Texas is known for its fossil fuels (mostly petroleum) but one utility there, El Paso Electric (EPE), wants to be coal-free by 2016. That is, a scant two years from now, there could be a Texas utility serving almost 400,000 people using no coal.
One way it will achieve the shift is to sell off its 7% stake in the Four Corners coal-fired power plant. EPE has also doubled its utility-scale solar to the point it has become a national leader in solar.
“Our west Texas and southern New Mexico region has the right kind of sun for optimal solar energy production, making this region the ‘goldilocks’ in terms of climate, humidity and heat characteristics that allow us to expand our renewable portfolio with cost-effective technologies and reliable energy resources,” said Tom Shockley, Chief Executive Officer at El Paso Electric.
The utility has also signed power purchase agreements with Macho Springs Solar, LLC and Newman Solar LLC for about 60 MW of solar power installations. An agreement signed last year pegged the cost of power from the Macho Springs facility at about 5.79 cents a kilowatt hour rather than the 12.8 cents per kilowatt hour price from a new coal plant. Declining solar power costs has been one of the top stories in the energy industry for the last year or so.
Though this Texas utility scenario might seem like a “nice little story,” it may be more than that. Texas is one of the most Republican states in the nation. Fossil fuels such as coal and petroleum are typically backed by Republicans who frequently oppose clean energy development, such as solar and wind.
Because of increasingly favorable economics, political resistance to wind and solar appears to be decreasing in impact. In others words, if clean energy technology costs less and is better for our public health and the planet, the groundless opinions of politicians that oppose it will matter less and less. Also, the public may begin to see that these politicians are nothing more than puppets for dying industries.
Texas has plenty of sunshine for more solar development, but it also has tremendous wind resources. It seems inevitable that clean energy will outpace fossil fuel development in certain areas, and that this trend will have an impact on local politics.