After Nerdi Gras (Netroots Nation), I took a couple days off to dry-out and trotted over to Houston to visit my parents. It came as no surprise that Houston is booming due to the skyrocketing price of oil. But I also learned a few surprising things that gave me hope that brighter days are ahead for the rest of us well. Because if Houston can get it right, who can’t?
1. 100 percent wind power is now cheaper than dirty electricity in Texas.
If folks didn’t know before that Texas was wind central, then T. Boone Pickens and his $58 million worth of ads have probably fixed that. The state is the nation’s wind leader with 5,249 megawatts of wind (one-third of the U.S. total) and a whopping 18,000 more on the way. I nearly fell over, however, when my oilman father announced that they had switched to 100 percent wind power because it was cheaper. Given that their more or less typical for Texas suburban house usually sucks down almost $400 worth of juice each month in the summer (read: March-October), cost is king and wind’s relative cheapness makes clean power extremely appealing. (Rates have shot up dramatically in recent years due to Texas’ disastrous, George Bush-championed electricity deregulation.)
There are more than twenty 100 percent renewable power offers available in their service area, ranging in price from 15.6 to 22.1 cents/kWh. Dirty power ranges 14.8 cents to a high of 23.6 cents/kWh for Reliant Energy plan with just 2 percent wind power. This is proof positive of Dave’s axiom that doing the right thing will not necessarily mean pain and suffering in the short-run.
This development is particularly important since Texas is basically its own independent electrical grid. Also, turns out that a much-carped-about drop in wind was not in fact to blame for a near-blackout in Texas back in February — it was the failure of “traditional providers” to perform as promised that caused the power emergency.
2. Renewable energy is a big issue in a Houston congressional race.
Michael Skelly, the Democratic challenger, in Texas’ seventh congressional district began a three-and-a-half month long run of ads on July 15, with the first one focusing exclusively on renewable energy. The ad was running wall-to-wall on broadcast TV during my brief visit. Even with money to burn, it’s unlikely Skelly would run an ad — especially his introductory one — on the topic if he thought it wouldn’t make a difference
Now, we’re not talking about Lloyd Doggett’s district here. This is a highly affluent, conservative district that once elected none other than George H.W. Bush. Nevertheless, Skelly is self-funding, but has already racked up more than twice as much campaign cash as his opponent John Culberson — who has a less-than-impressive zero LCV score — without throwing in more than $200,000 of his own money so far. Local politicos I talked to were hopeful and it appears some numbers and outside observers see the seat as anything but safe for Culberson.
3. Even Houstonians are dumping their gas guzzlers.
When I last visited Houston back in February, my rental was the only Prius I saw on the road and it was generally dwarfed by the massive SUVs that towered over me while all sat in the city’s trademark gridlock.
Fast forward to today. The local Smart car dealer’s inventory is booked through 2009 and one local family parked their Suburban and bought three Honda Fits instead. (Incidentally, Honda cruised to a $1.7 billion profit while Ford lost a record $8.7 billion last quarter.)
Overall, truck sales in Houston dropped to their second-lowest monthly total ever, while cars sales in the city hit their highest level in seven years.
4. Houston is going green — at least if Mayor Bill White gets his way.
I first learned about the Mayor’s exciting plan to make Houston the world leader of green buildings back in February and that appears to be moving forward, along with a variety of environmental initiatives. For instance, the city now gets 25 percent of its power from wind, making it the largest municipal purchaser of clean power in the country. (Incidentally, White was Deputy Energy Secretary in the 1970s.)