Why citizens of the Lone Star State, despite a long and prosperous marriage to Big Oil, ought to learn to love solar energy.

The BIG State Should Get Excited About Solar Energy

Texans love to point out that everything is bigger and better in Texas. And this is true to a great degree. In excess of 26 million individuals call the Lone Star State home, and this number continues to grow at double the national average. Texas is already the largest state in the continental United States by land area, the home of a disproportionate share of fortune 500 companies and of 1.31 trillion dollars of GDP. That kind of economic power puts the southern state on par with the likes of Canada, India, or even America’s one-time foe, and former superpower, Russia. In fact, if Texas had retained its nationhood, which some residents may yet wish to see, it would be the 14th largest economy in the world. One thing would be certain, the nation-state would certainly not lack for energy.

The Formula for Success: Energy, Not Just Oil

So what IS the state’s secret formula for long-term economic success? Conservatives tout the state’s business-friendly policies and low tax rates, while liberals tend to point to the state’s prolific population growth, cross border trade, and tighter government regulations on the housing market. But one major component, some would say the defining component, of Texas’s success has been, and continues to be, the strength of the energy sector. Texas has an abundance of oil and, thanks to fracking, a glut of natural gas. High energy prices were a key factor that helped tip the nation into recession in 2008. Skyrocketing energy spending took a hefty bite out of household disposable income, while simultaneously forcing businesses to raise prices.

But fuel-rich states, such as Texas, benefited heavily from high fuel prices and were subsequently less affected by the recession. In fact, many of the nation’s most profitable firms deal in crude. And many of these firms are headquartered in Texas. Exxonmobil, which pulled in $41.6 billion dollars in pure profit despite the recession, is headquartered near Dallas. ConocoPhillips, headquartered in Houston, pulled $12.4 billion dollars in the same year. Some of that massive revenue stream undoubtedly finds its way into state coffers. Oil and gas alone finance up to 20 percent of the state’s budget. What that means is that, despite many decades of growth and diversification, Texas is still an oilman’s country.

Nonetheless, Texas ain’t the oil king that it once was. The state produced nearly 2 million barrels of crude per day back in July of 2012 – a decade’s high. Yet, even those numbers represent a mere third of the oil the state produced in 1972, the widely accepted date of peak oil in Texas. The straight truth is that, even with technological innovations in the oil and gas industry, there is an ultimate limit to the amount of fossil fuels that can be harvested. Whether perceptions of that ultimate limit is based on mitigating climate change, or when there is simply nothing more left in the ground, a limit will be reached. This is when renewables have a real shot at being Lone Star State’s next big energy darling.

To be fair, Texas has come a long way in diversifying its economy. It is a world leader in the agriculture, healthcare, and high tech sectors. Yet, production and access to energy are and always will be the key foundations to a strong and growing economy. With domestic fossil fuel production well along the way of Hubbert’s curve, thrice-blessed Texas is not without an abundance of energy alternatives.

Oil & Wind & Sun

Besides oil and gas, Texas is also blessed with huge swaths of sparsely inhabited, windswept plains, and of course, sun. In fact, Texas has the highest wind energy potential and solar energy potential of any other state in the Union. Great strides have been made in harnessing the energy of wind. Texas now produces the most wind energy of any state, with over 10,000 megawatts of installed capacity.

Yet solar has lagged behind with installed capacity amounting to a pitiful 85.6 megawatts. Admittedly, this is still a massive increase from virtually nothing only four years before, yet with so much potential, it would be a great disservice to the state and to her people, not to develop proven, clean, and inexhaustible solar energy. West Texas receives some of the nation’s highest insolation values. A study commissioned by the State Energy Conservation Office estimates that the state has 250 quads of accessible solar energy per year. That’s enough solar juice to provide power for 750 million people – more than double the current population of the entire United States.

The Thrice-Blessed

The great state of Texas has been blessed, more so than any other state in the Union, with an abundance of three things: oil and gas, wind, and sun. Oil and gas helped build Texas into the state it is today, yet these entrenched industries, backed by deferential policies, often threaten to stunt the growth of the latter two. For as long as people continue to live on this Earth, wind and sun could make Texas an energy exporting state in perpetuity. Oil and gas, on the other hand, faces a rapidly approaching expiration date. In the future, as the era of big oil comes to a conclusion, Texas can still rule the energy market, if Texans can learn to embrace the sun, and go with the wind.

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