A Free-Market Energy Blog

Lay/Bush/Perry: Fathers of the Texas ‘Clean-Energy Powerhouse’ (an ERCOT backstory)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- March 8, 2021

“‘I think ultimately we’re headed for an era in which my grandchildren will be driving electric cars, powered primarily by renewable energy,’ [George W.] Bush said. Oil, he said, brings economic, environmental and national-security problems.

– Kate Galbraith, “W. is for Wind,” Texas Tribune, May 25, 2010.

Let history note that Enron and Texas governors George W. Bush and Rick Perry created an industry that consumers in a free market did not. With the help of the federal Production Tax Credit of the Energy Policy Act of 1992, since renewed 13 times, as well as the $6.9 billion CREZ transmission line, Texas became the wind power state on the backs of national taxpayers and in-state ratepayers.

Bush’s “America is Addicted to Oil” reference in his 2006 State of the Union address did not come out of nowhere. [1] Ken Lay and Enron planted a seed with Bush 41 (see here and here) and Governor Bush (here) that germinated. Bush 43 was Big Wind in other ways too.

And post-Presidency, guess who was the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) in Dallas? In “W. is for Wind,” Kate Galbraith wrote (May 25, 2010):

Former President George W. Bush appeared in rousing, joke-cracking form in a rare speech this morning the American Wind Energy Association’s conference in Dallas. He praised Texas wind energy, bashed the media, refused to bash his successor and said his grandchildren will be driving electric cars.

Galbraith added:

Bush was welcomed enthusiastically at the speech, with an audience of 6,000 giving standing ovations before and after his talk…. When he was governor of Texas, Bush signed the 1999 law that is widely credited with kick-starting wind development in the state.

The 1999 law deregulated the electricity markets, but also required Texas to get 2,000 megawatts of electricity from renewable energy by 2009. This year — 2010 — Texas is believed to have passed the 10,000 megawatt mark.

The state’s renewables requirement, called a renewable portfolio standard, is widely viewed as a model for the industry due to its simplicity…. Now, despite deep roots in the oil and gas business, Texas is the national leader in wind energy by far, with nearly three times as much capacity installed as the next-closest state, Iowa.

Bush himself left no doubt about his intention.

Bush cited his work with Pat Wood, then chair of the state’s Public Utility Commission. “One day I said to Pat Wood … ‘We like wind, go get smart on it.’ Now that’s not very Shakespearean. But he caught my drift.” (Wood went on to become chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission after Bush became president.)

Under the thumb of Ken Lay and Enron at the time, the major sponsor of the 1999 law, Bush was all-in on wind. Galbraith continues:

Bush ticked off several reasons for Texas’s success in wind. Among them: “good sound law,” a “significant entrepreneurial spirit,” low taxes, a reasonable permitting system, and access to transmission lines. Other states, Bush noted, are struggling to build the transmission lines that will carry the wind from remote windy areas to the cities that need it. “There’s a big difference between the talkers and the doers, and here in the state of Texas, we are doers,” he said.

And Gov. Perry took it from there. [2]


If the record is not straight on Bush 43 as a father of the Texas wind power boom, consider this MIT Technology Review article from 2016:

Texas is crushing its clean power goals. Ever since 1999, when then-governor George W. Bush signed a law deregulating the state’s power market, Texas has been building wind turbines like crazy. And the boom isn’t likely to end anytime soon, thanks to a combination of federal subsidies and the falling cost of both wind and solar.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, as part of the 1999 law, Bush included a provision that called for 2,000 megawatts of renewable power capacity by 2009. That milestone came four years early. Bush’s successor, Rick Perry, raised the bar to 10,000 megawatts by 2025.

The state blasted past that milestone as well. As of April this year, it had an astonishing 19,000 megawatts of renewables, enough capacity to power 4 million homes and good for about 16 percent of the state’s total energy diet. The vast majority of that is wind: nearly 18,000 megawatts, far and away the nation’s leader.

