Renewable Energy in Red States: Wind Power in the Plains

March 24, 2017

ID360 Blog - Renewable Energy in Red States: Wind Power in the Plains

Four of the eleven largest wind farms in the world are in West Texas. The seeds for the Texas wind boom can be traced back to two staunch Republican governors, Rick Perry and George W. Bush. Under governor Rick Perry, Texas established the Competitive Renwable Energy Zones (CREZ), building transmission lines for wind power and creating a competitive market for wind power. Texas is not the only staunchly Republican state with significant investment in wind power. The top three producers of wind power by percentage of total state electricity supply are Iowa, South Dakota, and Kansas.

Wind power is an appealing and practical solution in some Republican states simply because, in much of the middle of the country, the land is open and vast and the wind blows hard and consistently. While more densely populated coastal areas struggle with where to put a wind farm, Texas, Iowa, and South Dakota do not lack for space or wind. Texas also benefits from having its own power grid, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), while the rest of the country splits two other major grids. ERCOT doesn’t actually cover all of Texas, but it covers enough of it to make it much easier build long distance transmission lines that brings power from remote wind farms to cities and towns that need it than in states on a federally regulated grid.

Wind projects have failed in liberal, coastal areas not only for a lack of consistent wind, but also for concerns over aesthetics and wildlife. For example, the Cape Wind project planned for the Nantucket Sound failed after fourteen years of negotiations due to concerns about bird migration from environmental groups, economic objections from fishermen, and objections from wealthy homeowners over the loss of their pristine ocean views. But in west Texas, where the landscape is already scarred by oil and gas production, wind turbines are not considered an eyesore, but rather, a sign of economic hope and protection from the boom and bust cycle of the oil and gas industries. In a climate with inconsistent rain, leasing land to wind farmers also provides farmers with an alternative form of income in a dry year.

Republican support for green energy generally comes down to economics, and for the most part, has not indicated support for curbing greenhouse gases or an acknowledgment of climate change. As green energy has shifted from expensive but morally right to something that is good for both the planet and the bottom line, green energy has become something that both sides of the political spectrum can agree on.

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