Texas's wind energy boom
Dave Watkins oversees a wind farm on Route 66 exactly halfway between Los Angeles and Chicago. Bikers taking road trips on the historic highway rumble past one new wind farm after another.Wind's price advantage comes from government subsidies and not from any real investment comparisons. It lacks the ability to scale to meet demand. Georgetown still needs to be on the grid for when the wind is not blowing or ice storms knock the wind machines off the grid. Texas continues to add wind power and some of them are added to the ones in the Rio Grande Valley where ice storms are rare, but hurricanes are not. When you consider statewide power, wind has been a good supplement, but in extreme weather, natural gas or coal plants are more likely to keep the lights on. The main reason windmills have been successful in Texas is the state's investment in power lines to get the electricity to the cities.
"I heard someone in town say once that this particular area doesn't have a lot of oil, doesn't have a lot of water. But the one thing it does have is wind," Watkins said.
Just a few years ago, it was impractical to generate power in that remote spot. Texas has since spent $7 billion on power lines connecting windy north and west Texas with cities south and east. It happened under then-governor and now-Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
Watkins said they can deliver power to places like San Antonio, Dallas, Houston and a city 501 miles away that uses almost entirely renewable power: Georgetown, Texas.
People there say coal plants kept the lights on for generations. Then, Republican Mayor Dale Ross concluded the market was changing.
Unlike many Republicans, Ross accepts climate science. He supports clean power so much he bought an electric motorcycle. But Ross said he approved wind and solar because it's affordable.
"This was first and foremost a business decision and if you win the business argument, then you're gonna win the environmental argument," Ross said.
"It's a totally different landscape out there," he said. "And let me tell you, in the state of Texas, since January 1, four coal plants have closed. This is the economics of the matter. You buy wind and solar for, say, $18 a megawatt. You buy coal for $25. You have that choice. Which one are you gonna buy?"
Renewable energy has continued growing since Mr. Trump's election. Even in Texas, the conservative home of Mr. Trump's energy secretary.
"Without his leadership, we wouldn't be having renewable energy here. Now he's shying away from that and I need to be his PR guy but maybe he doesn't wanna take credit for it, 'cause his boss is a big coal guy," Ross said.
CBS News reached out to Perry's office, which said Perry does take credit for promoting wind in Texas -- and still promotes it as energy secretary. But he is under pressure to do something to save traditional energy sources, especially coal.