AUSTIN - Austin Energy ranks first in the nation among municipally owned utilities for per capita solar installed, according to the seventh edition of an annual report by Environment Texas Research & Policy Center. Shining Cities 2020: The Top U.S. Cities for Solar Energy found that by supplying more than 1,500 watts per person of solar energy to its customers, Austin Energy edged out the municipally owned utilities of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Antonio.
“Live music and breakfast tacos may soon have a rival as claims to Austin’s fame,” said Luke Metzger, Executive Director of Environment Texas Research and Policy Center. “We can now proudly add that we’re a solar energy capital too.”
The report found that solar capacity increased 22% last year to 61.8 megawatts (MW) within Austin city limits. That total led Austin to rank just 14th in the nation, but when all solar owned or contracted by Austin Energy, including solar farms in west Texas, is added, total capacity rises to almost 750 MW.
Overall, this year’s Shining Cities survey ranked 70 of America’s major cities by solar energy capacity. Los Angeles led the nation in total solar energy capacity installed. San Antonio ranks 5th in the nation (and first in Texas) for solar within city limits. Houston's solar capacity doubled for the second year in a row, while Fort Worth (5th in Texas) beat out its metropolitan rival Dallas (6th in Texas).
These numbers show tremendous progress, but the continued implementation of key policies, like those outlined in Environment Texas Research & Policy Center’s Renewables on the Rise report will be critical to keep clean energy growing.
“We think solar is just getting started in the United States and can play a much larger role in the American electricity system,” said Pecan Street Inc. CEO Suzanne Russo. “We see particular promise in the intelligent integration of solar, storage and autonomous energy management systems that can greatly magnify the impact of each piece of a smarter, cleaner grid.”
Earlier this year, Austin City Council approved the new Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan to 2030, which not only set a zero-carbon goal by 2035 for the utility, but raised the utility’s solar goals for Travis County to at least 375 MW of local solar capacity by the end of 2030, of which 200 MW will be customer-sited (when including both in-front-of-meter and behind-the- meter installations). The plan also raised overall energy efficiency goals, and set a schedule for retiring a number of fossil fuel plants.
“The city of Austin, Austin Energy, and the community has worked continually for some 20 years to make sure that our publicly-owned utility reflects our commitment to local jobs, affordable electricity, and long-term zero-carbon resources like solar,” said Cyrus Reed, Interim Director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, and a member of the working group that collaborated on the 2030 Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan. “Local solar and other resources like energy efficiency are as important as the large utility-scale contracts Austin Energy has signed for resources out in West Texas."
“With the continued growth in solar at risk in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic, we must make smart policy choices in this space," said Metzger. "That means taking steps to build the future we need, by investing in infrastructure that advances a future powered entirely by renewable energy sources."
Environment Texas Research and Policy Center works for clean air, clean water, clean energy, wildlife and open spaces, and a livable climate.