Though Texas may broadly be associated with fossil fuels, the Lone Star State is doing quite well with renewable energy. Dr. Joshua Rhodes, an energy researcher who lives in Austin, Texas, has answered some questions for CleanTechnica about recent renewable energy growth in Texas.
Before rolling into the interview, let’s run through a few facts about clean energy in Texas. Texas is the #1 state in America for wind power capacity and it is far ahead of the #2 state, Iowa (though, only on an absolute basis, not on a relative basis). Total wind power capacity is close to 31 GW (31,000 MW) in Texas. Texas also has about 6,751 MW of installed solar capacity, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Solar radiation levels in West Texas provide Texas with one of the highest solar power potentials in the US, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
How many gigawatts of wind power and solar power did Texas add in 2020?
ERCOT, the grid that services 90% of Texas added almost 1,700 MW of solar in 2020 but could add another 9,000 MW in 2021 if all projects in late stages of development are completed on-time, already over 2,200 MW have been approved for synchronization in 2021. The ERCOT grid added over 1,250 MW of wind in 2020, but could add over 10,000 MW of additional wind capacity (for a total of over 36,000 MW) in 2021. Over 6,200 MW of wind have been approved for synchronization so far.
What is driving this clean energy growth?
Economics, lower regulation, and social values. Texas has very good wind and solar resources, meaning that wind and solar farms are able to produce a lot of energy per installed capacity, which in turn means the energy is cheap. Texas is also an easy place to build because there are fewer regulations than other areas, saving development costs for those building. Over half of renewable energy contracts signed in Texas in recent years have gone to corporates that are looking to procure clean energy to meet their social goals and Texas’ market structure makes this easy to do.
Would there have been even more in 2020 if there had not been a global pandemic?
It does appear that some projects got delayed because of the pandemic, but Texas’ energy demand remained strong. Because Texas has an islanded grid, increased demand has to be met locally as it is not possible to import power from other states or counties. It is hard to tell how much of an impact the pandemic had because there are always a lot of solar and wind projects in the ERCOT interconnection queue (currently over 100,000 MW) and many drop out in the early stages if they fail to proceed financial backing or an off-taker.
Will the growth continue in 2021?
It appears that 2021 will be an even bigger growth year for renewables in Texas.
Is energy storage being built along with the new wind and solar power?
There is a lot of interest in energy storage projects in Texas. In fact, as recently as May 2020, the ERCOT interconnection queue included more MWs of energy storage projects than natural gas projects for the first time ever. While there are only about 225 MW of batteries on the ERCOT grid, as much as 1,500 MW of energy storage could come online in 2021.
New utility wind power and solar power projects in Texas will generate billions in new tax revenues for local communities. How does the tax revenue from them flow to the local community level?
Most local taxes in Texas are based on property tax assessments. Because most wind and solar farms are built on private land, the value of that land and its improvements (houses, buildings, wind farms) increases and so does its tax levy. These taxes flow to local schools, hospitals, and county operations. In Texas over 70% of wind and solar are built in rural areas that have a low tax base, so some areas have realized a large increase in local tax revenue when wind and solar projects were built there.
Texas is the top US state for wind power, but could it eventually achieve the same status for solar power too?
If current trends hold, Texas could become the top state for solar power in the next ten years, but it is almost assured to at least take the second highest spot behind California.
The politics in Texas don’t seem supportive of clean, renewable energy, but are politics taking a backseat to economics at this point?
Economics always eventually win in Texas. However, not all parts of the state are equally endowed with good wind and solar resources, so there will likely always be some resistance, particularly if those areas without renewables produce over energy sources, such as natural gas.