Texas is an energy powerhouse. It’s the biggest generator of electricity, home of the only independent electric grid in the country – the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) – and is home to the largest installed capacity of industrial energy efficiency technologies, according to a recent report released by the Pew Charitable Trusts and an accompanying webinar, “Clean Economy Rising.”
The report cites San Antonio’s publicly owned utility, CPS Energy, as a leading force in the use of wind and solar energy.
One barrier to continued growth in the solar industry in Texas is a lack of a net metering policy, requiring utilities to credit customers for power generated over and above the amount consumed on-site at their homes and businesses, according to the report. Texas utilities can voluntarily establish such programs, but only three in the state have done so, the report stated. CPS Energy is one of them.
Advances in the solar energy sector in San Antonio are the direct result of CPS Energy’s New Energy Economy initiatives, according to the report. CPS Energy has been offering a variety of customer rebates to help achieve the utility’s long-range goal of obtaining 20% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
CPS has signed a 25-year agreement with San Antonio-based OCI Solar Power to purchase power from what will be the 400-megawatt Alamo Solar Farms, expected to be the largest such generating source in the county when it is completed in 2016.
Tracy Idell Hamilton, project manager for CPS Energy, said the utility has introduced two new programs as it wraps up its rebate program – a Community Solar program where people buy into a share of a solar farm to receive energy rebates, and a pilot program where the company installs solar panels on residential rooftops. CPS has released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the Community Solar project and is in the process of creating one for the individual solar program.
“CPS Energy is very bullish on solar energy, for economic and environmental reasons – it can reduce the cost to comply with new carbon emission regulations, and in a state like this, it makes sense with this much sun,” she said. “It’s also important to leverage clean energy investment to bring jobs and manufacturing to San Antonio and boost educational initiatives around Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math programs.”
The report ranked Texas second in clean energy job creation.
“We’ve had a ripple effect – a lot of companies have relocated their headquarters here. We’re trying to grow the clean energy sector right here in San Antonio,” Hamilton said.
Companies including Mission Solar Energy LLC are building the panels and components used in OCI Solar Power’s Alamo solar farms and that will eventually be available for residential rooftop installations.
In addition to powering almost 70,000 homes, the Alamo Solar Farms will generate $1 billion in construction investment, $700 million in annual economic output, and 800 permanent jobs. OCI has completed the first three phases of its project, with a combined capacity of 85 megawatts.
In 2012, the City of Austin’s utility became the first in the nation to establish a value-of-solar tariff – a credit on customers’ bills for solar electricity generated at their homes, calculated based on avoided costs that would otherwise be borne by the utility and its ratepayers. The utility established this compensation method as an alternative to traditional net metering, according to an article written by Annie Lappé in Green Tech Media, entitled “Austin’s Energy Value of Solar Tariff: Could it Work Anywhere Else?”
CPS Energy looked at a VOS tariff but instead worked with the local solar community to create the Community and Rooftop programs, Hamilton said.
When it comes to wind power, CPS Energy has 1,089 MW under contract – more than any other utility in Texas and any other municipally owned utility in the country, Hamilton said.
Wind accounts for almost 10% of power generation on Texas’ internal electrical grid. Biomass, hydroelectric power, and solar are the next largest renewable energy sectors, respectively, according to data provided by ERCOT.
Texas generates the most electricity from wind of any state, accounting for almost 25% of the U.S. total, according to the Energy Information Administration. There were 141 new wind projects in Texas in 2013.
In 2008, the Public Utilities Commission of Texas and ERCOT established five Competitive Renewable Energy Zones, enabling transmission of 18 gigawatts (GW) of wind power from West Texas and the Panhandle to highly populated areas around Texas, in part to address the challenge of delivering wind energy from areas where the best wind potential exists – in western Texas – to the eastern region of the state where it is needed most.
To date, 12.8 GW of wind capacity have been installed in the Lone Star State, and more than seven GW are under construction, according to data provided by the EIA.
ERCOT has received requests to connect almost 26 GW of potential projects to the grid, which are now under various stages of review.
Texas has five of the 10 largest wind farms in the country at Roscoe (782 MW), Horse Hollow (736 MW), Sweetwater (585 MW), Buffalo Gap (523 MW), and Panther Creek (458 MW), the report stated. Texas will invest more than $6 million in wind energy in 2015, according to the report..
A 3,600-mile, $6.9 billion transmission network capable of carrying up to 18.5 GW of wind electricity was completed in January by the CREZ initiative.
In 2013, the state was ninth in the nation in attracting private investment in clean energy, estimated at $553 million, the Pew report stated. Investment over the past five years totaled $10.6 billion and will exceed $42 billion over the next decade, according to Navigant Research.
Texas will generate almost 35,000 megawatts of clean energy capacity by solar energy by 2023, according to data also provided by Navigant Research.
The Solar Energy Industries Association estimated Texas receives enough sunlight to power the world twice over.
Texas attracted $843 million in private investment in this sector over the past five years (2009-2013), and is expected to generate another $3.3 billion over the next decade (2014 to 2023).
Investment in renewable energy over the past five years (2009-13) totaled $10.6 billion and will exceed $42 billion over the next decade (2014-23), according to Navigant Research.
Overall, Texas’s modest renewable portfolio standard set a goal of installing 5.9 GW of renewable energy by 2015, enough to meet approximately 5% of peak demand, and 10 GW by 2025.
The state surpassed the latter target in 2010, 15 years ahead of schedule, but does not appear poised to adopt a more aggressive goal. It also was the first state to call for utilities to meet increased energy demand by raising energy efficiency requirements to a specific percentage. This energy efficiency resource standard currently requires utilities to meet 30 percent of annual growth in electricity demand through efficiency, the report states.
San Antonio’s military bases could benefit from renewable energy. Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, is among 17 bases in a pilot program to become net zero for energy, meeting or exceeding energy demand with on-site generation. Fort Hood in Killeen has installed a privately-financed, one-megawatt solar energy project, placing electricity meters on almost every building to reduce energy consumption, according to an article by Kate Galbraith written for the Texas Tribune entitled “Texas Army Bases Go Green, but Challenges Remain.”
Texas companies are also capitalizing on natural gas as another form of renewable energy.
In 2011, Texas A&M University in College Station completed installation of a natural gas-fired, combined heat and power system able to run at 70-75% efficiency – more than double the efficiency of traditional power-generation technologies.
The 50-megawatt system supports two-thirds of the University’s electricity needs and four-fifths of its heating and cooling needs on the 5,200-acre campus, according to data provided by the University and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.
Gulf Coast Green Energy’s natural gas field project includes installation of the Green Machine, created by its business partner, ElectraTherm, to capture low-temperature wasted heat from equipment in a natural gas field in South Texas.
Integral Power, a Houston-based waste heat to power project developer, is reviving the potential of steam as a fuel through its Port Arthur Steam Energy project. The system creates steam by capturing high-temperature exhaust from an Oxbow Corp. plant that processes petroleum coke. Some of the steam is sold to the neighboring Valero-Port Arthur refinery, while the rest makes electricity on-site for Oxbow or is sold into the grid.
*Featured/top image: The Alamo 4 Solar Farm in Bracketville, Texas. Image courtesy of OCI Solar Power.