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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 February 2006, 00:14 GMT
Seeking a cure for US oil addiction
By Julian Pettifer
BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents

The image of the US as a gas-guzzling, energy consuming nation is at odds with a number of green initiatives in the country at large.

A wind farm in Texas
Texas is turning to wind power to sustain its energy business

In the boardrooms of great corporations, among city mayors and state governors, even among evangelical Christians - the most loyal supporters of President George W Bush - climate change and energy conservation are on the agenda.

The influential journal Business Week, recently stated: "Reducing carbon dioxide emissions is no longer just 'a green thing'. It makes business and foreign policy sense as well."

General Electric, the largest US company, has launched its Ecomagination programme to take steps on global warming.

Other household names like Dupont, Alcoa - the world's largest producer of aluminium - and Starbucks, have also launched energy-saving initiatives.

RADIO 4's CROSSING CONTINENTS
Saving Energy The Evangelical Way was broadcast on Thursday, 9 February, 2006, at 1102 GMT.
But it is in the individual state capitals that the most urgent activity is being seen.

About 20 states now require that a certain percentage of electricity is produced from renewable sources, and among them is the president's home state of Texas.

The first Texas oil strike was in 1901 in Spindletop.

Emerging picture

Sherry Philips, McCamey, Texas
McCamey was bleeding our youth away. Now it has a chance to live again
McCamey Mayor Sherry Philips

Even when the oil runs out - as it will - Texas is determined to remain in the energy business.

The little oil-field town of McCamey prospered in the oil boom and suffered in its decline. Now it is enjoying a revival, thanks to wind.

In a desolate landscape, scarred by old oil workings and rusting machinery, an elegant new industrial picture is emerging.

Towering over the dusty scrub around McCamey are 800 wind turbines and soon there will be more.

McCamey calls itself the "Wind Energy Capital of Texas", a title which the Mayor, Sherry Philips, has officially registered in the state capital. No other town can now claim it.

She has good cause to bless the wind. In the 90s, when the oil industry declined, McCamey lost half its population and could have become a ghost town.

"McCamey was bleeding our youth away," she said. "Now it has a chance to live again."

Secure future

Randy Sowell, with his cowboy hat and full beard, is totally Texan.

Randy Sowell, Cielo Wind Power
Randy Sowell is excited by the renewable energy potentials
He used to be a rancher but he now works for Cielo Wind Power, one of the companies that develops the wind farms.

It is not just that wind power is clean and renewable, he points out, but it offers security for the ranchers.

Running cattle in this arid country has always been marginal, but now, by leasing their land to the power companies, the ranchers have a future.

There are other possibilities, he believes, to exploit renewables.

It has already been shown that dry bore-holes in exhausted oil workings will yield geo-thermal energy; and as the relative cost goes down there must be potential for solar installations too.

Market economics

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson
Jerry Patterson is motivated by business, not ideology
But at present, the most exciting future lies with wind energy.

According to a US Department of Energy study, most of the electricity needs of the whole country could be provided by the wind power potential of three states: Kansas, North Dakota and Texas.

In Austin, the state capital of Texas, the man who oversees the leases on land-based and offshore wind farms, is Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson.

He has absolutely no doubt about the future of wind energy.

In promoting it, he is not motivated by ideology. If it helps in the fight against global warming, that is a welcome bonus, he says, but it must justify itself on economic grounds.

The motivation for developing renewables must come from the market and not from government mandate, he insists. George W Bush would surely agree to that.

BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents was broadcast on Thursday, 9 February, 2006, at 1102 GMT.

The programme was repeated on Monday, 13 February, 2006, at 2030 GMT.



SEE ALSO
Saving energy the evangelical way
02 Feb 06 |  Crossing Continents
Send us your comments
08 Feb 06 |  Crossing Continents

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