Lessons for New Brunswick from The Lone Star State

 

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In Texas, to quote a phrase, they do things big.

Big sky, big country, big portions, big ambitions all frame the tableau that is The Lone Star State.  So does “big energy”, but not always in a fashion that seems familiar to New Brunswickers embroiled in their own existential debate about natural resources development.

Yes, Texas is synonymous with the oil industry and is home to the famous (or, depending on one’s perspective, infamous) Barnett field, which in one recent year produced 1.11 trillion cubic feet of shale gas. But it is also home to the largest and most successful wind energy industry in the United States.

According to a Wikipedia entry, “wind power in Texas consists of many. . .farms with a total installed nameplate capacity of 12,212 MW from over 40 different projects.” In fact the state “produces the most wind power of any” in the U.S. 

Just as impressive, perhaps, is the speed at which the energy resource has developed there. In a scant 13 years, the state’s annual hours of wind generation by megawatts has skyrocketed from 492,000 to 36 million. How?

Again, the Wiki item is instructive: “The wind boom in Texas was assisted by expansion of the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, use of designated Competitive Renewable Energy Zones, expedited transmission construction, and the necessary Public Utility Commission rule-making. Wind power accounted for 8.3 per cent of the electricity generated in (the state) during 2013.”

So, the take-away from all of this is that a happy, productive collaboration between business and government has literally invented a clean, renewable and commercially viable alternative to fossil fuels for electricity generation where none existed at the dawn of the 21st century.

Now, not coincidentally, power rates from wind are among the lowest of any energy source in the state (only those from shale gas are cheaper). 

Even better, the billions of dollars the private sector has invested in the industry to become competitive and profitable has spurred economic development in rural areas, where thousands of people are gainfully employed. This has, in turn, attracted innovators and entrepreneurs chasing the main chances implicit in improving existing energy storage (battery) and smart-grid technologies. 

All of which raises a question: What does Texas know that New Brunswick doesn’t?

For years, we in The Purple Violet Province have known that we are home to enviably strong and steady coastal breezes. Back in 2007, a “wind energy map” of our environs conclusively proved that, with foresight and commitment, the resource was rich enough to support 5,000 megawatts of installed capacity. Currently, we have 500, which isn’t bad; but it’s still far below our potential. 

Last week, Liberal Leader Brian Gallant renewed his party’s commitment to installing a moratorium on further shale gas development in the province should he and his crew be lucky enough to form the next government in September. Citing public opprobrium and lingering doubts among various health experts, he wants more studies. Fair enough.

But a moratorium only delays the inevitable day of reckoning. It won’t convince those who adamantly oppose shale gas on principled (concern for planetary climate change) or practical (concern for local air, soil and water quality) grounds. 

It certainly won’t mollify the petroleum industry. It may buy Mr. Gallant a bit more time. Still, at what cost?

The clock is ticking in New Brunswick, where we have become absolute masters at telling private and public-sector authorities to pound sand whenever they have, on rare occasions, mustered the temerity to suggest that true economic development means taking chances. But if we are not prepared to risk what we cherish on shale gas, then what? What will we risk to build a better future for ourselves and our children?

The “aesthetes” of this province display an exasperating tendency to despise fossil fuel and wind power in equal measure. The former, they say, is smelly; the latter is ugly. These people revile change. They wonder why things can’t just go along they way they always have. This has produced, in government, a pathetic, if typical, response: ossification. Do nothing. Maybe, it will all work itself out, after all.

It won’t.

Texas knows this. Say what you like about that red-necked, killer-executing home of George “Wacko” Bush. 

At least, they do things big there.

 

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