The capital city of Texas, Austin, has passed a resolution that could very well bolster solar energy production, making the state a leader in solar energy. The policy mandates that Austin Electricity, the city’s municipal utility, must acquire 60% of its electricity from renewable resources over the next 10 years. Furthermore, the utility must be carbon-free by 2030. The utility also needs to increase their installed solar energy capacity by 600 megawatts by 2017, including support for 200 megawatts worth of solar panels on rooftops. Couple with the state’s already large scale wind energy production, Texas could truly revolutionize the solar energy generation of the country.
These measures go beyond environmental protection. Ultimately, the decision to increase renewable energy capacity is a matter of economics. Earlier this year, Austin Energy signed a PPA (power purchase agreement) with solar energy developer Recurrent Energy for a reasonably low price. At 5 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh), this rate is one of the lowest available rates for solar energy. By cutting the cost of renewables, more renewables can be used, increasing demand and production, ultimately driving down the cost of renewables across the board.
Using solar energy to stave off the peak demand on coal and natural gas, Texas can save money overall. By balancing the load with renewables, the demand for non-renewables will decrease, reducing the peak demand operating costs. As a result, Decker Power Plant, a natural gas powered generation facility was closed. This facility was used solely for providing energy during peak demand. While it may seem counter productive to close a facility and surrender jobs, the renewable energy market will open up more, thus creating more jobs.
Furthermore, the increase of demand for solar energy production has actually dropped the prices on consumer grade solar panels. This opens the market more for homeowners who wish to purchase solar modules. This in turn creates more manufacturing jobs to keep up with the demand for solar power. Estimates indicate that 2014 will see a 50% increase in solar array manufacturing from 2013.
Much of Texas’ renewable electricity comes from wind, with an estimated 12,755 megawatts of installed capacity, the largest in the country. Solar has not flourished as well because support for it has been lacking. Hopefully, the new policies from the Austin city council will spur demand for solar energy. Previously, federal incentives were the only incentives available and there was only a capacity goal, rather than a percentage goal, like there is now. However, despite this, Texas has already passed its 2025 goal of 10,000 megawatts of renewable capacity over 10 years ahead of schedule.