Bringing Renewables to the Mainstream
Today the Austin City Council is reviewing a proposal by our utility Austin Energy to build a $2.3 billion biomass power plant in an effort to get our city funneling 30 percent of our electricity consumption from renewable sources by 2020. It's great news for Austin. Though, it seems like the more I learn about energy, the more I realize that there are a great deal of established technologies already available for the taking that just haven't been capitalized on for various economic and political reasons. For example, biomass power plants that run on plants and/or timber trimmings have been around for decades - since 1979, to be exact.
Regardless, it's nice to finally see such a strong push among cities and utilities nationwide for renewable energy sources. I was interviewed a few months ago by a local radio station based on the work we have done for the Austin Clean Energy Council to get my views on the leadership Austin has shown nationally for its green initiatives. One of the things I brought up was that I looking forward to seeing more collaboration between the green leaders in Austin and the energy legacy leaders in Houston. Fast Company recently profiled Jerry Patterson, the Commissioner of the Texas General Land Office, to explain how Texas has become the country's leading wind producer. It's a story definitely worth reading because 1) he really is funny, yet I'm sure he offends plenty of people and 2) because he talks about how environmentalists are now finding themselves sitting side-by-side next to profit-seeking energy executives, which is something happening across the entire country. Each side complements each other, despite their differences.
Here's an excerpt of the commissioner's take on why Texas leads in wind power.
"California is an oppressive regulatory environment. Texas is not. And Texas has a lot of open space to build wind power. To California's credit, when you're a pioneer in something you're going to make mistakes. The early technology turbine blades that turned faster, at Altamont Pass, killed a lot of birds. And we have a different attitude here. People here are concerned about bird kills because they want to shoot the birds, not have them have them killed in a turbine....I talked to the Audubon Society and told them, 'Don't worry about this, after several generations we'll have smarter birds.' They did not think that was funny."
I'll admit, I'm not a fan of hunting birds, but he sure knows how to get his point across clearly. One last point I'll make on this topic that you probably already saw this week was that MIT announced a breakthrough discovery in storage for solar last week that could change solar energy from an alternative power source to a mainstream power source. They are speculating that it will hit the electric grid within 10 years, which is very exciting. If you're having a hard time getting why this is such a big deal, watch this Solon commercial. It's one of my favorite communications vehicles I've seen about why people should be paying attention to solar.