A Move In The Wrong Direction

For the last century, Texas has been the energy capital of the United States and in order to maintain that position at the top we must attract new renewable energy companies to Texas.  Today the PUC convened in an open meeting to discuss the important question of whether Texas should be involved in the 21st century energy market, a market which is rapidly becoming dominated by China and India, among others.  Unfortunately it seems the conclusion they’ve already come to is “why do today what you can put off until eight years from tomorrow.”

 The PUC’s proposed rule pushes back the 2015 goal set by the legislature of having 500 MW of solar and other non-wind renewables to 2018, letting the solar and other renewable energy industries know that when it comes to planning for the future, we’d just as soon wait.  Not that anyone should be surprised, considering the legislature first passed this 500 MW goal in 2005 and it has taken five years for the PUC to respond with a proposal.

 A more aggressive Renewable Portfolio Standard for non-wind renewable energy, much like the one that fostered Texas’ wind dominance, is the type of policy that can help Texas be a leader in solar.  The PUC seemed to recognize this fact, and the clear intent of the Legislature in its first two drafts of this proposed rule.  A great deal of time and effort from staff and stakeholders went into discussing and analyzing the costs and benefits since the last draft was published in April.  However, for reasons the PUC has not disclosed, they have decided that instead of 500 MW by 2015 Texas needs 10 MW of solar and 20 MW of other renewables.  That is a dramatic drop from enough renewable energy to power 250,000 homes to only 15,000 homes.  The PUC’s change of heart on the non-wind RPS is economically irresponsible and sends the wrong message to renewable energy companies looking to do business in Texas.  This decision could drive solar companies to Arizona, New Mexico or Colorado, states with much more aggressive solar energy mandates.

 Meanwhile, Central Texas cities such as San Antonio and Austin, whose municipally owned utilities are not subject to the PUC, have established their own goals for solar power and have taken the initiative to invest now to offset the future risks of the rising cost of energy. Earlier this month SunPower announced plans to open a new corporate operations center in Austin, bringing around 450 jobs to the city.  Just this week RRE Solar broke ground on a mammoth solar project in Pflugerville that will be the flagship project of a multi-national renewable energy company that sees vast growth potential for utility-scale solar development in Texas.  San Antonio’s work with SunEdison on three 10 MW installations in the city is expected to lead to larger economic development opportunities with the solar giant. 

 Despite what some critics have said, it’s clear that cost is not really the issue when considering these types of long term goals.  Austin Energy and City Public Service represent some of the lowest electric rates in Texas over the last few years, and to keep those rates low and create new jobs their communities have set goals for solar power.  Even the PUC has been clear about the benefits of the RPS, saying in their 2009 report that wind energy “has had the impact of lowering wholesale and retail prices of electricity.”  However, the Austin and San Antonio utilities represent only about 10% of the market.  If Texas is going to fully take advantage of its solar resources, the PUC needs to have meaningful requirements for the rest of the market.

We can only hope that the 82nd Legislature passes more meaningful incentives for renewable energy to help generate clean Texas renewable energy generated power, economic development and the jobs that the PUC’s current plan fails to deliver.

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One Comment

  1. Mcgowan
    Posted December 16, 2010 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    Their loss. As gov and major energy provider fail, I hope and believe solar will become localized as in directly on the building they serve (or say the solar cell phone charger I see advertised in the travel shopping mag on this Amtrak train). This is a ground up movement. Folks in the industry might want to figure that out.

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