By SERGIO CONTRERAS, Special to MyRGV.com
Texas’ lead in connecting the country to oil and gas, has built life as we know it, however today’s energy infrastructure is not the end to our journey of ingenuity. In fact, following the events of the Texas Freeze, the energy industry is at a pivotal moment. In 2021, Texas is set to produce almost 30% of all new solar generation capacity in the nation as well as an outsized proportion of new wind and natural gas.
Continuing to develop clean energy infrastructure will help diversify our economy, improve quality of life and connect hardworking Americans, from rural and urban areas alike, with meaningful job opportunities – careers that will be responsible for build the infrastructure needed to mitigate these types of shortcomings in the future.
Prior to the storm, the Rio Grande Valley has seen this firsthand as billion-dollar investments have broken ground. Enrollment in Texas State Technical College – Harlingen’s wind energy technician program has soared as students seek out annual average incomes between $53,000-90,000. While projects already underfoot grow their payrolls with construction and other skilled labor, pay landowners and enrich nearby communities.
Pre-pandemic, Texas ranked second in the nation for clean energy jobs with more than 240,000 positions filled in renewables, energy efficiency, transportation and other clean energy professions combined. However, like nearly every other economic sector, our clean energy economy has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the Lone Star State more than 18,500 clean energy workers have lost their jobs since March 2020. And Texas is not alone in its experience. Out of the roughly 3.3 million clean energy workers employed across the country in 2019, nearly half of a million are still out of work.
As we examine the consequences of both COVID-19 and the Polar Vortex for the Texan energy sector, we need things to change. We need leaders to address the issues by not pointing fingers, speak the truths on the issues at hand and don’t protect the status quo. Misdiagnosing the root cause of the Texan energy grid’s susceptibility to crises leaves us vulnerable for the next one that rolls around.
Now, more than ever, we need leadership to meet the moment with honesty, resolve and an eye for the future. As we analyze our next best steps, we need to focus on efforts that will power a stronger, more tenacious economy. It is clear that we need to lay the groundwork for transmission infrastructure that is resilient, reliable and weathered to last for generations. It is time to implement policies, garner investments toward and encourage a massive effort to modernize our energy infrastructure statewide – all while creating lasting, high-paying jobs for people across the state. Through these new workers, we can all vicariously power a stronger, more tenacious economy.
Given the size and scope of the crises with which we are dealing, Texas cannot miss the opportunity for our elected officials to come together and advance the future of all-of-the-above energy solutions, much of which needs to include clean energy. By investing in modernizing critical infrastructure, our elected officials will also support local and rural development, increase the number of well-paying careers available and reduce the cost of electricity for consumers.
With leadership that is committed to investing in reliable energy and building the next iteration of our energy infrastructure, Texans can use this failure as a propellant to blaze a trail as a national and international leader in energy.
Sergio Contreras is President/CEO of Rio Grande Valley Partnership