TEXAS LOOKS TOWARD FUTURE ENERGY NEEDS
(AUSTIN) — With Texas looking at record population growth, lawmakers are working to ensure that energy production keeps up with increasing demand. Increased demand for coal and natural gas are pushing up the prices for these traditionally cheap sources of electricity. Most of this demand is centered in Asia; China brings one new coal plant on-line every five days. Increased prices, along with increased concern with the environmental impact from energy generation, will determine how Texas provides energy in the future. The Senate Natural Resources and Business and Commerce Committees held a joint meeting Tuesday to hear testimony from energy industry officials, both public and private, to gauge the current state of energy generation and transmission, and look to the future of energy in Texas.
Public Utilities Commission Chairman Barry Smitherman began Tuesday's hearing by briefing the committees on the state of energy generation in Texas today. Texas runs coal and nuclear power plants 24 hours a day, and uses natural gas and wind power to address energy demands as needed. Natural gas is the largest generator of electricity and largely determines the price of electricity. Smitherman testified that over the next five years, Texas is well-positioned with respect to power generation. Four new coal power plants will come on-line by 2010, providing the capacity the state needs through 2028. Beyond that, he cautioned, older power plants, some that have been operating for 50 years, will begin to go offline, potentially leaving Texas facing an energy shortfall.
Texas faces unique challenges because it is responsible for its own generation and transmission through the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). Other parts of the country have large nuclear and hydroelectric generation capacities; Texas relies chiefly on natural gas. According to Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones, Texas accounts for about 30 percent of U.S. natural gas production. She added that oil production is down 7 percent since 2002, but the number of drilling permits issued by the state has been increasing over the last three years.
One advantage Texas has over other regions is wind power capacity. With large, flat expanses of land, especially in west Texas, more and more of the state energy capacity will be generated by wind turbines. More wind energy in generated in Texas than any other state, and capacity continues to increase. Most new wind turbines are built in the western plains, but some windmills are planned for off-shore regions. Coastal residents, fearful of decreased property values, have been resistant to new turbines. The state's challenge comes in convincing residents of the need and benefits of clean, close power.
The Senate Natural Resources Committee is chaired by Senator Kip Averitt and composed of Senators Glen Hegar, Kim Brimer, Bob Deuell, Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, Robert Duncan, Kevin Eltife, Mike Jackson, Kel Seliger and Carlos Uresti.
The Senate Business and Commerce Committee is chaired by Senator Troy Fraser and composed of Senators Kip Averitt, Kevin Eltife, Craig Estes, Kyle Janek, Eddie Lucio, Leticia Van De Putte and Kirk Watson.