Governor Perry: The Surprise Clean Energy Champion?

07/12/2013 12:39 pm ET | Updated Sep 11, 2013

When Texas Governor Rick Perry announced this week he won't seek reelection, he left open the possibility of a second presidential run in 2016. Perry's next White House bid would likely entail more of his familiar polluter friendly policies. But he would also bring something else to the campaign trail: a legacy of turning Texas into a global leader in wind energy.

It may sound like a contradiction, but Governor Perry is a climate denier and fossil-fuel lover who champions wind energy.

This unlikely platform hints at a growing trend. About 75 percent of American wind capacity and 67 percent of wind manufacturing are found in Republican Congressional districts. Wind power has become a fixture in red states because residents support it for the same reason Governor Perry does: clean energy is good for economic growth. Texas' wind industry alone is valued at $20 billion.

Governor Perry likes to be known as a pro-business leader, and he realized over a decade ago that developing clean energy would promote his state's business interests. He strengthened the renewable energy production standard--signed into law by then-Governor George Bush--requiring utilities to generate a certain percentage of their power from wind, solar, and other forms of clean energy. He pushed for transmission lines that link the wind farms of West Texas to Dallas, San Antonio, and other cities. And he directed $8 million toward wind energy innovation at Texas Tech University.

These and other smart policies have borne fruit. In 2006, Texas surpassed California to become the leading wind energy state in the nation. It now has more installed wind capacity than all but four countries in the world. Texas got more than 9 percent of its power from wind in 2012 and is on track to get even more. Indeed, the state's installed wind energy is expected to double in 2013 and supply 16 percent of the state's power generation this year.

This dramatic growth has brought more than pollution-free power to the state. It has also brought money and jobs. Texas created 13 new projects last year - bringing to a total 1,127 clean energy projects in the state with nearly 3,500 new jobs in 2012 alone. The state's unemployment rate is down to 6.4 percent compared to the national average of 7.5 percent, and the state has an $8.8 billion budget surplus.

The enormous success of Texas' wind industry has inspired additional clean energy commitments in the state. Last fall, Austin became the largest city in the nation to rely entirely on renewable energy to power all of its facilities. The city of Houston purchases an even larger amount of renewable energy. And Governor Perry even had solar panels and geothermal pumps installed in the governor's mansion when it underwent major renovations recently.

Few would have predicted a decade ago that the state known for oil gushers and wildcatters would get this kind of green makeover. But thanks to good business sense and smart policies, it has emerged as a world leader in clean power and Texans are reaping the clean air and economic benefits. Residents of other red states are taking note and rallying around their own clean energy resources. Last fall when a fossil-fuel-funded group tried to repeal Kansas' renewable energy standard--a measure that has helped generate 12,000 local jobs in the wind industry--the state legislature beat back their efforts.

Hopefully if Governor Perry hits the campaign trail again, he will speak out in favor of renewable energy standards and the value of investing in wind and solar power. His climate denial and attacks on environmental safeguards will bring little to the presidential race, but his experience with wind power offers even more evidence that clean energy is fundamentally good for our economy.