The world opinion of Texas as a laggard on modern energy priorities is true, partly. Our energy consumption and carbon emissions are off the charts, making us the country’s leader in both dubious categories. While Texans constitute 8 percent of the U.S. population, we’re responsible for more than 10 percent of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions—and a whopping 2.2 percent of global emissions. The average Texan consumes 66 percent more energy per capita than the average American, who in turn consumes more than the average European. If Texas were a country, we would be eighth on the list of the world’s biggest CO2 emitters, ahead of the United Kingdom and barely behind Canada.
Some of this profligate consumption is rooted in our culture. In our history energy has equaled money; the more we (and everyone else) consumed, the richer we got. That attitude prevails today. We like to drive big gas guzzlers long distances; we like to build large homes that need to be air-conditioned for most of the year. But the real force behind our consumption is that Texas does the nation’s dirty work—refining the country’s oil and manufacturing many of its products. As a result, industry consumes half the energy in Texas, a much larger proportion than in other states. Californians and New Englanders can criticize us all they want for our energy consumption and emissions, but at the end of the day, they want our products and our refined gasoline.
Despite the general perception of our energy consumption, Texas is already doing much more to promote clean energy than the world realizes. For example, we created the nation’s first comprehensive municipal green-building program (in Austin) and the first technology incubator designed explicitly to encourage clean energy start-ups. Our biggest impact has been the aggressive use of renewable electricity—we were one of the first states to establish a renewable portfolio standard, which requires that a certain percentage of an energy company’s power generation come from renewable sources. Today half the states have something similar, following, to their surprise, in the footsteps of Texas (and Nevada). The renewable portfolio has been a huge success, leading us to create the largest installed base of wind capacity in the nation, about 9,000 megawatts, nearly three times as much as second-place Iowa. Our quick ramp-up of wind farms has pushed the U.S. ahead of every other nation, including Germany, the former leader, in terms of installed renewable capacity.
One of the ironies is that in Texas, our lack of concern about the environment enables us to do great things for the environment. You hardly need permission to build a wind farm here, and your neighbors cannot sue you for blocking their view. It’s much more difficult in environmentally inclined states like Massachusetts or California, where activists worry about the impact of the turbines on wildlife and ocean vistas. We don’t mind raising wind turbines, building transmission lines, or laying pipelines, all key advantages for renewable energy, which is diffuse by nature and requires vast tracts of land and sprawling infrastructure to be effective. Texas has a long history of trading blight for money. Why stop now?