Austin solar energy grows 27% in 2017

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Environment Texas calls for solar on all city schools

Environment Texas

AUSTIN – Solar energy capacity in Austin grew an impressive 27% last year, according to Environment Texas Research and Policy Center’s new report Shining Cities 2018: How Smart Local Policies Are Expanding Solar Power in America. With 39.4 megawatts (MW) installed, Austin ranked 17th in the nation for total solar capacity within city limits, behind New Orleans but ahead of Riverside, California.   

“Austin is leading the way to a future powered by clean, renewable energy,” said Luke Metzger, Executive Director of Environment Texas Research and Policy Center. “By tapping into more of our vast solar energy potential, we can benefit from cleaner air and fight climate change.”

The report shows that solar capacity in Austin went from 31 megawatts (MW) in 2016 to 39.4 MW in 2017, a 27% increase. There are approximately 4500 rooftop solar installations in the city, including solar on homes, businesses, and municipal buildings and community solar projects. With more than 41.5 watts of solar installed per person in Austin, the report also named the city a “Solar Leader,” the report’s second highest classification. Environment Texas noted that the report only included solar within city limits, so Austin’s ranking does not reflect its considerable investment in utility scale solar, nor customers with solar in the metro region around Austin served by Austin Energy, which together add another 583 MW of solar to the grid.

“Thanks to this Council’s aggressive purchases in solar capacity, Austin will soon generate most of its energy from renewable sources,” said Austin Mayor Steve Adler. “We are leading on climate change because most of the work that needs to be done in addressing climate change takes place at the local level.”

Solar energy helps Austin in many ways, including by combating global warming, reducing air pollution, strengthening the electric grid, and stabilizing energy costs for residents. According to a new census of solar jobs by the Solar Foundation, 1327 people work in the solar industry in Travis County, the most in the state.

Austin has the potential to go much further on solar. According to figures from the U.S. Department of Energy, 1,443 MW of solar could be installed just on small buildings in Austin. Google’s Project Sunroof goes further, estimating that Austin has 195,000 total rooftops suitable for solar which together could generate 4,100 MW of energy.

Shining Cities is the fifth annual report from Environment Texas Research & Policy Center. Each year, the survey ranks nearly 70 of the nation’s major cities by megawatts of solar energy. The report includes recommendations for cities to expand their solar use, including setting ambitious goals for solar energy adoption, adopting policies to promote or require “solar ready” or zero net energy homes, and installing solar on municipal buildings and schools.

“We are in a moment when progress on renewable energy will come from cities across the country,” said Metzger. “Austin has shown the difference that local leaders can make by stepping up and plugging their communities into the clean and virtually limitless power of the sun.”

The Austin City Council is scheduled to vote on rebates to install solar on four Austin schools. Environment Texas urged the council to approve the rebates and develop a plan to put solar on all of the city’s 130 schools. The group noted that Austin voters approved $10 million for solar schools in a 2013 bond. That money, combined with rebates from Austin Energy, could assist in this effort.