The Energy Sector Can Help America Rebound. Will Texas Be Ready?

A recent opinion column in the Houston Chronicle provides plenty of reason for optimism when we consider how Texas and the Texas economy will rebound from the crisis induced by COVID-19.

The piece by David Foster notes that Texas has the largest energy workforce in the country — more than 607,000 people working in “the production of fuels, electricity and their transmission, distribution and storage.” Plus, Foster notes, almost 170,000 Texans work in energy efficiency.

The spread of the novel coronavirus and increased oil production from Russia and Saudi Arabia have both hurt the energy economy here in the United States. The price of oil has plummeted in recent weeks, dropping to around $20 per barrel. This has particularly grave implications for Texas because energy is still a critical sector of our economy — cheaper oil means fewer companies working to produce it, thousands or even tens of thousands fewer jobs for Texans, and huge cuts in tax revenues that state and local officials use to pay for public schools and universities, health care, and other basic services.

But Foster notes that, in recent years, energy jobs have grown faster than the rest of the economy due to the introduction of new technologies that made energy cheaper and more efficient to use. This is encouraging, because the energy sector has proven that it can innovate and change as new technologies develop.

Foster also points out that hundreds of thousands of jobs have been created nationally in energy efficiency and in the fields of automotive fuel efficiency and plug-in or hybrid cars. And the electrical grid is in need of significant investments — $177 million to raise it from its current D+ rating to a B, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

All of this illustrates that the energy sector (broadly defined to include energy efficiency) in Texas has the capacity to lead our economy back from our current crisis. But it will be up to concerned Texans, civic leaders, state officials and others to make sure that we are in the right position to provide that leadership, and that means  making the investments in education, workforce development and infrastructure that will facilitate growth in the Texas energy sector.

To the degree that the ways Americans use energy are permanently changed by this pandemic, Texas can be at the forefront. We have the talent, skills, workforce, skills and experience to rethink the world of energy and become the low carbon energy capital of the world.

The priorities we often emphasize here at Texas 2036, such as data-driven analysis and creative thinking to meet the workforce demands of our economy, will go a long way toward determining whether Texas seizes this moment. That’s why, even at a time of immediate economic calamity, our organization will continue to focus on the state’s long-term needs.