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Texas renewable energy requirement in cross hairs at Capitol

Citing Texas’ position as the No. 1 generator of wind power, a leading Central Texas lawmaker wants to shelve the 16-year-0ld program that launched renewable energy in the state.

State Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, wants to end a state mandate that requires utilities to get a portion of their electricity from renewables.

The proposal echoes calls by key Republican policymakers to kill subsidies for renewable energy.

In some ways, the calls to wind down state support for renewable energy reflect a larger turf battle, as wind eats into the share of conventional, more moneyed sources. In 2014, wind had jumped to 14 percent of energy generated in Texas, and natural gas had dipped to about 40 percent. (At one point in February 2015, wind was providing a third of electricity on the Texas grid.)

Environmentalists and the alternative energy companies call Fraser’s bill, which has the support of oil and gas companies, a step backward that could destabilize the industry and send a signal that Texas is not interested in clean energy.

Lawmakers are likely to take up Senate Bill 931 this week on the Senate floor after it passed through the committee Fraser chairs, the Senate Natural Resources and Economic Development Committee.

In related news, Texas city to switch from fossil fuels to solar, wind.

“Not only did we roar past the goal we had in place; we have more than doubled that goal,” Fraser said at a hearing in March on his proposal to end the renewable portfolio standard.

The 2005 version of the standard required utilities to get 5,880 megawatts of new renewable energy by 2015. The state now has more than 14,000 megawatts of installed wind capacity, providing nearly 15 percent of the electricity powering Texas homes and businesses.

“We have done what we intended to accomplish,” said Fraser, whose bill also ends the special process of building transmission lines to deliver power from far-flung wind farms to the state’s cities. (That transmission system has cost Texas ratepayers more than $7 billion.)

Fraser was one of the original champions of the renewable portfolio standard, which was born as part of a 1999 compromise deregulation law. But if his new bill becomes law, it “will make national news that this state is no longer committed to an all-of-the-above energy strategy,” warned Jeff Clark, who heads the Wind Coalition, a trade group.

About three dozen states have some sort of renewable energy goal.

The bill comes in the wake of attacks by Texas policymakers on renewable energy. Last summer, Donna Nelson, the chairwoman of the Public Utility Commission, said she didn’t want to add to the “subsidization” of the wind industry.

The renewable industry and environmentalists struck back at the March hearing, claiming that ending the renewable portfolio standard would send a message to wind and solar investors that Texas was not committed to helping their business.

“Changing our policies midstream hurts investor confidence in Texas’ famed stable business environment,” said Charlie Hemmeline, executive director of the Texas Solar Power Association.

The Pew Charitable Trusts found a drop of hundreds of millions of dollars in renewable investment in Ohio after that state took up legislation to weaken or freeze its renewable goals.

But Fraser told Hemmeline it was not his intention to scare away investment.

“We want your money here,” Fraser said. “There’s no message here other than: ‘The goal was set; mission accomplished.’ ”

In what might be a peek at a strategy to kill the bill, David Power of the government watchdog group Public Citizen cited the value of transmission lines and wind farms to rural areas in his opposition to the proposal. That argument seems aimed to appeal to rural lawmakers, whose districts benefit from the property taxes and jobs that come with the renewable energy infrastructure.

But Bill Peacock of the Texas Public Policy Foundation said the transmission lines amounted to a subsidy that is “no longer needed.”

“They can compete in the market,” he said of renewable power — a suggestion that renewable energy industry lobbyists said ignores subsidies for other forms of energy.

This article was written by Asher Price from Austin American-Statesman and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.