SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio experienced major growth in solar capacity in 2015, going from 88 megawatts (MW) to 108 MW in one year, an increase of about 23 percent. The Alamo City ranked 1st in Texas and 7th nationally for solar capacity, thanks in large part to continued investment by local utility CPS Energy.
“Thanks to forward-thinking programs and leadership by CPS Energy,” said Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas, “our report shows that San Antonio really shines when it comes to solar power.”
“We know here in San Antonio that clean power means clean air, a healthy planet, and a strong economy,” said San Antonio Council Member Ray Lopez. “So we’re proud to do all we can to help solar energy shine.”
Los Angeles, San Diego, and Phoenix topped the list for most solar power in the Environment Texas Research & Policy Center analysis, Shining Cities 2016: How Smart Local Policies Are Expanding Solar Power in America. Austin ranked 2nd in Texas and 13th nationally with 33 MW installed within city limits. With significant solar investments outside their city limits, the total solar investment by San Antonio and Austin is much higher with San Antonio to hit 500 MW and Austin 600 MW by the end of 2016. Solar capacity in Dallas tripled to 6 MW last year, moving up that city fifteen spots to 31st place, while Houston took 30th with slightly more than Dallas.
"Dallas is happy to be recognized as a 'Solar Builder,’” said Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings. "As energy demands increase, Dallas and other communities nationwide will be exploring ways to build resiliency into our infrastructure. Solar, a steady and evolving technology, can help Dallas ensure that future events do not impact our safety and security in the years to come.”
Plummeting costs, increasing public concern over global warming, and technological innovation have all played a role in spurring the growth of solar energy, which last year was enough to power 5.4 million American homes.
The average price for installed solar systems in Texas has fallen 80% since 2009. Texas electric grid operator ERCOT projects that utility-scale solar capacity in Texas will increase six-fold between now and 2017, with 1,725 megawatts of new solar farms feeding in to the electric grid. In the next fifteen years, ERCOT estimates almost 20,000 megawatts of solar will be brought online, enough to generate about 12 percent of the state’s power.
The report found cities at the vanguard of the nation’s solar boom, with the top 20 solar cities – representing just 0.1 percent of U.S. land area – accounting for 6 percent of U.S. solar photovoltaic capacity at the end of 2015.
As population centers, cities are home to ample rooftop space and large electricity markets. Through power purchase agreements, promoting community solar programs, and installing solar on government property, city governments can play a leading role in developing solar energy. In December, CPS Energy approved an investment of $30 million to continue its successful solar rebate program for two to three more years.
On Tuesday, the Bexar County Commissioners Court voted unanimously in support of the Clean Power Plan, an Obama administration initiative to cap carbon pollution from power plants and provide incentives for clean energy like solar. The U.S. Supreme Court has issued a stay on the rule, but Environment Texas and other advocates urged cities to move forward with solar power development in spite of these attacks.
“Cities have been at the forefront of environmental change for decades,” said Metzger. “And there’s no reason for them to stop now. The polluters can’t change the fact that solar power makes sense for our climate, our health, and our wallets.”
Environment Texas encouraged cities and counties to adopt a solar financing program called “PACE” as a tool to help commercial properties with the upfront costs of solar. Travis, Williamson and Willacy counties and the cities of Dallas and Houston have adopted PACE programs and the group urged retailers there should take advantage of it, as well as using any rebates offered by local utilities. Environment Texas also encouraged San Antonio and Bexar County to establish a PACE program.
In addition to the environmental benefits of solar, Environment Texas highlighted the benefits for local jobs and higher home values. A February census by the Solar Foundation found that 7000 people work in the solar industry in Texas. A report released last week by the Texas Association of Realtors found that adding solar panels to a home is the best way to boost home value among the 30 remodeling projects studied.
Environment Texas Research & Policy Center is a statewide advocacy organization bringing people together for a cleaner, greener, healthier future. www.EnvironmentTexasCenter.org