Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Birthplace of Big Oil Is About to Get Its Biggest Solar Plant Yet

Solar panels in solar plant (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to enlarge.
While the state has a meager showing for solar capacity so far, the start of construction on Texas’ biggest solar plant could mark a turnaround.

According to a 2012 report from the Department of Energy, Texas has one of the highest potentials for solar capacity — including rooftop arrays, utility-scale arrays, and concentrated solar power — of any state in the country.  But with just 201 megawatts of solar as of 2013, Texas ranks 13th among the states for total installed capacity — and it’s using a minuscule 0.7 percent of its potential.

Compare that to California, which boasts 5,660 megawatts of installed capacity, which takes up over six percent of its reported potential, and ranks the state first in the nation.

But Fuel Fix also reported on Thursday that the San Francisco firm Recurrent Energy just landed a contract that would increase Texas’ capacity by over 50 percent, with a 150 megawatt installation in West Texas.  Construction is occurring at the behest of Austin Energy — one of the largest city-owned utilities in the country — and should be completed by 2016.  The project will be worth $525 million and will cover 1,000 acres of land.

However, as National Journal points out, Texas remains far from meeting its full solar potential, thanks to a string of policy decisions that have left the state lagging behind its neighbors.

Like 29 other states, Texas has passed a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) — a mandate that a certain portion of its electricity come from renewable sources — the law makes no specific provision for how much should come from solar.  As a result, developers have filled up most of the mandate with wind.

But what Texas lacks entirely is a “net-metering” law, a provision that 43 other states have passed some form of, and which allows individuals who produce their own solar power to sell the excess back to the grid and thus reduce their electric bill.

The Birthplace of Big Oil Is About to Get Its Biggest Solar Plant Yet

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