Reaching for the Sun
Texas has the nation’s greatest potential for solar energy, yet with the exception of Austin and San Antonio, it has not invested much in solar energy generation. The electric utilities in San Antonio and Austin have installed four times more solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity than the rest of Texas combined. Reaching for the Sun shows how solar policies adopted by these cities and their municipal utilities provide a strong example for how the rest of Texas can reach its solar energy potential.
Texas has the nation’s greatest potential for solar energy. “Going solar” is a smart solution for Texas—it reduces our reliance on fossil fuels, curbs air pollution, saves water, creates local jobs and keeps money in the local economy.
Austin and San Antonio are showing how Texas can expand the use of solar energy and reap the benefits. The electric utilities in San Antonio and Austin have installed four times more solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity than the rest of Texas combined. The solar policies adopted by these cities and their municipal utilities provide a strong example for how the rest of Texas can reach its solar energy potential.
Solar energy benefits Texas’ environment and economy.
- 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.
Solar energy installations supported by Austin and San Antonio’s municipally owned electric utilities account for more than 85 percent of the solar energy capacity supported by all electric utilities statewide.
- CPS Energy, which serves San Antonio and surrounding areas, reports solar energy installations of 52.6 megawatts (MW), nearly half of all the solar energy capacity supported by utilities in Texas.
- Austin Energy has supported the installation of 41.3 MW of solar energy capacity, 38 percent of all utility-supported solar power in the state.
- Measured in terms of installed solar energy per customer account, Austin Energy has 0.099 kilowatts (KW) of solar energy generation per customer account and CPS Energy has 0.073 kW per customer account. El Paso Electric is a distant third with 0.005 kW of installed solar energy per customer account, followed by Oncor with 0.003 kW of solar capacity per customer account.
- Among municipalities, San Antonio leads the state with 42.6 MW of solar energy capacity installed within its city limits. Webberville, northeast of Austin, ranks second, thanks to a utility-scale solar project supported by Austin Energy. A project supported by San Antonio-based CPS Energy places nearby Somerset third. Austin itself has solar photovoltaic capacity of 6.5 MW. In contrast, Dallas, with 50 percent more residents than Austin, has installed just 1.2 MW.
Austin and San Antonio are leading Texas in solar energy because they have adopted strong policies that encourage solar power on residences and businesses, and in utility-scale installations.
- Municipal utilities in Austin and San Antonio have set high, solar-specific goals in their plans to adopt renewable energy and diversify their energy resources.
- Utility customers in these two cities have had consistent access to solar energy incentives and loan programs, which help defray the up-front costs of solar energy projects.
- Austin and San Antonio have long-term plans to finance solar development and to attract solar companies to their regions.
In order to achieve the growth in solar power that Austin and San Antonio have experienced, Texas should implement policies that promote the adoption of solar power.
- 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.
Associate Director and Senior Policy Analyst, Frontier Group
Elizabeth Ridlington is associate director and senior policy analyst with Frontier Group. She focuses primarily on global warming, toxics, health care and clean vehicles, and has written dozens of reports on these and other subjects. Elizabeth graduated with honors from Harvard with a degree in government. She joined Frontier Group in 2002. She lives in Northern California with her husband and son.
Executive Director, Environment Texas Research & Policy Center
As the director of Environment Texas, Luke is a leading voice in the state for clean air, clean water, clean energy and open space. Luke has led successful campaigns to win permanent protection for the Christmas Mountains of Big Bend; to compel Exxon, Shell and Chevron Phillips to cut air pollution at three Texas refineries and chemical plants; and to boost funding for water conservation and state parks. The San Antonio Current has called Luke "long one of the most energetic and dedicated defenders of environmental issues in the state." He has been named one of the "Top Lobbyists for Causes" by Capitol Inside, received the President's Award from the Texas Recreation and Parks Society for his work to protect Texas parks, and was chosen for the inaugural class of "Next Generation Fellows" by the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at UT Austin. Luke, his wife, son and daughter are working to visit every state park in Texas.