AUSTIN, Texas — On Tuesday, Donald Trump announced Rick Perry, the avowed climate change denier and former governor of Texas, is headed to the White House as the president-elect’s pick to head the Department of Energy.
While Perry actually helped turn Texas into a leader in wind power generation, the name of the department he’s been tapped to head eluded the governor in a now infamous incident at a 2011 Republican presidential debate during the first of his two unsuccessful bids for president.
He was attempting to name three federal departments he would dismantle if elected, including the Departments of Education and Commerce, but stumbled when he seemed to confuse the Department of Energy with the Environmental Protection Agency:
— Sarah Burris (@SarahBurris) December 13, 2016
Wind turbines generated enough power to meet about 45 percent of Texas’ energy demands on Nov. 27, according to a press release from ERCOT, which operates the state’s power grid. On that especially blustery day, wind power generated 15,033 MW of electricity, breaking the previous record of 14,122 MW set on Nov. 17.
It’s an unexpected legacy for a politician who called climate change science a “contrived phony mess that is falling apart under its own weight” in his 2010 book “Fed Up!: Our Fight To Save America From Washington.” In reality, the vast majority of climate scientists and professional scientific organizations are in agreement not only about the seriousness of climate change, but that it is primarily caused by human activity.
Efforts to turn Texas into a leader in wind power generation actually began under former Gov. George W. Bush. A 1999 law that deregulated the energy market in Texas also set a goal for the state to have the capacity to generate 2,000 MW of energy through renewables by 2009.
Since then, Michael Reilly, senior editor at MIT Technology Review, reported, “Texas has been building wind turbines like crazy.”
As a result, Texas hit its initial renewables goal four years early and continued to exceed its goals under Perry. In his Aug. 29 report, Reilly noted:
“Bush’s successor, Rick Perry, raised the bar to 10,000 megawatts by 2025. The state blasted past that milestone as well. As of April this year, it had an astonishing 19,000 megawatts of renewables, enough capacity to power 4 million homes and good for about 16 percent of the state’s total energy diet. The vast majority of that is wind: nearly 18,000 megawatts, far and away the nation’s leader.”
In addition to continuing to invest in wind turbines, Perry also supported a $6.8 billion project to build transmission lines that would bring power from windswept regions in the west and north of the state to its larger urban areas.
While Perry may not believe in the science of climate change, he clearly supports the economic potential of wind power. The energy transmission program saves residents $1.7 billion a year on electricity bills, according to a July 2015 analysis by GreenTech Media based on data provided by the state.
However, Perry’s enthusiasm for wind power doesn’t seem to carry over to other renewable sources of energy.
“Because of its size and intense radiation, Texas leads the nation in solar energy potential, but the solar industry struggled to get a foothold during Perry’s tenure because lawmakers provided fewer incentives than other states,” Jim Malewitz and Kiah Collier reported in The Texas Tribune on Tuesday.
Malewitz and Collier noted that Perry also sits on the board of Energy Transfer Partners, the corporation responsible for the Dakota Access pipeline, as well as multiple pipelines that lead through West Texas, including the controversial Trans-Pecos Pipeline. Energy Transfer Partners’ CEO, Kelcy Warren, also invested millions in Perry’s second failed campaign for president.
Like Perry, many of Trump’s other nominees for Cabinet positions and high-level appointments have promised to dismantle or radically alter the direction of the departments they would oversee. For example, Trump has selected Scott Pruitt, another climate change denier and ally of the fossil fuels industry, to head the EPA, and Andy Puzder, a fast-food mogul who opposes the minimum wage, is the president-elect’s nominee for labor secretary.