Rick Perry praised for role in making Texas a leader in clean energy

Source: By Ben Wolfgang, Washington Times • Posted: Thursday, January 19, 2017

He has come under fire for a cozy relationship with the oil and gas industry, but Rick Perry’s record clearly shows that renewable energy thrives when he is in charge.

Mr. Perry, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to lead the U.S. Energy Department, oversaw a massive expansion of clean power in Texas during his 15 years as governor. Since his nomination, advocates of renewable power have praised Mr. Perry for his role in making Texas a leader in clean energy, and they think he could help spur similar growth at a national level.

Mr. Perry will appear before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee this week as his confirmation proceedings begin. His record on clean energy will be a key weapon against critics, including some Senate Democrats, who are sure to paint the former governor as a shill for the fossil fuels industry and a looming disaster for the environment.

“He’s shown that he was an ‘all-of-the-above’ governor. To the extent that energy is a key part of our Texas economy, Rick Perry was pushing economic growth through energy development. That included oil, gas, wind and solar,” said Jeff Clark, executive director of the Wind Coalition, the Texas affiliate of the American Wind Energy Association.

“My great hope is that he will be a voice and will bring the success we’ve had to Washington, and help educate some of those folks who have never had an up-close look at how wind energy works,” Mr. Clark said.

Texas is the nation’s leader in wind energy generation, thanks in large part to Mr. Perry’s push for renewable energy initiatives.

When Mr. Perry came to power in 2000, the state was getting little more than 100 megawatts of electricity from wind power. By the time he left office in 2015, wind accounted for well over 11,000 megawatts of power.

In 2015, Texas for the first time generated 10 percent of all its electricity from wind, one of just 11 states to crack that 10 percent barrier, according to American Wind Energy Association statistics.

While some of the growth was outside the governor’s control, Mr. Perry took specific steps that contributed to the boom. He put into place renewable energy requirements that promoted wind power and supported a massive electrical transmission project that helped bring wind energy to market.

Although there has been less of an uptick in solar power, proponents say Mr. Perrycreated a welcoming environment for the renewable power source — one that is beginning to pay off.

Gov. Perry oversaw a major expansion of new generation from multiple sources. These efforts paved the way for the growth Texas is now seeing,” Charlie Hemmeline, executive director of the Texas Solar Power Association, said in a statement.

Mr. Hemmeline noted that solar energy in Texas is growing at one of the highest rates in the country. Last quarter, Texas ranked third among states in new solar power capacity. Texas is No. 10 among states in overall solar capacity, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

“Developing our solar resource means new investment, good jobs, cost-competitive electricity and portfolio diversification,” Mr. Hemmeline said. “Gov. Perry’s track record supports these goals and signals a bright future for solar nationwide.”

Such praise from Texas clean-energy leaders stands in stark contrast to the tone of national environmental groups.

Powerful organizations such as the Sierra Club have zeroed in on Mr. Perry’s staunch support of the oil and gas industry to argue that, under his leadership, the Energy Department could double down on fossil fuels and set back much of the Obama administration’s progress on combating climate change.

“His ideological obsession with promoting dirty fossil fuels and ignoring the climate crisis means he is just as unfit for this position as the other climate deniers Mr. Trump is promoting for key posts,” Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said last month after Mr. Perry was nominated.

“Americans didn’t vote for more fossil fuels, more drilling and fracking and more pollution, but that’s what we’re getting with Perry and Trump,” he said.

There is no denying that oil and gas wells increased significantly in Texas during Mr. Perry’s tenure. As governor, he embraced the drilling technique known as fracking, and by the end of his term Texas was approving nearly 100 drilling permits each day, said Barry Smitherman, a Texas lawyer who formerly led the state’s Public Utility Commission.

From 2011 to 2014, Texas permitted more than 92,000 new wells, Mr. Smitherman said, renewing the state’s historic role as a leader in drilling.

Gov. Perry’s support of domestic oil and gas production and infrastructure development, and his belief in competitive markers and streamlined procedures and practices, has resulted in significant advancement in drilling, mining, pipeline and electric transmission development,” Mr. Smitherman wrote in a recent piece for the Dallas Morning News. “America will be well served by an energy secretary who hails from the state that leads in energy production — both fossil and renewable.”