AUSTIN - Solar capacity in Houston increased by 33 percent in 2016, according to a new report released today by Environment Texas Research & Policy Center.
“By using solar power, we can reduce pollution and improve public health for everyday Texans,” said Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas. “To realize these benefits, city leaders should continue to embrace a big vision for solar on rooftops throughout the community.”
The report, Shining Cities: How Smart Local Policies Are Expanding Solar Power in America, finds Houston increased its local solar capacity from 6 megawatts (MW) in 2015 to 8 MW in 2016. The report ranked US cities for solar capacity, with Houston taking fourth place in Texas and 33rd nationally. San Diego took the top spot nationally with 303 MW, with San Antonio (117 MW), Austin (31 MW) and Dallas (12 MW) leading cities in Texas. The report also found that Houston, which Google ranked first in the nation for rooftop solar potential, has installed solar on just 0.2% of available rooftops.
While solar installations in Houston have been slow to take off, in part due to the lack of rebates offered by utility Centerpoint Energy, the municipal government has made significant investments in solar power to help power city operations. In February, Mayor Sylvester Turner and the Houston City Council agreed to purchase an additional 20 MW of solar from a west Texas solar farm, increasing the city’s total solar commitment to 50 MW.
“Anyone who has experienced a triple-digit Houston summer or a near triple-digit Houston winter knows that solar makes sense for Houston,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “As the nation’s largest municipal purchaser of green power, the City of Houston has a long-standing commitment to solar as part of our efforts to reduce carbon emissions and fight climate change. It’s great to see residential solar catching on in Houston, bringing economic and environmental benefits to our communities.”
The figures in the report reflect the recent growth of solar across the country. The top 20 cities listed in the report have nearly as much solar today as the entire country had installed in 2010. In 2016, solar was the number one new source of energy installed in America.
The Solar Foundation just released new data showing there are 1916 people employed in solar in Harris County, the most in Texas.
Despite that growth, challenges remain for the solar industry in Texas. Two investor owned utilities in Texas, El Paso Electric and Oncor have recently proposed creating unfair fees on owners of solar panels.
Cities can push solar forward in a number of ways, according to the report. Among the recommendations, cities can set a goal for solar usage, help residents finance solar power and put solar on government buildings.
“Cities are big energy users with lots of unutilized roof space suitable for solar panels,” said Metzger. “Houston can continue leading the way and protect our environment by using as much of our solar potential as possible.”
Environment Texas Research & Policy Center is a statewide environmental organization dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces.