for more For more than 140 years, John Davis’ family has owned Pecan Spring Ranch on the prairies of western Texas. He has a picture of his great-great-grandmother, known as “The Sheep Queen of Texas,” in a wagon under a tree that still stands in front of a hay barn. It’s a tough business to maintain, even with a large herd of valuable wagyu cattle. Yet when a renewable energy developer offered Mr. Davis large sums to install wind turbines on his land, the staunch Republican and former state legislator initially resisted.
His objection was knee-jerk. “Clean energy has been branded as a free technology. People are literally saying, ‘This is AOC coming to town,'” explained his son Samuel, referring to Alexandria Ocasio-Cort Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a left-wing congresswoman whose name pops up with almost flattering frequency among conservative Texans. But in the end, economic sense prevailed. As the family points out, at average returns per acre, cattle can generate $8, deer hunters can generate $15, and wind energy can generate hundreds of dollars. It secures the future of the ranch.
Now boasting seven turbines, the family embraces renewable energy like religious converts. Samuel is a representative of the Texas Land and Freedom Coalition, which promotes wind and solar power among ranchers. His parents bought a gas station, tore out the gas pump, and are in the process of converting it into an EV charging station (next to a farmers market). Last month, your columnist sat down with the family for a breakfast of quiche and jalapeño, then bounced across their ranch in an electric scooter. He learned clean energy lessons that challenged his own philosophical assumptions.
The first is that you don’t have to believe in climate change to support renewable energy. Quite the opposite. For some conservative Americans, issues like climate change and carbon taxes are still seen as big-government hoaxes. Even greenery is despised as a leftist borrowed word. “When someone says we’re embracing green energy, it’s like piercing our ears with ice picks,” said Matt Welch, director of Conservative Texans for Energy Innovation, another pro-renewable energy group. “We just talk about clean energy.”
It’s not just Texan stubbornness. Wind energy has been harvested in abundance in states run by Republican governments and on land owned by climate-skeptical ranchers. They prefer a freer-market message: Wind and solar are increasingly competitive sources of energy that help lower electricity costs, foster entrepreneurship, and are as American as oil and gas.
This is a very effective spell. You might think that California, which talks so much about climate change and green energy, is at the forefront of renewable energy development. But Texas is far ahead. According to a study commissioned by Mr. Welch’s organization, his state will have three times as many wind, solar and battery storage projects under construction by the second quarter of 2022 than California. The Energy Information Administration, a federal agency, predicts that this year, for the first time, the share of renewable energy in electricity generation in Texas will surpass that of natural gas.
This helps explain the next lesson. For all the jibes at AOC, wind ranchers from their own Republican ranks face the biggest confrontation — especially from fossil fuel producers worried about being undercut by renewables. Organizations such as the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), groups that lobby on behalf of oil and gas, and the Texas Landowners Union, backed by right-wing beneficiaries of the fracking boom, are doing everything they can to curb wind energy development.this TPPFThe battle extends to proposed offshore wind farms as far away as New England.
Jason Isaac’s TPPF said his organization helped persuade the Texas state government to expire school district tax credits on Dec. 31 to encourage renewable energy investment in rural Texas. He argues that such fiscal support distorts the electricity market, although that stance ignores other incentives for oil and gas producers. He blamed the wind for the 2021 Texas power outage caused by Storm Uri, not to mention an official report concluding that “all types of generation technologies have failed,” including natural gas and coal. Republicans have accused liberals of “cult decarbonization,” but their policies have hurt some conservative colleagues.
The third lesson is pragmatism. Despite unanimous opposition from Republican lawmakers to President Joe Biden’s inflation-reduction bill (Irish Republican Army), which provides hundreds of billions of dollars to curb America’s use of fossil fuels, and red states such as Texas plan to include it.Davis family does not support Irish Republican Army, but they hope its expanded federal tax credit will attract more wind and solar power to rural Texas. The state also hopes to attract large-scale hydrogen and carbon storage projects.Other Republican states, including Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee, are welcoming billions in clean energy investments made by Irish Republican Army. Even conservative corporations that lobby heavily for fossil fuels want to benefit from the energy transition. For example, energy group Koch Industries is backing a major investment by Norwegian company Freyr in a battery plant in Georgia that will benefit from the law.
don’t waste your breath
The upshot is that there are ways to promote clean energy that don’t rely on convincing climate skeptics that they’re nuts. A better sales strategy might be to emphasize the cost advantages of renewables over climate benefits, emphasize their contribution to reducing air pollution rather than carbon emissions, and acknowledge that natural gas may lose electricity generation in coming years due to intermittency factors. As Michael Webb, a professor of energy at the University of Texas, said, “It’s not unusual for Texas to do the right thing for all the wrong reasons.” In the end, everyone’s goal is a better future. As the elder Mr Davis said, many ranchers who were lucky enough to have oil under their land have benefited for generations. “We met the wind.” ■
Read more from our global business columnist Schumpeter:
How to Avoid Flight Chaos (January 5)
How Bernard Arnault Became the World’s Richest Man (December 20)
America’s largest port faces a new kind of paralysis (Dec. 15)
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