Solar Power: When Can Texas Liftoff?

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“You haven’t seen quite the liftoff with solar yet in Texas,” said Philip Moore, vice president of Lincoln Clean Energy. Last year, the company dived into Texas with the idea to construct the biggest solar farm in the state. The $320 million project was to include 2,400 acres in the Panhandle and was meant to provide power to 40,000 houses.

Six months after construction was supposed to start on the Nazareth Solar project, shovels have yet to break ground. What’s the problem? It seems nobody actually wants to purchase the electricity!

No less than five key solar projects have either been canceled or delayed. Some companies, like SunEdision, have even filed for bankruptcy.

As such, the state might add just half of the original 2,000 megawatts of installed solar energy by the end of next year. For reference, a single megawatt can power up roughly 200 houses. According to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which looks over roughly 90 percent of the power grid, 300 megawatts of Texas’s grid-scale solar power makes up just less than 1 percent of the state’s electricity generation.

Natural advantages such as open space to place projects and almost 300 days of sun annually should make Texas a solar power giant, but the state ranks just 10th in solar installation. Low natural gas prices, lowered cost of tradition power generation, and a lack of state incentives make it difficult for solar energy to compete in the Texas marketplace. Travis Miller, director of utilities research at Morningstar, says that this it’s nearly impossible, even with tax breaks.

According to renewable energy developers, wind costs nearly 15 percent less than solar energy, which means solar can’t even compete with it. Texas is the nation’s leader in wind power with a projected 2016 capacity of more than 20,000 megawatts; 5 million homes stand to be powered up as long as the wind continues to blow. Wind generated more than 20 percent of the state’s power back in March, more than coal or nuclear power.

Miller added, “At the current costs for solar, it’s going to struggle to be competitive in Texas given the low cost of gas and the huge amount of wind generation.”

Article written by HEI contributor Briana Steptoe.

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