Natural gas a Texas-sized boon for green energy?

By James Maynard , Jun 16, 2013 08:26 PM EDT

Natural gas and renewable energy sources could work together to help Texas develop renewable energy, according to a new report.

Texas has recently greatly increased their supplies of natural gas through the use of hydraulic fracturing techniques and the discovery of additional sources of shale. Supplies of natural gas in the state are currently estimated to last until at least 2030, if not 2050.

These new resources have led some people in the Lone Star State to question whether the suddenly-inexpensive natural gas there will crowd-out renewable energy plants.

A report prepared by the Brattle Group for the Texas Clean Energy Commission was released June 11 which examined the role that lower natural gas prices will have on the renewable energy market in Texas.

What the study determined is that no matter how inexpensive natural gas has become, it can not hope to compete in the long term with the free energy available from solar and wind plants. However, the group also expressed their opinion that natural gas could work in concert with renewables to help reduce the use of far-dirtier coal stations in Texas.

"Low-priced natural gas and clean renewable resources are complementary, not competing, resources to displace other fuels over the long term. Coordinated development of both will lead to a win-win for Texas and the environment," Kip Averitt, chairman of the Texas Clean Energy Coalition, said.

The area of Texas examined by the report has some of the highest wind production capability in the country. The group determined that natural gas could be used to steady electrical production when solar or wind power is lacking, and that the lower costs of natural gas plants compared to wind and solar farms could help consumers absorb new construction costs as demand increases. In return, renewables can help absorb inevitable price fluctuations that will occur with natural gas, after today's plentiful supplies are past.

"Going forward, there's going to be room for some of the historical sources and some of the new. I don't buy into the fact that just because we've always done it this way, that's the way we have to do it in the future," Averitt said.

A pair of twin natural-gas fired plants are being constructed in Temple and Sherman Texas, with completion scheduled for 2014. Each of these will be able to produce 750 megawatts (MW) of electricity. Another gas plant near Harlingen, Texas, which will produce 700 MW of electricity, is due to begin construction later in 2013.

Texas currently has an unprecedented 12 gigawatts (GW) of installed wind power, and is the nation's leading producer of natural gas.

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