California has long been the state where the solar industry has shined the brightest across residential, commercial, and utility-scale markets. That fact largely remains true today, but Texas is emerging as an ascendant solar energy powerhouse that is poised to give a major lift to national renewable energy generation goals.
Texas Solar Capacity Hits Peak
In 2022, Texas led the country in the amount of solar capacity added to the grid for the first time in history. The Lone Star State added 1,664 MW of solar capacity from 2021 to 2022, eclipsing California who added 1,308 MW during the same time period according to a report from Climate Central’s Weather Power. Texas also saw the largest jump in solar generation from 2021 to 2022 (6,252,720 MWh), once again besting California (4,722,732 MWh).
Texas is poised to ascend up the solar charts even more this year. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), Texas is on pace to add 7.7 GW of solar capacity in 2023 – the most in the country – while California will add 4.2 GW. By themselves, the two states will account for 41% of new solar capacity this year in the United States.
Photo Source: Energy Information Administration (EIA)
The rich oil fields in West Texas and the oil refineries that dot the state’s Gulf Coast have been a fixture of the state’s landscape – and economy – for generations. As solar energy continues its ascension in Texas there are clear signs that the fossil fuels industry is losing its vise grip on the state. Fossil fuels-related jobs in Texas have fallen steadily over the past few years, from over 344,000 in 2019 to just over 265,000 in 2021.
Public Opinion Shifts in Favor of Clean Energy
As the trendlines for the solar industry and the fossil fuels industry move in opposite directions in the state, the mood of your average Texan is also markedly shifting. Two years after Winter Storm Uri crippled the state’s largely fossil fuels-dependent grid system, a clear majority of Texans now favor a shift to renewable energy production.
Photo Source: University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs
According to survey findings from the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs, 64% of Texans favor expanding the nation’s reliance on solar energy. Meanwhile, just 42% of respondents favor expanding U.S. reliance on natural gas fired power plants, 35% favor expanding reliance on fracking for oil and natural gas, and 27% favor expanding reliance on coal mining and coal fired power plants.
Texans also strongly favored other solar-specific policies, including overwhelming support (90%) for net-metering legislation and for tax incentives for homeowners and businesses to install rooftop solar panels and battery storage (82% in favor).
Anti-Renewables Lawmakers Intervene
Instead of embracing Texas’ rising stature as a national leader in solar capacity and embracing the bounty of economic benefits that come with that, opportunistic state politicians are instead seeking to stem the tide by propping up the state’s fossil fuels industry.
Texas’ rise up the utility-scale solar ranks is poised to grind to a halt after the Texas Senate recently approved S.B. 624. The bill ranks up there as one of the most anti-renewables bills ever seen. It is riddled with punitive measures specifically designed to cripple the state’s solar and wind industries. Here is a sampling of the measures in the bill:
Forces renewable energy developers doing business in Texas to pay a yearly operating fee. Fossil fuel companies are exempt.
Requires solar & wind facilities to obtain a statewide permit from the Public Utility Commission (PUC). Fossil fuel projects are exempt. Note: all members of the PUC have been appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott who has long supported the fossil fuels industry and pushed misinformation about renewables.
Renewable projects must be 500 ft. from any property lines and 1,000 ft. from habitable structures unless a written waiver is obtained from each affected property owner.
Renewable developers would be required to pull a permit any time significant changes are made to an existing project.
Applies new permit requirements retroactively to existing renewable energy sites.
Gives the PUC the authority to enter project sites and remove installed capacity if they are deemed to not comply with the new restrictive permits.
Requires that any potential renewable energy project must alert counties within 25 miles that they are applying for a permit, a regulation clearly designed to help drum up community opposition.
Photo Source: CNN
The bill now heads to the GOP-controlled House for consideration before it ends up on Gov. Abbott’s desk to potentially become law. This nakedly punitive and partisan piece of legislation that singles out a whole industry flies in the face of the laissez faire posture the state has long had to development, especially energy development.
The irony of this moment is striking. Texas was blessed with oil and gas resources that helped catapult its economy to new heights during the “Oil Boon” era about 100 years ago. A similar combination of steady winds and extended sunlight exposure have helped the state dominate in a new energy era as tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of corporate investment in solar and wind projects flow to the state during the present era of rapid clean energy growth. Instead of supporting this promising economic opportunity, Texas legislators beholden to the fossil fuels industry donor class seem hellbent on stifling this growth with burdensome regulations.
Hopefully rationality can once again take root in the Texas legislature and the free market – not emotional politicians – can once again guide the state’s energy policy. S.B. 624 sets a bad precedent that Texas can’t allow to become the new normal.