San Antonio and Austin lead the state in solar energy installations, and the policies underlying that success can act as a model for the rest of the state, according to a new report from Environment Texas.
Texas has nation’s the greatest potential for harnessing the sun’s power. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Texas has the potential to generate more than 100 times its current electric use from solar power.
Doing so would lead to a host of economic, environmental and health benefits, concludes Reaching for the Sun: How San Antonio and Austin Are Showing that Solar Is a Powerful Energy Option for Texas:
- Greater use of solar energy can help reduce the need for coal and natural gas power plants that cause air pollution, contribute to global warming, and use water for cooling.
- Solar power can save money for consumers. For example, a recent study by the operator of Texas’ electricity grid shows that the most cost-effective way to meet the state’s growing need for electricity on the hottest summer days is to add solar and wind energy generating capacity rather than natural gas-fired power plants.
- Texas’ growing market for solar energy has helped attract solar energy companies, such as Austin-based Heliovolt and OCI Solar Power, which intends to open its headquarters in San Antonio.
San Antonio and Austin, both of which are served by municipally-owned utilities, account for 49 percent and 38 percent, respectively, of Texas’ utility-supported solar power. That’s because both cities’ utilities, CPS Energy and Austin Energy, have set solar-specific goals, their customers have access to incentive and loan programs, and they have long-term plans that attract solar companies and related development to their regions.
CPS Energy, for example, entered into an agreement with OCI Solar Power to buy 400 MW of solar power from farms built across Texas. OCI Solar, as part of the deal, is required to build solar manufacturing and relocate its headquarters to San Antonio, a move that will bring 800 good-paying jobs to the region.
Texas should adopt similar policies statewide, the report suggests:
- Statewide, Texas should strengthen its renewable portfolio standard by including a goal of building 4,000 MW of solar energy capacity by 2020. The state should require utilities to meet that goal, in part, by installing solar PV panels on 250,000 rooftops.
- Texas should adopt statewide standards to ensure that homeowners and small businesses are fairly compensated for the excess solar electricity they generate and supply to the grid.
- The state should update its Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing legislation to enable lenders to offer commercial and residential property owners a secure long-term financing option for solar PV systems.
Its release comes as the state Legislature considers new programs to expand solar to the rest of the state.
“Texas’ solar story is primarily a tale of two cities – San Antonio and Austin – with the rest of the state largely languishing in the shadow,” said Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas. “It’s time we reach for the sun and bring clean solar energy to the rooftops of all of Texas’ homes, schools and businesses.”