?

At 1:24 PM, March 11, 2008, Anonymous kjb434 said...

"Don't live your life of excess and then expect nature, the environment, and the poorer sectors of society to pay up. That wouldn't be fair, would it?"

Why would it be living excess? Who sets that standard that i'm living it up too much? And where would the poor and environment get hurt?

Many people move to Houston from other parts of the US particularly because they can live it up. They buy a larger house for their family to grow into. They can afford to buy a larger car that they want to drive verus just a car to get from point A to point B. It's a reward for hard work and they want to enjoy it.

At 8:03 PM, March 11, 2008, Blogger Michael said...


>>Why would it be living excess? Who sets that standard that i'm living it up too much? And where would the poor and environment get hurt?

I think the market and government should set the standard. And "unsustainable lifestyles" should not be made to be so easily attained by the market. For instance, how different would the Houston area look if our road and transportation funds were allocated based on the taxpayer base as opposed to helping to fund expansion for developers way out in the exurbs?


At 8:15 AM, March 12, 2008, Anonymous kjb434 said...

First, I avoid utilizing buzz words such as sustainable, unsustainable. They are pointless words used to point fingers and kill debate.

Two, even when developers work to lobby highway expansion, it is still the free market at work. The developers see a demand for people wanting their own private home and yard. Expanding the road system is also a response to that demand. Highway expansion is not purely a reactionary response. You don't only expand a highway because traffic is bad. Technically, our policy towards highways have been to build in anticipation of traffic. Many of the projects we see today to deal with existing traffic problems come from funding shortfalls and lack of expansion in the 80s.

You also seem to work on the premise that sprawl is a bad thing. The reality of people clamoring to move into the city in dense neighborhoods is not there. Regulating to force people to do so will only hurt Houston and the region. Also, how do you regulate when you leave the Houston City limits. Much of the suburban development today occurs outside of the city limits (although within the ETJ). Heavy zoning laws won't stop the sprawl development. It could actually worsen it. it would just push developer further out to avoid the reach of the zoning law.

I'm seeing exactly that right now. Developers are asking for feasibility on tracts of land that avoid all planning laws. They lie just outside of ETJs and zoning jurisdictions. Also, many small towns on the fringe of suburbs are encouraging development. Should Houston tell these town that they don't have the right to grow? Should Pearland, Alvin, Rosenberg, and Conroe be told to not allow more development so people have to live in Houston?

Back to the original topic:
Increased development within the inner loop of Houston could be perceived as taking away power for smaller (even poorer towns) on the fringe of the metro that could use it to grow.

At 8:37 AM, March 12, 2008, Anonymous mike said...

kjb, no one is setting a standard for how much luxury people are allowed to enjoy. We're just trying to limit the extent to which our landscape is impacted and altered by our insatiable appetite for energy. We think the scenario that "family, friends, and neighbors can['t] turn on the lights and heat their homes at night" if anything is done to limit these impacts is a maudlin fairy tale. People will still be welcome to buy as much energy as they want, but they might have to pay higher prices.

At 8:40 AM, March 12, 2008, Anonymous kjb434 said...

The sad part is that prices don't have to go up.

Simple answers like more nuclear energy and actually beginning to tap into our own oil fields could keep prices down for easily 100-years


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