New Solar Plant Unveiled in San Antonio – PUC to propose new rule to boost renewables in December

Attendees at the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association annual meeting in San Antonio this week got a double dose of good news. First, in a ribbon cutting ceremony with CPS Energy and local politicians, Colorado-based Juwi Solar opened up the 14 MW thin-film utility-scale “Blue Wing” solar plant just south of San Antonio. Secondly, Chairman Barry Smitherman with the Public Utility Commission announced in response to a question that the PUC still intended to publish a rule to finally implement the target to obtain 500 megawatts of renewable energy from sources other than wind by 2015. Indeed a note on the PUC website has confirmed that a proposal to publish a rule will be considered at the December 16th PUC meeting.

CPS Energy contracted the Blue Wing Solar plant back in June of 2009 to Juwi, which after construction and months of testing, threw the switch on providing enough electricity to power 1900 homes in San Antonio through 4290 thin-film solar arrays, each with 50 solar modules over 112 acres of farmland. That’s 215,000 photovoltaic panels in all. In addition, the solar farm includes 500 kilowatts of demonstration technologies — a concentrated solar array, various thin-film technologies as well as more traditional PV crystalline solar modules. CPS Energy and Juwi will thus have a live laboratory of other solar technologies to assess over the coming years.

The San Antonio plant is only one of six utility-scale plants being planned for construction in Texas. Thus, CPS Energy is also contracted with SunEdison for 30 MWs of solar in the San Antonio area, while Austin Energy is contracted with a private company to build 30 MWs of solar east of Austin in Webberville. A new company, RRE Austin Solar has plans to build two 60 MW solar PV plants in Pflugerville and Big Spring.

All of these plants are being built without an active market for solar renewable energy credits through Texas’s Renewable Portfolio Standard largely because they involve public entities — like CPS Energy, Austin Energy and the Pflugerville ISD — that want to invest in solar energy to meet their own goals. To really spur the solar market, implementing the Legislature’s law that Texas should have at least 500 MWs of solar, and other non-wind technologies by 2105 is a must.

During the TREIA conference, Smitherman said that as long as he could get one of his fellow commissioners — Commissioner Anderson — to propose a reasonable rule, he would support publishing it for further comment in December. That being said, actually turning the proposal into the rule in Texas will either take the PUC actually adopting it before June of 2011, or the Texas Legislature passing any additional renewable goals during the 2011 Legislative Session. Stay tuned for more on this issue.

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