Green-energy developers are pushing back against a Texas bill that would make it harder to build new wind farms in a state that’s become the top producer of renewable power.
The Republican proposal sets out new rules for wind and solar projects, including a prohibition on placing wind turbines within 3,000 feet of adjacent properties unless the owners agree to a waiver. That buffer would give neighbours veto power over turbines even on plots of land more than a square mile in size.
“If this bill becomes law, projects currently in development will be delayed, downsized, or canceled altogether,” Karlis Povisils, a senior vice president at developer Apex Clean Energy, said in a statement. A government-relations executive at the company called the bill “an industry killer” on Twitter.
Senators approved the measure, known as Senate Bill 624, last week. It now goes to the House, where it’s expected to face more opposition among Republicans concerned about the impact on property rights and economic development.
The bill comes at a difficult time for the U.S. wind industry, which already saw a sharp slowdown in installations last year. Onshore wind had its weakest year since 2018 with a 37 per cent decline in installations last year compared with 2021. It could also undermine the Biden administration’s ambitions to boost clean energy development and purge carbon emissions from the U.S. grid by 2035.
Texas installs more wind farms than any other state each year and remains the U.S. leader in production, with about 36 gigawatts of capacity. But Republicans, who dominate politics in America’s oil and natural gas hub, have sought to throw up barriers around renewable power in this legislative session while working to encourage more fossil-fuel fired plants.
Senator Lois Kolkhorst, one of the bill’s sponsors, said it came in response to constituent concerns about the impact of renewable projects on wildlife, private property and food security.
“As significant equity pours into this sector, we must address the long-term impact of what it really means to hastily remove thousands of acres of wildlife habitat and fertile land out of production,” she said in a statement.
The bill would also require solar farms to be at least 100 feet from property lines unless neighbours give a waiver and sets up an environmental impact review for clean-energy facilities. Existing wind and solar farms would have to apply for a permit under the new law if they increase output or change the placement of turbines or solar panels.
Wind turbines kill some wildlife like birds and bats, though far less than die in collisions with power lines or windows, according to the Sierra Club. And since turbines have to be spread out so each can catch a breeze and generate electricity, wind farms can take up large amounts of land and have been criticized for altering the view of a landscape.
While the bill’s proponents argue it would put renewable power on more even footing with the fossil-fuel industry, oil and gas rigs in Texas can be set up near property lines without restriction. Within city limits there are usually ordinances on how far a rig must be from a home, business or school, with rules varying between jurisdictions. There is no statewide setback rule for oil and gas wells or pipelines, according to a Texas A&M law blog.
Renewables industry group American Clean Power criticized the bill for appearing to propose retroactive permitting requirements for energy facilities that are already operating. Kolkhorst said the bill would only apply to new installations that connected to the grid after the bill is passed.
“Any business trying in good faith to comply with the law — in any state, in or outside the energy sector — needs to be able to rely on the rules as they are written,” ACP Vice President William Parsons said in prepared testimony last month. He added that the law puts at risk an estimated $50 billion of planned private sector investment in the state.
Texas Republicans have recently proposed several laws to boost the fortunes of fossil fuel generation, including one bill that use a state fund to build a huge new fleet of natural gas plants and others that incentivize the construction of gas plants over clean energy.
The bill may not get out of committee in the House, where there are more Republicans friendly to the wind and solar industries, according to Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.
Joshua Rhodes, a researcher at the University of Texas at Austin, did a preliminary analysis of plots of Texas land that currently host wind farms and found that “a lot” of them wouldn’t qualify under the proposed rules.
“It’s essentially allowing your neighbours to dictate how you use your property,” Rhodes said. “That would slow down the development of wind.”
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