Such a massive boom in renewables comes with some problems, though. First, the Texas grid is straining to move all of that wind power from the rural places where it’s generated to the cities where it’s needed. New transmission lines are helping, but wind power figures continue to grow. There are big plans for new solar capacity as well, about 6,000 megawatts’ worth, so the transmission bottleneck is likely to remain an issue going forward.

Second, wind and solar are intermittent and only provide power when the wind blows or sun shines. This is a tough problem, but utilities are exploring ways around it, like using grid-scale batteries combined with some smart software to make virtual grids that smooth out the peaks and troughs in power generation. And if conventional lithium-ion batteries prove too expensive to scale up storage capacity, there’s always the chance that abandoned oil and gas wells could do the trick.

Concentrated benefits, diffused costs. Political correctness. Baptists and bootleggers. All the theory comes into play when understanding how special government favor created a new, unneeded industry of industrial wind turbines. In a slightly different form, on-grid solar is a second, sister industry that is directly and indirectly government enables, a story for another day.


[1] Bush stated: “America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world. The best way to break this addiction is through technology…. And we are on the threshold of incredible advances. So tonight I announce the Advance Energy Initiative – a 22 percent increase in clean-energy research….”

[2] Here are some quotations on Perry’s role in the Texas boom:

Arguably, Mr. Perry’s most interesting energy efforts have related to wind power, which has boomed under his administration. Today, after a decade of rapid growth, Texas is the nation’s wind leader. The groundwork was laid by Mr. Bush, who in 1999 signed a bill that … established a renewable-energy requirement that kick-started wind development. But Mr. Perry has added to that. In 2005, he signed a bill requiring Texas to have 5,880 megawatts of renewables capacity by 2015. The state has already surpassed that requirement.”

– Kate Galbraith, “As Governor, Perry Backed Wind, Gas and Coal.” New York Times, August 20, 2011.


And from Robert Bradley Jr., “Texas Gov. Perry’s Muddled Energy/Climate Keynote,” October 9, 2014:

“It should be remembered that Gov. Perry has championed Obama/EPA/Big Green energy policy by advancing wind power with both pen and pulpit. Ironically, but in keeping with Big Government Republicanism, Perry continued the policy of Gov. George W. Bush, who fathered Texas’s 1999 law requiring the state’s electricity retailers to purchase a certain amount of their energy from qualifying renewables, wind power being the most economical. This mandate, enacted with the crucial help of Enron lobbyists, was increased in 2002 with a powerful wind lobby at work, which made Texas the leading windpower state in the country, passing California.”

“In October 2006, Governor Perry announced $10 billion in commitments from wind developers to increase installed Texas wind capacity by about 7,000 MW. And to get this (remote, unneeded) electricity to market, Perry committed the state to a $5 billion–and now $7+ billion– transmission project.”

Little wonder that Gov. Perry awarded crony capitalist T. Boone Pickens the 2009 Texan of the Year Award.  (According to news reports, “Perry said Pickens’ alternative energy [featuring wind power] could change the world forever’.”)

“’While Perry’s been governor,’ said the American Wind Energy Association, ‘we’ve had a business climate that allows a generator to build, connect to the grid and sell power. Under those conditions, wind has been able to compete and bring benefits to Texas consumers, and to the environment.’ Added Paul Sadler, executive director of the Wind Coalition, in the New York Times: ‘He [Perry] has been a stalwart in defense of wind energy in this state — no question about it.’”

One Comment for “Lay/Bush/Perry: Fathers of the Texas ‘Clean-Energy Powerhouse’ (an ERCOT backstory)”

  1. John W. Garrett  

    I will never forget my immediate reaction whenever “W” started bloviating about electric cars somehow contributing to solving a continuing domestic crude shortage.

    “Yeah?? Really?? How do you think they’re going to get the electricity??”


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