Texas Senate Passes Renewable Energy Bill

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Today, with a vote of 24 to 7, the Texas Senate approved CSSB 541 (Watson) which mandates the development of 1500 megawatts of clean renewable energy from sources such as solar, geothermal and biomass by 2020.

Today, with a vote of 24 to 7, the Texas Senate approved CSSB 541 (Watson) which mandates the development of 1500 megawatts of clean renewable energy from sources such as solar, geothermal and biomass by 2020.

“The Senate has taken the next step to develop a new energy economy by promoting emerging renewable technologies like solar, biomass and geothermal energy,” said Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas. “If the House follows suit and the Governor signs the bill, Texas will cement its reputation as a world leader in clean energy. We applaud Sen. Watson for his incredible leadership on this issue.”

Despite enormous potential, Texas has fallen behind in the development of emerging renewable energy technologies such as solar, geothermal and biomass power. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Texas is tied with Wisconsin and Washington for ninth place  in total solar generation. For biomass, Texas doesn’t even register in the top rankings. And even though the Bureau of Economic Geology estimates that coastal Texas has the potential to generate 20,000 megawatts of baseload electricity from clean geothermal power, Texas has yet to develop even a single megawatt.  

“That’s not just a blow to Texas pride, that’s the potential loss of billions of investment and tens of thousands of jobs,” said Metzger.

SB 541 by Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) builds on the 1999 renewable electricity standard and establish a second tier to incent emerging technologies such as solar, biomass and geothermal. The bill would require the development of 1500 megawatts of these technologies by the year 2020.

Last month, the Senate passed SB 545 (Fraser) to create a statewide rebate program for solar power. While that bill is best set up to fund solar on rooftops, Sen. Watson’s bill is best set up to fund utility-scale solar, biomass and geothermal projects. By providing energy at peak demand during the day (solar) or round the clock (biomass and geothermal), these projects would complement wind energy, which generally maximizes capacity at night. Texas is already investing $5 billion on new transmission lines for wind projects, so these projects could be co-located underneath wind farms, doubling the return on our investment.

According to ERCOT  and the PUC, by displacing use of high-cost natural gas, renewable energy can significantly lower electric costs. With federal action expected on  global warming  and renewable energy , technologies like solar will become even more cost competitive.  An analysis by the Environmental Defense Fund found that SB 541 will provide a net savings of over $3 billion to Texas consumers by 2020 and reduce CO2 emissions by 20 million tons a year by 2020. According to a new poll commissioned by the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation, 61%  of Texans favor requiring a certain amount of electricity be generated from solar power.

Both SB 541 and SB 545 could propel Texas to be a world leader in the development of solar, geothermal and biomass technologies, benefitting businesses across the state. In Pasadena, Texas, MEMC is the world’s largest supplier of solar-grade  silicon. In Austin, Applied Materials (the world’s largest manufacturer of the equipment that makes solar panels) has a facility that could be retooled for solar production. In Brownwood, Barr Fabrications produced steel braces for the nation’s largest solar thermal power plant in Nevada. 

“With renewable energy manufacturers already set up across the state, the intellectual firepower available at Texas universities such as SMU’s Geothermal Laboratory, farmers and ranchers ready to lease their land for renewable energy production, and Texas’ highly trained energy workforce, and we have all the raw materials to be the clean energy capital of the world,” said Metzger.