Texas

Carbon taxation in any form will probably never make it in Texas. It’s a red state that likes its independence, especially when a Democrat presides in Washington. Historically, its residents have shared an intense hatred of regulations and taxes. To add to that, its economy is heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Wikipedia has a rather detailed summary of the state’s relationship with fossil fuels and emissions:

Texas is the second most populous (after California) and the second largest of the 50 U.S. states (after Alaska) in the United States of America.

Texas emits the most greenhouse gases in the U.S. The state emits nearly 1.5 trillion pounds (680 billion kg) of carbon dioxide annually. As an independent nation, Texas would rank as the world’s seventh-largest producer of greenhouse gases. Causes of the state’s vast greenhouse gas emissions include the state’s large number of coal power plants and the state’s refining and manufacturing industries. In 2010, there were 2,553 “emission events” which poured 44.6 million pounds of contaminants into the Texas sky.

According to the Energy Information Administration, Texans consume, on average, the fifth most energy in the nation per capita and as a whole, following behind Wyoming, Alaska, Louisiana, North Dakota, and Iowa.

Ever since the discovery of oil at Spindletop, energy has been a dominant force politically and economically within the state. If Texas were its own country it would be the sixth largest oil producer in the world.

Texas has known petroleum deposits of about 5 billion barrels (790,000,000 m3), which makes up about one-fourth of the known U.S. reserves. The state’s refineries can process 4.6 million barrels (730,000 m3) of oil a day. The Baytown Refinery in the Houston area is the largest refinery in America. Texas also leads in natural gas production, producing one-fourth of the nation’s supply. Several petroleum companies are based in Texas such as: Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, Conoco-Phillips, Exxon-Mobil, Halliburton, Marathon Oil, Tesoro, and Valero, Western Refining.

At the same time, there is a growing market for renewables:

The state is a leader in renewable energy commercialization; it produces the most wind power in the nation. The Roscoe Wind Farm in Roscoe, Texas, is one of the world’s largest wind farms with a 781.5 megawatt (MW) capacity. The Energy Information Administration states that the state’s large agriculture and forestry industries could give Texas an enormous amount biomass for use in biofuels. The state also has the highest solar power potential for development in the nation.

Unlike the rest of the nation, most of Texas is on its own alternating current power grid, the Texas Interconnection. Texas has a deregulated electric service.

Georgetown, TX (see May 19, 2015 blog) stood out because it announced that “by January 2017, all electricity within the city’s service area will come from wind and solar power.” The decision was especially notable because it was based purely on economic considerations. The contractual agreements to implement the transition are now in full force, but the impact of the recent sharp drop on the price of fossil fuels on the transition has yet to be evaluated.

It turns out that the moves toward energy transition in Texas go way beyond small towns such as Georgetown. The New York Times reported recently about the recent proliferation of wind power in Texas:

But turning wind into electricity is one thing; moving the energy to a profitable market is another. For years, the wind industry has been hampered by such a severe lack of transmission lines that when the wind is strong, a local power surplus forces some machines to be shut down.

Now, Texas is out to change that by conducting a vast experiment that might hold lessons for the rest of the United States. This year, a sprawling network of new high-voltage power lines was completed, tying the panhandle area and West Texas to the millions of customers around Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin and Houston.

By any standard, the scale is enormous. Anywhere else, a big transmission project is a few hundred miles long and costs a few hundred million dollars; this is a network of 3,600 miles built at a cost of $7 billion, which is more money than the whole country has spent on transmission in some recent years. It comes to about $300 per person served by the Texas grid.

Nationally, transmission infrastructure is built only when circumstances demand it; in Texas, however, lawmakers have ordered an “if-you-build-it, they-will-come” approach.

And it is working. “We’ve built it and they’re marching this way,” said Warren Lasher, the director of system planning at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the grid operator, citing plans for new wind farms.

Encouraged by the new power lines and by federal tax credits that were available only to projects that broke ground by the end of last year, developers had started work on 7,000 megawatts of capacity by the end of 2013.

Let’s look back at the Yale survey of public attitude to climate change (April 21, 2015 blog). On the issue of whether global warming is happening, 63% of adult Texans agree, exactly the same percentage as the national response. On the key question of whether it is mostly caused by human activity, 49% of Texans agree, 1% more than the national average.

Yale Project - Global Warming is Mostly Caused by Human Activity - Congressional Districts

Congressional district distribution of estimated % of adults who think global warming is mostly caused by humans

The map above shows the distribution of congressional districts’ answers to the latter question. Areas marked in blue indicate below 50% agreement while those in yellow indicate above 50%. Texas is more or less divided into two parts, with more than half of those in the north answering to the affirmative and a similar number in the south answering negatively, but both sections sort of hug the 50% divide – the yellow is around 55% and the blue is above 40%. I talked briefly about this in the April 21st blog; these distributions are not characteristics of a sharply polarized public. That means that if provided with good solutions that don’t include taxation or regulation (especially if they financially benefit the community), the voters could be convinced to take positive action.

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About climatechangefork

Micha Tomkiewicz, Ph.D., is a professor of physics in the Department of Physics, Brooklyn College, the City University of New York. He is also a professor of physics and chemistry in the School for Graduate Studies of the City University of New York. In addition, he is the founding-director of the Environmental Studies Program at Brooklyn College as well as director of the Electrochemistry Institute at that same institution.
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