The Big If: Switching Texas Electricity Off Fossil Fuel

Texas officials say they’ll be suing to stop new pollution rules announced last week by President Obama because they allege the rules will increase the cost of electricity and hurt the economy. The “Clean Power Plan” is meant to reduce the burning of coal to make electricity and instead encourage “green” alternatives. But is that possible anytime soon?

By Dave FehlingAugust 10, 2015 8:28 am|

This story originally appeared on Houston Public Media

The new Federal rules are targeting power plants that burn coal which results in pollution that’s linked to lung diseases and global warming. In decades to come, the new Clean Power Plan could mean far more electricity made by alternatives including wind and solar; so-called “green” sources that right now account for only about 10-percent of power generation in Texas.

But one Texas economist says that may be easier said than done.

“If you were successful in an ideal world in pulling all of this off, then you might find the roll of coal or gas, of fossil fuel, to be reduced. But that’s a big if,” said Michelle Foss, head of the University of Texas Center for Energy Economics in Houston.

“If you pursue quote green energy is it really greener than fossil energy? We don’t even know that,” Foss told News 88.7.

Her point is that switching substantially away from oil and natural gas — the two biggest ways Texas makes electricity along with nuclear — will require technologies on a scale not yet feasible.

“And all of that has a cost so there’s a big fight about what the full cost of electricity should be and whether renewables are really cheaper when you take those full costs into account,” said Foss.

Some executives in the electricity industry say there’s no doubt green is where they’re headed.

“The world of energy is trending green at a very decisive pace. But the one thing that trumps green for everybody is making sure the lights stay on, making sure you have electricity,” said David Crane, president of Houston power company NRG. He talked with reporters last week in a conference call.

Crane said to be successful, power companies will have to make electricity from a mix of sources: coal, gas, wind. In other words, all of the above.