ExxonMobil, Kinder Morgan and Occidental Petroleum are part of a coalition of companies that opposed a utility’s plan to provide 309 megawatts of new wind energy to customers in Texas. The oil and gas companies succeeded last week when the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) of Texas rejected the plan by the utility, a subsidiary of American Electric Power (AEP).

The oil and gas companies are part of the Texas Industrial Energy Users (TIEC), which opposed AEP’s plan. In January, TIEC disclosed a “LIST OF PARTICIPATING MEMBERS” in the PUC’s docket for AEP’s wind power plan in response to an information request from the utility’s Texas subsidiary. The list filed by TIEC’s attorneys at Thompson & Knight LLP included ExxonMobil, Kinder Morgan, Komatsu Mining, Occidental, and U.S. Steel Corporation. 

AEP said it will still move forward with its North Central Wind Energy project, a plan to invest ~$2 billion to acquire 1,485 MW of power from three new wind farms in Oklahoma. AEP already won approvals from Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma to sell the power to customers of its subsidiaries Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) and Public Service Company of Oklahoma (PSO). AEP projects the investment in low-cost wind power will ultimately save its customers in those states $3 billion.   

A copy of the Texas PUC’s order is not yet available, but an earlier Proposal for Decision by the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) recommended the PUC reject AEP’s plan. 

SOAH sided with project opponents like TIEC, the East Texas Electric Cooperative and Northeast Texas Electric Cooperative that challenged AEP’s calculations of the costs and benefits of the North Central Wind Energy project. 

SOAH argued that AEP had “not met its burden of proof to show that the Project will result in lower costs to SWEPCO’s Texas customers.” 

The Proposal of Decision also noted “similarities between this case” and AEP’s earlier Wind Catcher proposal, a plan to build the nation’s largest wind farm that died after it was rejected by the Texas PUC. TIEC opposed Wind Catcher on behalf of U.S. Steel, which owns coal subsidiaries

ExxonMobil says it supports a carbon tax, but backs industry group that claims a carbon tax is “unlikely” in its attacks on wind power projects   

Facing multiple lawsuits for its role in climate change, ExxonMobil says that its support for a revenue-neutral carbon tax demonstrates “our commitment to reducing the risks of climate change.”  

AEP’s forecasts of the benefit of the North Central Wind Energy project assume the adoption of a carbon tax by 2028. Under that scenario, the wind power project will result in millions of dollars in savings over natural gas. 

Backed by ExxonMobil, the TIEC argued that “Congress has never enacted a tax on carbon, it is unlikely that a carbon tax will be imposed in the foreseeable future…,” according to SOAH’s Proposal for Decision. 

TIEC made a similar argument against a carbon tax in the earlier Wind Catcher case. 

AEP countered by pointing out “that many of the TIEC members participating in this proceeding, including Air Liquide, Eastman Chemical, Komatsu, and Occidental Petroleum, have indicated that they also assign a price on carbon for internal business planning,” SOAH said. 

ExxonMobil has also “set a price on carbon that is used in investment decisions,” according to a 2018 Climate Accountability Scorecard by the Union of Concerned Scientists. The scorecard described ExxonMobil’s use of an internal price on carbon in investment decisions as “Poor” due to a lack of transparency about the price used. 

ExxonMobil has also opposed carbon tax bills at the state level

Expert for the Texas Industrial Energy Users also works with a front group for the coal industry

Charles S. Griffey, a consultant for the electric, gas and coal industries, testified on behalf of TIEC in the North Central Wind Energy project case. 

Griffey works with the Energy Policy Network, a coal-backed group that has opposed plans to shut down coal-fired power plants and invest in new renewable energy projects and energy storage in states like Colorado and Indiana

A 2019 presentation by Randy Eminger, who leads the Energy Policy Network, titled “How to Save a Coal Plant” described Griffey as a member of “Our Team” and pointed to the group’s work to build a coalition that includes anti-wind activists in Indiana. 

Griffey also works with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a Koch-backed group that is involved in fomenting “grassroots” opposition to renewables, and particularly wind farms.

Wind power opponents spent millions of dollars, but wind farms are moving forward

The Wind Catcher project died in Texas, but it appears that the North Central Wind Energy project will move forward with the support of Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. 

New information about the opposition to the Wind Catcher project continues to come to light. Two shadowy groups that opposed Wind Catcher project have filed annual Form 990 reports with the IRS. Protect Our Pocketbooks and Americans for Affordable Energy raised and spent a total of $2.2 million in 2018. The IRS reports don’t disclose who funded those groups. 

A lawyer at the Arkansas-based firm Wright, Jennings & Lindsay ran Protect Our Pocketbooks. The name of that law firm later appeared on a mailing list filed by coal producer Murray Energy in its bankruptcy case. Murray Energy CEO Robert Murray pointed to the Texas PUC’s decision to reject Wind Catcher in a 2018 opinion piece defending his company’s opposition to an offshore wind power project on Lake Erie. 

Other Wind Catcher opponents included the Koch-backed group Americans for Prosperity, and the Windfall Coalition backed by oil and gas producer Harold Hamm. 

Posted by Dave Anderson

Dave Anderson is the policy and communications manager for the Energy and Policy Institute. Dave has been working at the nexus of clean energy and public policy since 2008. Prior to joining the Energy and Policy Institute, he was an outreach coordinator for the climate and energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. He is also an alumnus of the Sierra Club and the Alliance for Climate Protection (now the Climate Reality Project). Dave’s research has helped to spur public scrutiny of political attacks on clean energy and climate science by powerful special interests, such as ExxonMobil and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). His work has been cited by major media outlets, such as CBS News and the Wall Street Journal, and he has served as a speaker on panels at national solar industry conferences. Dave holds a MA in Political Science from the University of New Hampshire, where he also received a BA in Humanities.