Texas solar capacity grew 62% in 2015

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ERCOT projects “large increase in solar” by 2031, but anti-solar policies could jeopardize growth

Environment Texas

AUSTIN – Texas installed 207 megawatts (MW) of solar electric capacity in 2015 – a 62% increase – and ranked 10th in the nation for cumulative solar installed, according to a new report released by Environment Texas and the Sierra Club. Electric grid operator ERCOT projects Texas will add as much as 27,200 MW of solar in the next fifteen years, but the groups said anti-solar policies and efforts to prop up failing coal-fired power plants could jeopardize this growth.

Environment Texas Research & Policy Center’s latest ranking of state solar capacity found Texas experienced significant growth of solar in 2015, but still lags in the middle of the pack for per-capita solar installed, coming in 23rd among the states. The study’s top states for solar capacity per capita — Nevada, Hawaii, California, Arizona, North Carolina, New Jersey, Vermont, New Mexico, Massachusetts and Colorado – have long held in common pro-clean energy policies, such as strong net metering programs and interconnection standards. Texas has adopted just five of the twelve policies the report highlights as critical to solar success.

“We’ve got plenty of sunshine and there’s a ton of support for solar,” said Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas. “What we’re missing is state leadership with a commitment to clean energy policies.”

The report finds that while utility-scale solar is taking off, the lack of a net-metering law is holding Texas back from developing a robust residential and commercial market. Net metering, which guarantees owners of solar power systems a fair return for the excess electricity they supply to the grid by crediting them with the value of such electricity at the retail rate, has proven to be important for the development of a strong so­lar energy market among residential and small busi­ness consumers. A recent poll found that 91 percent of Texans agree “all homeowners who use rooftop solar panels should be allowed to receive credit on their energy bill for sending the extra power they generate back to the grid.” Other policies, including Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Districts and Warehouse for Energy Efficiency Loans (WHEEL), could also be used by Texas to support rooftop solar.

The groups warned that Texas’ solar progress could be stalled by interventions in the market to prop up coal burning power plants.  A 2015 report by ERCOT suggested coal plants, struggling to stay open with low electricity prices and coming clean air standards, may be paid to keep operating under so-called “reliability-must-run” contracts.

“We call on ERCOT and the legislature to allow the market to work as it should, with older, dirtier resources like aging coal plants being replaced by newer, more efficient solar and wind without bail-outs or long-term reliability contracts,” said Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.

The groups also released an online map showing the location of all the operating, planned and under-construction solar farms in Texas.