The heated rhetoric against the Obama administration’s environmental policies and, in particular, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reached a fever pitch. As an example, Joe Bast, who presides over The Heartland Institute, opined this week that the EPA is a “rogue agency” that is “putting hundreds of thousands of Americans out of work.”
The focus of the ire has been on clean energy projects funded by the EPA and the Department of Energy, prompting a spate of letters from conservatives in Congress, focused on loans to Fisker, battery maker A123 and others. In a recent campaign speech, Mitt Romney called for an energy policy built around digging more coal, drilling more oil and building more pipelines. He added that we all like wind and solar, “but you can’t drive a car with a windmill on it.”
The most recent object of derision is the Pecan Street Project, a clean energy village in, of all places, Texas, with General Motors and General Electric among the partners. In addition to enjoying the benefits of solar power and green buildings, smart appliances and smart meters, residents are being encouraged to buy 100 Chevy Volt plug-in hybrids, for which they receive a total of $15,000 in subsidies (including the $7,500 federal income tax rebate). So far, 55 families have taken advantage of the Volt deal.
Obviously, electric cars integrate well with clean energy scenarios, because Volts charging on solar or Texas' abundant wind power have a very low carbon footprint. But Mark Modica of the National Legal and Policy Center doesn’t see it that way. “Any claim that this community can ‘eliminate the need to construct polluting power plants’ is highly dubious,” Modica said. “But when it comes to green energy initiatives and the Chevy Volt, it seems like over-promising and under-delivering is the norm.”
Modica expanded on his theme in a Fox interview:
But if we look more closely at green energy and the great state of Texas, we find it doesn’t fit neatly into a boondoggle scenario, or a neat ideological divide. Yes, unsuccessful presidential candidate Rick Perry is in the governor’s mansion, and he has launched his own broadsides against the EPA for confirming carbon dioxide as a pollutant and eliminating “as many as 400,000 Texas jobs.” But in the same opinion column, Perry seemed proud that “Texas has added more wind power than all but four other countries.” That last sentence doesn’t really make sense, but Perry (unlike Romney) does seem to like wind power and, presumably, federal wind subsidies.
Austin, where both Perry’s office and Pecan Street are located, has grown clean-tech jobs at twice the rate of San Francisco in the past eight years, Time reports. “Some 15,000 Austin residents are employed in the broader green economy, and the municipal utility, Austin Energy (another partner in Pecan Street), has pledged to get 35 percent of its electricity sources by 2020,” the magazine said.
West Texas, where the wind is, has benefited greatly from clean energy. The state has a staggering 10,377 megawatts of wind in more than 40 farms, double the resources of the next-largest wind state, Iowa. Texas got nearly 7 percent of its energy from wind in 2011.
Texas farmers love their wind power (right). According to Perry’s own state conservation office, they lease their land to developers, getting paid a per-turbine rental fee ($3,000 to $5,000 per tower) or a cut of annual revenues from the generated power. And the great thing is that hosting wind turbines doesn’t much impact the traditional uses of the land for growing crops or grazing livestock. Reports the state agency, “Considering that the term of a lease is approximately 25 years, farmers and ranches who make lease arrangements can rely on a stable, automatic income stream for many years, despite the swings in commodity prices.”
Wind is subsidized by a (gulp!), federal income tax credit that expire at the end of the year. Mitt Romney has come out against extending the credit, but it's hardly a straightforward political position — the Senate Finance Committee passed an extension of the credit with clear bipartisan support, and Romney's position got him in some hot water on the campaign trail in wind-friendly Iowa. In the Midwest, it's like opposing federal funding for ethanol. But there's still plenty of rhetoric against wind credits.
Pecan Street just seems like a good idea, and it’s an incubator for the kind of homemade energy that will reduce our foreign oil dependence. It asks consumers to imagine a future in which customers could sign up for a fixed-price service plan, including all the electric power they need. In exchange for that guarantee, they would agree to become partners with Austin Energy, making their rooftops available for utility-owned solar equipment and agreeing to allow their air conditioners and other appliances to be cycled on and off. They’d also agree to allow the installation of reduced-price, upgraded appliances such as solar water heaters. And, finally, they’d agree to a “pay as you go” plan for electricity consumed outside the parameters of their service plan.
In part because it’s a clean energy capital, Texas has been a magnet for electric vehicle manufacturers such as Nissan, which began selling Leafs there early on. And major utility NRG launched its innovative EV charging program, eVgo, in Texas. eVgo’s president, Arun Banskota, points out that Texas’ wind farms produce much of their energy at night, which is also the ideal time to recharge electric cars. Because of eVgo, restaurant chain Cracker Barrel installed a network of fast chargers at restaurants around Dallas and Fort Worth. Yes, it all happened in Texas.
And it’s not only farmers who benefit. According to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, state-based wind power means that regular working families in West Texas save money on their energy bills every month — as much as $980 annually.
Modica is fixated on that $10.4 million grant from the Department of Energy. “The Obama administration continues to freely spend taxpayer dollars to promote an ideology that has not benefited America by significantly creating jobs or lessening foreign oil dependence,” he wrote. Actually, I’ve just demonstrated that in Texas it does both. And, incidentally, that $10.4 million “at the expense of U.S. taxpayers” was matched by $14 million from the project’s partners. Count me in, said the University of Texas, the National Renewable Energy Lab and the Environmental Defense Fund.
MNN tease photo: Shutterstock