More power to us

New report shows that Houston and Texas are making strides in wind energy

The report indicates the Lone Star State is home to roughly one-fourth of all U.S. wind power production. Getty Images

With over 4,600 energy-related businesses employing more than 237,000 people, Houston has earned recognition as the "Energy Capital of the World." But when people think of Houston's energy sector, oil and gas almost automatically come to mind, given that about one-third of the publicly traded oil and gas companies in the U.S. are based in the Houston area.

Yet wind energy is making inroads in Houston. Susan Davenport, senior vice president for economic development at the Greater Houston Partnership, says more than 30 companies in the Houston area operate in the wind energy sector.

"Houston is actively working to grow this sector, so we hope people will seriously think of Houston when they think of renewables in this new era of energy," Davenport says at an April 9 news conference in Houston where the American Wind Energy Association released its 2018 state-of-the-industry report.

That's not to say, though, that Houston is ready to cede its dominance in the oil and gas sector.

"Houston has long held the title of 'Energy Capital of the World,' and we fully intend to maintain that status," Davenport says. "As global energy forecasts continue to show an ever-increasing need for energy, we know oil and gas will be critical for years to come. But at the same time, as that energy mix gets larger, we know an increasing share of energy will come from renewables. And we're already capturing a sizable share [of that market]."

That sizable market share includes venture capital. Of the $5.2 billion in venture capital reeled in by Houston businesses from 2015 to 2017, renewable energy accounted for more than 35 percent, according to the Greater Houston Partnership.

Davenport said Houston is "uniquely suited" to support companies involved in wind energy and other types of renewable energy, thanks to its deep pool of energy-oriented talent.

The American Wind Energy Association's annual report for 2018 shows the wind energy sector employs between 25,000 and 26,000 people in Houston and elsewhere in Texas, up from 24,000 to 25,000 in 2017, with the total investment in Texas wind energy projects sitting at a whopping $46.5 billion. More than one-fifth of wind energy jobs in the U.S. are located in Texas.

In employment, investment, and several other categories, Texas rules as the undisputed leader of the U.S. wind energy industry.

"The success story in Texas continues," says Susan Williams Sloan, the Austin-based vice president of state policy for the American Wind Energy Association.

The report indicates the Lone Star State is home to roughly one-fourth of all U.S. wind power production. If Texas were a country, the wind energy group says, it would rank fifth in the world for wind power capacity, with nearly 25,000 megawatts installed. And with nearly 7,000 megawatts of wind energy projects under construction or development at the end of 2018, Texas is adding more wind energy capacity than what all but two other states actually have installed.

At of the end of 2018, nearly 13,400 wind turbines dotted the state's landscape, mostly in West Texas.

It's not just utilities that are fueling the growth of wind power in Texas. The association calls Texas the "nexus" for non-utility demand for wind power.

Today, 38 non-utility companies have bought or are planning to buy 4,900 megawatts of wind energy in Texas, including Shell Energy, AT&T, Budweiser, ExxonMobil, and Walmart, according to the association.

"Texas continues to lead the nation, with hard work and ingenuity, in harnessing this great American renewable energy resource, literally out of thin air," says Tom Kiernan, CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based American Wind Energy Association. "Texas has a long and storied history of energy production and as [our] report demonstrates, wind is an important part of the state's energy success story. In many ways, the Texas wind story is the story of American wind power."

The association released its 2018 report in advance of WINDPOWER, the wind energy industry's biggest conference, which is set for May 20 to 23 at Houston's George R. Brown Convention Center. More than 8,000 people are expected to attend.

Wind energy usage in Texas has been slowly creeping up on coal — and now the two are neck-and-neck. Getty Images

In an electrifying sign for the renewables sector of Houston's energy industry, wind for the first time has essentially tied with coal as a power source for Texas homes and businesses.

In 2019, wind (19.97 percent) and coal (20.27 percent) were locked in a statistical dead heat to be the No. 2 energy source for customers of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT. Natural gas ranked first (40.2 percent). The Austin-based nonprofit manages about 90 percent of the state's electrical grid.

Houston stands to benefit greatly from these winds of change.

Long dominant in the oil and gas industry as the Energy Capital of the World, Houston is adapting to the shifting tide from traditional energy sources to renewable energy sources like wind and solar. Over 30 companies involved in wind energy are based in the Houston area. Major local players in wind energy include BP Wind Energy North America Inc., EDP Renewables North America LLC, and Pattern Energy Group Inc. In addition, many of the state's more than 130 wind-generation projects are operated from Houston.

Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, says the region's "unparalleled experience" with massive energy initiatives supplies an edge in the burgeoning renewable energy sector.

"Houston's talent base knows energy, from development to commercial operations, and the region offers a competitive advantage to renewable energy companies looking to develop projects both domestically and around the world," Harvey says. "Houston and Texas are well positioned as leaders who are developing large-scale renewable energy projects in both wind and solar."

Harvey says ERCOT's aggressive pursuit of wind and solar power also bodes well for Houston and the entire state.

"When combined with our natural advantages of great sites for wind and solar, our market structure has made Texas a global leader in the transition to low-carbon power generation," he says. "We expect Houston will continue to play a major role as wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources continue to rise on a global scale."

Susan Sloan, vice president of state affairs at the American Wind Energy Association, notes that Texas leads all states for wind energy, with 25 gigawatts of capacity generated by nearly 14,000 wind turbines. The Lone Star State produces about one-fourth of the country's wind power, and the wind energy industry employs more than 25,000 Texans.

With another 9 gigawatts of capacity coming online, "Texas continues to champion investment in wind energy as the state's electric load continues to increase," says Sloan, who's based in Austin. "Wind is an established and growing part of the Texas energy economy, and will be for years to come."

Texas has made great strides in wind energy in the past decade. In 2010, wind represented only 7.8 percent of ERCOT's power generation and ranked as the grid's No. 4 energy source, while coal stood at 39.5 percent and ranked first.

In September 2019, Norwegian energy research firm Rystad Energy predicted wind will bypass coal as a Texas energy source in 2020. Rystad Energy, which has an office in Houston, expects wind to generate 87 terawatt-hours of electricity in Texas this year compared with 84.4 terawatt-hours from coal. One terawatt-hour equals the output of 1 trillion watts over a one-hour period.

"Texas is just one of many red states that have recently 'gone green' by harnessing their great wind-generation potential," Carlos Torres-Diaz, head of gas market research at Rystad Energy, said in a release. Renewable energy sources like wind "are reaching a level where new installations are not driven solely by policies or subsidies, but by economics," he added.