Policymakers Must Be Dynamic

The quickening pace of technological change has kept the energy industry in a state of unending revolution — and it seems our very understanding of the energy landscape changes dramatically with every step forward in scientific or technical knowledge. This isn’t a new phenomenon. In the 1960s, it was a widely held belief that nuclear power would be the backbone of our grid. In the 1970s, we waited hours for gasoline during the oil embargo, and it seemed that foreign oil had an unbreakable grip on our economy. Later in the 1990s, panic set in about a crisis of “peak oil” that always seemed eminent yet failed to materialize. Innovations — like the rise of hydraulic fracturing, the rapidly increasing efficiency of solar and wind generation, and the increasing energy efficiency of home appliances — continue to turn our understanding of the energy economy upside down.

However, this rapid pace of change doesn’t mean that elected officials shouldn’t plan for the long term. On the contrary, policymakers have an obligation to be nimble, flexible and willing to respond when necessary to the changing energy landscape. Here in Texas, we have done this well. During my first term in the Texas House of Representatives in 1998, Texas wisely set aside money to construct transmission lines to connect the state’s main urban corridors with the wind-rich plains in the west of the state, while setting goals and standards for renewable energy. In 2005, we went further, increasing our goal for renewable energy generation significantly. This was long before wind energy was competitive with coal, and was a proactive bet by Texas politicians that paid off and helped Texas become the No 1. wind-producing state.

Simultaneously, we have encouraged the exploration of new oil and gas resources in places like the Eagle Ford Shale and Permian Basin, where we have seen an explosion of activity. Driving through my district in South Texas and West Texas, you’re bound to see horizontal and vertical drilling interspersed with wind turbines and newer solar projects.

Of course, conditions are constantly changing and Texas should continue to adapt. This is why last legislative session I filed and fought for Senate Bill 12, which, had it passed, would have begun transitioning the state vehicle fleet to natural gas. Using natural gas to displace other fuels would be another smart, long-term bet on homegrown Texas energy. I hope to revisit the idea next session, as well as consider new ideas brought by colleagues.

Some of these ideas are obvious. For example, the Legislature should find a way to use the rest of the unspent Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) funds for their intended purpose of promoting cleaner sources of energy. Texas should also continue to invest in our exemplary public universities, which produce many of the talented engineers and scientists who are fueling innovation in the energy sector.

However, it may not be prudent to address energy with only a handful of bills in a hit-or-miss fashion. Instead, we need a long-term vision to push our energy economy in the right direction — leading the nation in an all-of-the-above clean energy strategy that leverages the wide availability of oil, gas, wind and solar in a way that keeps Texas on the cutting edge. This is not to suggest the Legislature micromanage our energy industry. Instead, we should be providing clarity and leadership while remaining adaptable to changing realities. This means investing in infrastructure, funding research and development, and providing sensible oversight.

Tomorrow, we may wake up to news that scientists have invented cold fusion and all of our energy problems will be solved — or, conversely, that some international event beyond our control has led to another oil-price shock. Whatever it may be, we need to be on top of our game, ready to power a thriving Texas into the 21st century.

 

About the author: Sen. Carlos I. Uresti represents Senate District 19, which covers more than 35,000 square miles and contains all or part of 17 counties, two international ports of entry, 11 state parks, 51 school districts, 2,700 miles of highways and more than 23,000 producing oil and gas wells in both the Eagle Ford Shale and Permian Basin. The district is larger than 12 states and 82 nations, and contains over one-third of the Texas-Mexico border.

Sen. Uresti is proud to serve on the Senate Committees on Finance, Natural Resources & Economic Development, Health & Human Services, and Administration. He also serves on the Senate Select Committee on Property Tax Reform & Relief, the Joint Interim Committee to Study a Coastal Barrier System, and the Joint Committee on Border Security. Uresti is the first Senator from San Antonio to serve on the Legislative Budget Board.

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