Stephanie Grace: Louisiana can either be a step ahead of the energy transition or lag behind | Columnist Stephanie Grace
“I thought we were an oil and gas state the entire time I was here,” said Senator Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, in a much-quoted comment during the last term.
And it’s true. Louisiana is, in fact, an oil and gas state. One that exists in a country and a world with increasingly renewable energies.
That makes the coming revolution a threat, said Mizell and many other Louisiana politicians. Indeed, Mizell cautioned against “choosing solar over oil and gas,” although the setback during the session came mostly from farmers fearful of losing available land to solar, rather than oil and gas interests.
But there is also an opportunity if only the rulers of the state grapple with the new energy industry instead of fighting changes that take place independently of their actions.
These changes are coming from above, especially from a government that is seeking net carbon neutrality by 2050, not because President Joe Biden is after oil and gas, but because he is concerned about the future of the planet. They also come from below, from an American electorate who voted for Biden in part because of his willingness to take climate change seriously, and from industry leaders who know exactly where the wind is blowing from.
This wind is not just metaphorical. Offshore wind energy actually has a certain amount of time in these parts, which lag far behind other areas in terms of development.
With Governor John Bel Edwards in the lead, there is now a task force of officials from Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama investigating the possibility of offshore wind energy in the Gulf of Mexico. This week the Edwards Administration is hosting a series of online seminars on related topics. GNO Inc. created the GNOwind Alliance to help local stakeholders receive some of the expected $ 1 trillion in new investment by 2040 by supplying existing projects in the Northeast and eventually offshore facilities in the Gulf developed.
In a recent column on this page, GNO Inc. CEO Michael Hecht pointed out that Louisiana’s experience overseeing offshore drilling operations is straightforward and he’s not the only one making the connection.
As for solar energy, there is good reason to believe that farmers’ concerns about the end of the world are misplaced. Stephen Wright, executive director of the Gulf States Renewable Energy Industry Association, told my colleague Sam Karlin that solar panels would take up less than 1% of the available farmland in Louisiana, in the unlikely scenario where solar energy was ever as widespread here as it was in California .
Louisiana Wind Week events focus on the state’s offshore wind power potential
That hasn’t stopped politicians from looking at all possible ways to contain the spread. Mizell, who said farmers had come to her with tears in their eyes because of the perceived competition, passed a resolution calling for a public hearing. House spokesman Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, drafted another resolution calling on the state business development agency to halt tax incentives for the industry for a year through the industry tax exemption program. Several municipalities have their own moratoriums on utility-scale solar projects.
A bill by Senator Bret Allain, R-Franklin, calling on the state to regulate utility-scale solar systems, could help clear up issues. But there is still a lot to be done to win the hearts and minds of many powerful people.
That means understanding that economic disruption is inevitable and being honest with those affected.
It means focusing on what is at stake, not just jobs, but the environmental risk of resistance in an age of rising sea levels and the more frequent and violent storms that make the state particularly vulnerable.
It means understanding that change will produce winners and losers. Oil and gas will remain an important role in Louisiana for the foreseeable future, and there are environmental technologies like carbon capture that will keep them in the mix.
But the harsh reality is that the country and the world are moving in a different direction. Louisiana can be part of the action or fall by the wayside.
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