The 1966 film, Texas Across the River, always gives me a good laugh. In the movie, Sam Hollis ("King of Smooth" Dean Martin) and others decry the "black poison" that bubbles up out of the mucky Texas soil and poisons their horses and cattle. But little did those characters realize that the ponds bubbling over with the thick, tarry substance they eschewed would later become the very backbone of the world economy!
I don't have to tell you the importance of oil to the State of Texas from a historical perspective. But in the 1980s, something dramatic happened in this state that would forever change its position as a leader in the global petroleum market: an oil glut due to overproduction resulting in a significantly lower price per barrel of oil. Due to decreased profits in the face of a massive oversupply of petroleum, Texas oil barons large and small lost their shirts and then some.
The great Texas oil bust hit this state hard. Yet today, Texas is experiencing another energy boom; but this time, the energy is not derived from the fossil fuel that truly defined its character for so many years. In fact, Texas is on track to become the nation's largest producer of renewable wind energy.
Roscoe, Texas was one of the many Lone Star towns caught up in oil boom euphoria prior to the 1980s. Roughly situated between Dallas and El Paso, this West Texas town is now on the map not for its rough-and-tumble wild-west history, but rather its expansive wind energy farms that have given the town the new nickname of Wind City, USA. In fact, so many spinning, whirring wind turbines have set up shop in Roscoe that it has become home to one of the largest wind farms in the world.
According to the American Wind Energy Association, "Wind energy system operations do not generate air or water emissions and do not produce hazardous waste. Nor do they deplete natural resources such as coal, oil, or gas, or cause environmental damage through resource extraction and transportation, or require significant amounts of water during operation. Wind's pollution-free electricity can help reduce the environmental damage caused by power generation in the U.S. and worldwide."(1)
Indeed, wind energy sounds like a perfect source of renewable energy. But as in all forms of energy production, fossil fuel or renewable, some impact on the environment is felt. The American Wind Energy Association cites mainly local impacts including avian (bird and bat) deaths and erosion. However, with careful planning these impacts can be minimized.
While solar energy and hydrogen are contenders as well, both have issues of cost-effectiveness and efficiency. I have spoken with some key decision-makers in institutions whereby they tell me that it is simply not cost effective for them to seek alternative sources of energy such as solar. However in the future, innovative, highly efficient nanotechnological applications of solar energy production (such as nanosolar paint) may prove not only viable, but essential.
At present, wind farms are probably the alternative energy source with the most potential. Unlike ethanol production, the ecological impact on surrounding areas is minimal, and adding this important renewable to our current energy mix will help America decrease reliance on finite, often volatile, energy derived from fossil fuels.