Under Government’s Green Thumb
By Kenric Ward | Watchdog.org
“Green” power is smacking Texans with higher utility bills, but Democratic lawmakers in Austin, aided by wayward Republicans, don’t care. They’re stalling legislation that would reel in wind-energy costs.
The price of putting up power lines to connect wind farms in West Texas to customers in the central and eastern parts of the state has blown away initial estimates. The $4.9 billion venture has hit $6.8 billion, and counting.
The Senate passed SB 931 to curb the program and relieve ratepayers, but Democrats determined to push more wind power have blocked the measure in the House. The bill, authored by state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Abilene, is on deathwatch with barely more than a week remaining in the legislative session.
Texans will pay an average of $300 more per year on their electric bills to fund the power-line project. Continued expansion would increase costs.
State Sen. Eddie Lucio of Brownsville was the lone Democrat to vote for Fraser’s bill.
“Texas ratepayers have paid an enormous sum to expand the transmission system to support the (state’s green energy) mandate,” says Lisa Linowes, executive director of WindAction.org, a research group critical of the costs and benefits of such ventures.
“It’s easy to get the projects approved and there is essentially no environmental oversight, so why not?” she noted.
Texas Public Utility Commissioner Kenneth Anderson has questioned the long leash given to wind generators in the name of promoting “clean” energy.
“How long do you have to subsidize something before it’s finally grown up?” Anderson asked. “Wind does not have to meet a schedule. They’re just a price taker.”
Critics point to Germany, where reliance on wind power blew up the cost of electricity and hit poorer residents particularly hard.
According to European Union data, Germany’s average residential electricity rate is 29.8 cents per kilowatt hour — double the rates in neighboring Poland and France, and almost 2.5 times the U.S. average.
Josiah Neeley, Texas director of the market-oriented R Street Institute, acknowledges that even if SB 931 reins in the government-designated Competitive Renewable Energy Zones, Texans will be paying a premium for wind power for years to come.
Neeley says Fraser’s measure is important “because it sends a clear signal that markets, not politics, should decide what kinds of energy Texans use.”
Linowes agrees. “The wind industry is apoplectic about this,” she told Watchdog. “If Texas (approves SB 931), other states will follow.”
Kenric Ward is a national reporter for Watchdog.org and writes for its Texas bureau. Contact him at (571) 319-9824.