Why is Texas Lagging Behind in Solar?

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With enough solar energy to power almost 12,000 homes and employ 3,200 Texans, deregulation in the state policy since 2002, you might think the Lone Star State is at the forefront of the solar energy industry. However, the sunny state only ranks 13th in the nation for its installed solar capacity, outpaced by even small states New Jersey and Maryland. For many, Texas’ ranking may not make much sense. With more clear than cloudy days Texas has excellent potential for solar energy. In fact, if all of Texas’ usable land was equipped with solar panels, the state would have twice the solar potential of any other state, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. So why doesn’t the Texas solar industry shine?

Investments in wind

Perhaps the reason for the lag in solar energy has to do with the state’s big investments in wind energy instead. In 2005, the Texas legislature set a goal requiring retail electricity providers, such as Ambit Energy, to collectively provide 10,000 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy within 20 years. Because wind power was a cheaper option than solar, these retail companies jumped on the opportunity to place their investments in wind turbines. With these heavy investments in wind energy it took Texas just four years to reach the renewable energy requirement set for 2025. Today, Texas is the largest producer of wind energy in the nation with more than 10,000 megawatts of wind energy, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Lack of statewide incentives for solar

The growth the state has seen in the solar industry is largely attributed to utility initiatives. But many believe the lack of a centralized incentive program has hindered solar from more success in Texas. Some utilities in regulated areas of the state, such as San Antonio and Austin, are government-owned and have larger budgets for solar incentives. In these areas, utilities build or invest in their own solar arrays and might even offer rebates or lower electricity bills for residential customers who contribute solar energy to the power grid.

Land used for farming

Texas is a massive state with large expanses of land. It seems like these open spaces would be a great opportunity to install fields of solar panels. However, much of the state’s land is used for farming and ranching to provide the nation with vegetables, fruits and beef. According to the Texas Department of Agriculture, the state has more than 247,000 farms and ranches covering 130 million acres, which produce commodities such as cattle, milk, grains, wheat, vegetables and cotton. The agency also states that the fiber and food sectors in Texas have an economic impact of more than $100 billion. Though covering the land in solar panels would push the state to the number one solar producer in the nation, it’s doubtful Texas would want to give up its valuable farming opportunities.

Fossil fuel resources

The Lone Star State is arguably the most energy-rich state in the nation. Texas not only leads the nation in wind energy, it is at the forefront of the natural gas and oil industries too. The state has more than 5 million barrels of proven oil reserves and is home to more than 23 refineries, both on and offshore. In addition, Texas boasts three fracking sites to harness natural gas resources trapped beneath shale rock formations. Today, the oil and natural gas industries support almost 25 percent of the Texas economy, and is responsible for 14.3 percent of employment in the state, reports NBC News. While the state is keen to move forward with renewable resources, it’s not likely to rapidly abandon its dependence (and the nation’s) on oil and gas for a more aggressive approach toward solar.

Article by Clint Robertson, a freelance writer who has held numerous positions in the energy industry. His work promotes ways to educate the general population and reduce the carbon footprint for the betterment of the world by focusing on our need for renewable energy sources.

Article appearing courtesy 2GreenEnergy.

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About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

4 Comments

  1. A lot of it has to do with how ERCOT is connected to the greater grids. Right now there is a heavy bottleneck in getting electricity in and out of Texas. They’re building a ton of lines right now and when those come online there will be a lot more markets to interact with.

    The United States doesn’t really have the necessary infrastructure for giant amounts of renewable energy, but we’re working on it.

  2. There is no way the Texas oil tycoons are going to let solar go wild! All these excuses used to inhibit solar, such as some imaginary scarcity of farmland is totally absurd! The truth is, the Texas oil industry and the great wealth it produced in the hands of relative few is what funds the Republican Party and that is why solar is being held back as much as possible for as long as possible. But in the end, solar has to win because it is the cleanest and will prove to be the most economical source of power in the end. The sun is the ultimate source of all energy in our solar system, and the more efficiently we learn to make use of it, the less dependent we become on fossil fuels, to the terror of the tycoons who own all those oil fields and refineries.

  3. Texas has long been at the forefront of energy production. Currently, as suggested in the preceding article, natural gas, oil, coal fired electrical plants,with wind and wave being the focus of many joint productions.

    Solar is a natural for us, as a great many residential, local and state government buildings have shown. Unlike California, neither the state, nor the federal government have been forth coming in uniform and or coherent tax structures for home builders or the retro-fitting of older homes.

    Unlike the previous comment, this has little to do with evil republican tycoons, chuckling as they count their ill-gotten gains whilst wearing some antique eye shade.

    This is a matter of public policy. Lancaster California for example, requires a specific percentage of all new homes being built with in the city limits to be energy neutral. Perhaps here in San Antonio, we could approach our overwhelmingly democratic city council and ask why no policy has been enacted in this overwhelmingly democratic city over the past 30 years of democratic rule. We do have time to pass votes on gender equality for transsexual middle school children, what about renewable energy?

    • In Texas in particular, solar will predominate only over the dead bodies of the Texas tycoons and all who work for them, in the GOP and in the other party as well. Fossil fuels are the source of wealth and their future, and they will protect those dirty sources with their last breath. And there are many whole countries who depend on dirty fossil fuels for their very economic existence, mostly in the Middle East but in bigger places like Russia as well, the planet be damned. If they cannot hold on to their “black gold” then as far as they are concerned, the whole world can literally go to hell.

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