Wind Power and the TDA

Texas is the now King of Wind!

Wind delivered 22% of the state’s electrical energy in 2019.  More than the nasty, no longer dirt-cheap, coal and wind power gaining rapidly on natural gas as a source of Texas electricity.

It is quite a stunning achievement for Texas, the land of fracking and flaring natural gas, to also rule the renewable resources arena.

George Bush takes credit for it.  Ann Richards is given credit for it.  

But this phenomenon didn’t happen overnight.  The tiny beginnings of the Wind Industry date back to the 70s.  And the Texas Department of Agriculture(TDA) nurtured the industry in the 80s. It is a story not often told.

The TDA assisted renewable resources in those meager years of baby steps, by providing seed money and study money and conference money.  While the total was only a token amount, it provided vital financing and support in the early days.

In the Texas Wind Story, Bob King was present at the beginning, the middle and the end. In those middle years, he was employed by the TDA.

Bob King explained it to People’s History in Texas in an oral interview, one of a series that PHIT is conducting on the innovative Hightower years at the TDA.

Bob King was there at the beginning of the renewable energy resources, at the middle and at the final glorious conclusion. He explained the middle segment, “ I was starting up the country’s first residential energy audits and home insulation programs and solar water heating program in Nashville and Memphis.  But, I was also advising Hightower and his people about energy policy issues for the Railroad Commission race.”

“I was talking to Hightower and DeMarco about what you could do.  He was real focused on energy policy.  Even with the Railroad Commission, they was saying this is a statewide race, and, just like the governor, we can talk about whatever we want.”

“He lost that first race, but when he decided to run for Agriculture, he called me up.” King was in California at the time advising the state government on solar power.  “Actually I think it was DeMarco. Most of my conversations were with DeMarco. DeMarco would call me every couple of weeks at Jerry Brown’s office and say we’re thinking about this, what would you do? We would have hour long conversations about what was going on in California and what the revolution looked like from there and all that kind of stuff. “

Bob King laughs…”I was saying, well, you could do this, you guys ought to do that. And DeMarco said, King, you don’t understand. I don’t need to know what to say to get elected. I’m worried we’re going to get elected. We need you to just come here and run it.”

Bob King was primarily interested in conservation and renewable energy, but he aware that, for the agricultural industry, that was just one piece of the problem.  “Hightower had plenty of background on the whole food system. So there was the bigger vision of how to produce safer foods and healthy foods and reduce pesticides and that kind of thing. And he was pulling me along on his coattails because he also had the broader vision that the resources you use to make the food are important and critical. And so in this pile of reports [reports that he shared with PHIT], you’ll find things on land use, farmland protection, pesticides, water quality, water efficiency. There’s a 1985 report that I wrote on climate change.” 

Bob King agreed to come back to Texas and in the process committed the TDA to the goal that ultimately led to a successful Wind Industry.  “I finally said, Okay, I’ll come back but I want enough money to have two or three staff and a secretary (at that time you needed a secretary) and some travel money and some spending money. For instance, that renewable report was produced in part by a grant we made to help advocates create the Texas Renewable Energy Industry Association.

But in order to help start that up and kick it off, we gave a $25,000 grant to the new organization to do a little study.  So I worked with them to do the document, to have a product out of it. But it was also partly to create some momentum for them and some organization.”

The TDA offered grants to produce studies, they sponsored conferences, and they provided Bob King a forum for renewable energy resources.

After Hightower was defeated, King went on to help jumpstart the Wind Industry in Texas.  For the larger story, please read the The Great Texas Wind Rush.  Bush takes credit,  Ann Richards was involved.  The TDA helped in the tough early days, when nobody cared about renewable Wind Power but a few visionaries.

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