Discover more from Talking Climate with Katharine Hayhoe
Texas: The surprising climate solutions frontier
Texas Republicans warming to climate urgency, clean energy and storage surging, and policy-makers paving the way
People are sometimes surprised that I call Texas home, given its notoriously high carbon footprint and its oil and gas dominance. It’s true that fossil fuel extraction is polluting its land and water while climate-fueled extremes are devastating its homes and livelihoods. Many of its leaders continue to deny the reality of the climate crisis and even actively oppose renewable energy solutions. At the very same time, they -- and some of the oil and gas companies most responsible for the crisis -- are seeking federal aid to deal with its impacts.
Yet it’s this context that makes Texas the ultimate stage for climate action. As I share in this Global Weirding episode, it’s a place of contrasts and immense potential. Tireless advocacy and bold leadership have made Texas a clean energy leader. It hosts one of the biggest Earth Day festivals in the world and is home to many cities with ambitious climate action plans, as well.
This is why I’m convinced that, if we can continue to steer the Lone Star State towards a greener future, it could spark a wave of change worldwide. Here’s the latest on what’s going on in this fossil fuel state.
Climate change is one of the most polarized topics in the U.S., and this is particularly true in Texas. Political leanings rather than education or scientific understanding dictate people’s opinions on climate. But that’s beginning to change.
In August, the UT/Texas Politics Project Poll revealed that 42 percent of Republican respondents now recognize climate change as a serious threat, while 92 percent of Democrats said the same. This mirrors a national trend, according to a new analysis by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, which finds just over half of Republicans nationwide range from alarmed to cautious on the issue.
The other weekend in Austin, I met with long-time climate advocates from faith-based, clean energy, and state organizations who updated me on the progress they're seeing. I also spoke with State Representative Erin Zwiener who founded and leads the Texas Energy and Climate Caucus. It’s a bipartisan group of state legislators, including 10 Republicans, looking for solutions to global warming in Texas. This is just the kind of across-the-aisle cooperation we need more of everywhere.
EVEN MORE GOOD NEWS!
I’m taking the unprecedented step of replacing the not-so-good news category with an even-more-good-news category, because there’s more to share.
Texas has been the U.S. wind energy leader for almost two decades. If it were a nation, it’d rank eighth globally in wind power capacity. But the bigger news these days is in solar energy.
Just fifteen years ago, Texas wasn’t even in the top ten states for utility-scale solar. This past February, Canary Media Inc. posted this chart showing exponential growth in utility solar in Texas, saying that soon, ”those cowboys in Texas are expected to have officially added more utility-scale solar to their electric grid than the hippies in California have added to theirs.” Well, as of October, it’s happened! Texas has soared past California claiming top spot in the US and yes, if Texas were a country, it’d now be eighth in the world for solar too.
Wind and solar’s weak spot is the fact that the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. Enter the game-changer: energy storage. Just three years ago, Texas's grid had barely any storage capacity. Now, we're looking at a forecast of 10,000 MW by next year's end. And it’s not just about batteries. Here are four other new advances in energy storage happening right now in Texas:
In south Texas, a startup is piloting underground storage of thermal energy.
Central Texas’s underground salt caverns are being used store compressed air that can generate electricity when released.
Another Texas company just won a new DOE grant to try pumping water underground to store energy.
Over in West Texas, a Swiss startup is building a gravity-based electricity storage system using massive bricks
That’s not all. Texas is now home to two “virtual” power plants: organizations of small, consumer-owned energy devices like battery energy storage and EV chargers that, together, can “act as a resource in the wholesale electricity market, strengthening grid reliability” according to this article that Jigar Shah from the US DOE sent me.
This isn't just good news for Texas; it's a blueprint for a sustainable future that could inspire and revolutionize energy systems around the globe.
INSPIRATION OF THE MONTH
Brigid became aware of the climate crisis after watching NASA's James Hansen testify before Congress in 1988. This led her to take a job in Texas for the same reasons I now live here (except she figured it out 20 years earlier)—because she believes that if we can shift climate perspectives in Texas, it's possible anywhere!
Brigid co-founded the Save Our Springs Alliance, championing the protection of Austin's natural water sources. She played a pivotal role in launching Texas' first wind energy project, proving that even in a state synonymous with oil, renewable energy can (and will) flourish.
Now in her third term as Commissioner, Brigid continues to push for innovative ways to combat climate change. She sees opportunity in the challenges, seeking creative solutions within the 'narrow wiggle space' afforded to county governments, as she described to the Austin Monitor, to help promote sustainable and equitable solutions.
Brigid’s efforts remind us that tackling climate change requires commitment at every level of governance, and can have a global impact. She’s the board chair for ICLEI, an international network of more than 2,500 local and regional governments committed to change. Catalytic action by cities such as Austin, Houston, and San Antonio underscore the vital role that local initiatives play in the broader fight against climate change far beyond state borders.
Tonight! Tues., Nov. 7th at 8pm ET - "Bridging the Divide" with Third Act Faith - virtual