Wildcatting the Sun: A Texas Solar Roadmap

Released by: Environment Texas

Texas has the “right stuff” to become a world leader in solar energy development – reaping the benefits of cleaner air, a robust economy and reduced dependence on fossil fuels.

Decisions made by policy makers in the next year will determine whether Texas can ride the solar wave, capturing the vast potential of solar power for our state. Texas has the best solar potential in the nation and we could power the entire state many times over with our abundant sunshine. In fact, according to the State Energy Conservation Office, the energy from sunshine falling on just one acre of land in West Texas is equal to 4000 barrels of oil each year. Solar panels lining an area thirty miles by thirty miles in West Texas could power the
entire state.

There are several solar energy technologies that can make a real contribution to meeting Texas’ energy needs:
• Photovoltaic (PV) systems harness sunlight to create electricity. PV panels produce electricity at the times when it is needed most – on sunny days – helping to meet peak demand for electricity. PV systems can be arrayed in utility-scale power plants or distributed across the state on homes, shopping centers, parking lots and other built-up areas, providing electricity close to where it is needed.
• Concentrating solar power (CSP) systems use mirrors to harness the sun’s heat to produce electricity. West Texas has significant potential for CSP power plant development, which, if
paired with energy storage technologies, can supply consistent power from the sun, even at night.
• Solar water heaters use simple rooftop solar collectors to provide much of the hot water needs of homes and businesses – reducing the need to use natural gas or electricity for water heating.

Solar energy can provide both economic and environmental benefits for Texas.
• Texas is already home to 11.5% of the world’s processing capacity for silicon – the key ingredient in silicon-based PV panels. Texas is also home to pioneering companies producing
solar PV technology. These firms show the potential for economic growth in Texas from solar power investment.
• The Renewable Energy Policy Project estimates that, by 2015, a national move to encourage PV could create as many as 5,500 jobs in Texas.
• Analysis using NREL's Jobs and Economic Development Impact model shows that CSP plants bring 5x the long term jobs of a comparable natural gas plant and 10x the jobs during
construction.
• Additional analysis by Vote Solar show’s that with the right local economic incentives as many as 21,500 new jobs would be created by 2020 in under a 2000 MW program.
• Solar power can also help reduce Texas’ demand for natural gas, thereby lowering prices, provide rural economic development opportunities, and meet Texas’ growing demand for electricity while reducing emissions.

Texas should spur the development of solar power within the state by adopting the following public policies:
1.Include solar-specific requirements to an increase of Texas’ existing and highly successful Renewable Portfolio Standard.
2.Establish goals and create incentives for building-integrated solar at the time of construction as part of the PUC’s advanced buildings incentive program. This can be accomplished by creating a rebate program. A declining rebate should be planned over 10-year period to give the industry confidence to
invest in production, research and development. At a minimum, new buildings should be “solar ready.”
3.Allow third party ownership of PV systems
4.Make solar systems and installations exempt from state and local sales tax.
5.Create fair buyback rates for energy produced by solar. Direct utilities to employ metering programs that provide time-of-use billing and buyback, which rewards owners of PV systems for
producing lower cost solar power during the periods of highest demand. Require all of the state’s utilities to offer net metering.
6.Improve contract and interconnection standards and consumer protections for owners of solar systems while banning Home Owners Associations from denying homeowners the right to install PV panels.