Solar Texas? — No Germany But Good News Coming

Solar has been once again in the news. 

A little far from Texas, Germany this week met 50% of its overall electricity with solar power during peak usage. Yep, Sunny Germany. According to Inside, a recent article states “this week the German solar power plants produced a world record 22 gigawatts of electricity per hour — literally half of the energy used through the key midday hours in the country.”

Now Texas uses at peak times about 65 gigawatts of energy at peak times, but less then one percent of it comes from the sun, even though our solar potential is much, much greater than Germany. But then with the exception of a few utilities, we just don’t invest in solar, have policies that benefit solar, and certainly don’t think about it as one of the major strategies to make sure we have enough power to meet our needs.

But there are at least some good developments on the horizon.

First, this week San Antonio’s municipal utility, CPS Energy, finally officially signed the contract with OCI Solar to — over the next four years — build four or so solar power plants both around San Antonio but also in West Texas where the sun shines brightest that would create 400 MW of sun-powered resources. No 22  gigawatts there but it is a start. For all the details about the contract and the good-paying jobs it would create, read this article.

Second, the Austin City Council recently approved a new rate package for Austin Energy customers. While there is some controversy about the new approved rates — which take effect in October — with some out-of-city residents promising the challenge the new rates at the Public Utility Commission, the rates include a new “Value of Solar” rate for those who have residential solar on their rooftops. It isn’t a feed-in-tariff like Germany uses, but a new mechanism whereby Austin Energy would credit those with solar a fair rate — about 13 cents per kilowatt hour — for the times it is generating power. It recognizes the energy value of solar, which tends to provide power at peak exactly when we need it.

Finally, a recent report by the Brattle Group looked at the billions of dollars Texans would have saved if we had a significant amount of solar on our electrical grid, say between 1,000 and 5,000 MWs. The report made a splash in the news since Texas is so concerned about whether we will have enough power. Picking up on the theme, Solar San Antonio is holding a high-level discussion on how to get solar into our grid and talk about the Brattle Report. On August 28th, you can hear what some experts think is needed to get solar on our Texas grid. There are links there to the Brattle Report as well.

And look here for future news about how the Sierra Club will pressure the PUC to finally take action to get solar up and running.

Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director, Lone Star Chapter. (Cyrus.reed@sierraclub.org)

 

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