Is Texas the Greenest State? By One Measure, Maybe

A wind farm in west Texas Chrishna/Flickr

When one thinks of "green energy," one doesn’t typically picture Texas. The Lone Star State, is, after all, home to the richest oil barons in the country. And Texans — with our gas-guzzling, smog-spewing pickups — haven’t exactly cultivated an image of environmental responsibility.

But a new report released by Choose Energy, a San Francisco-based company that helps consumers navigate deregulated electricity markets (of which Texas is one) suggests that Texans, when given the choice, are actually choosing green energy in droves.

The report shows that nearly 40 percent of CE’s customers in Texas pick electricity plans that rely completely on green energy. Fewer than ten percent of customers in lefty stronghold Connecticut choose green plans, despite the fact that both states have deregulated electricity markets. In New York, another state that presents itself as clean and green, fewer than 5 percent of consumers opt for green plans.

So why does Texas, where oil is revered as black gold, lead the nation in green energy consumption?

Because it’s plentiful and cheap.

It’s plentiful because Texas simply pumps out more energy than any other state. In 2012, the state produced 14,201 trillion BTUs of electricity. Montana, the nation’s second-largest producer, produced a measly 9,611 trillion BTUs, by comparison.

And Texas produces more green energy than any other state, too. "We generate a lot of wind power — and a growing amount of solar — but we’re a huge wind power state," said Dr. Michael Webber, Deputy Director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin. "There are a lot of people who have wind turbines within sight or on their land or near their land, especially in rural west Texas," he said. "So I wouldn’t be surprised if people think, 'Well, that’s a local resource, it’s on my buddy’s ranch, so I’ll buy green energy.'"

In 2013, Texas’s 103 wind power plants produced 35,937 thousand megawatt-hours of electricity. Compare that to the West Coast and Mid-Atlantic, which combined produced 34,590 thousand megawatt-hours last year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

And, unlike natural gas, Texas’s huge supply of green energy isn’t subject to wild price fluctuations, which makes it attractive to power producers. "Back in 2008, when natural gas prices were really whipping around up and down, companies that had already purchased a lot of green energy, which comes at a fixed price, because wind prices don’t change from year to year...that fixed price ended up being a very valuable financial hedge against the price spikes of natural gas," Dr. Webber said.

Third, Texas’s energy market is set up in such a way that renewables compete well against traditional "brown" energy there. "The way our market is designed, the competitive bids for the different power generators is done at a marginal cost basis and the marginal cost of wind is zero," Dr. Webber said. "So our deregulated market design happens to line up really well with how renewables compete."

While supply might be plentiful, green energy still isn’t cheaper than brown energy in most parts of the state. On average, green energy costs $6.72 more a month than brown energy, data collected by Choose Energy show. So why do Texans go for the more expensive option?

Two reasons: education and —  not surprisingly, as it is Texas we’re talking about — pride.

"In Texas, there is a unique combination of lower priced green energy from the high volume of wind power, and a relatively conservative customer base that is more inclined to opt for non-coal based energy, supporting the energy independence movement," said John Tough, CE’s Head of Operations and Business Development. In other words, because green and brown energy are nearly equally priced in Texas, Texans are willing to pay a few cents more a month for green energy’s added benefits. In Connecticut, where green energy costs more than 10 percent more than brown energy, consumers are less willing to go green.

Take that, Yankees.

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