Texas lawmakers tried to throw a wet blanket over the state’s renewable energy industry last month, but they came up short on votes. They should count their blessings. The state’s solar power sector is now being hailed as a hero for helping the grid shudder through a hellish heat wave, and state legislators may want to think twice about bringing anti-solar legislation back for another vote.
Texas Leads On Wind ^& Solar Power…
Despite its powerful grip on the fossil energy industry, Texas grabbed the national lead on wind power in the early 2000s. It has stayed there ever since, supported by a unique regulatory environment and the construction of a major new transmission line.
The state’s solar resources have not received as much attention, but solar power is also coming on strong. The Solar Energy Industries Association recently counted 18,273 megawatts of installed solar capacity in Texas, winning an impressive #2 slot in state-by-state rankings for the second year in a row.
There’s plenty more where that came from. SEIA anticipates that Texas will become #1 in solar power over the next five years with another 40,787 megawatts under its belt, all else being equal.
…But Texas Lawmakers Do Not Heart Renewables
Of course, nothing is equal in states where Republican-dominated legislatures have been deploying their lawmaking powers to quash renewable energy investment. That includes Texas, which became a frontrunner in the race against wind and solar power back in 2021, when legislators passed a law to thwart ESG investing.
That was just for starters. A new series of bills came up for votes during the Texas state legislative session this spring, aimed at providing more support for fossil energy while putting up new barriers against renewable energy.
The first half of the plan succeeded with the establishment of the new Texas Energy Fund, which earmarks $10 billion for new dispatchable generation and improvements to existing power plants. Under the current scenario, that means all the money goes to gas power plants, and only gas power plants, except for a small set-aside meant for emergency generators. Energy storage facilities are not covered by the fund.
Renewable Energy Survives To Fight Another Day
So much for the bad news. The good news is that two other bills came up for a vote that would have stabbed wind and solar power stakeholders in the back, but they both failed.
Writing for the blog of the law firm Foley & Lardner LLP on June 7, Craig P. Chick and Mike R. Rahmn described the bullet that was just dodged.
“These two bills, if passed, were aimed at increasing regulation and oversight in the renewable energy sector,” they explained. The bills would have established a burdensome new permitting process, which “could have significantly delayed, and increased the cost of, the development of renewable energy projects,” they elaborated.
Other provisions would have granted local governments more power to stop renewable energy projects. Local control is a good thing by and large, but not when organized anti-solar activists muddy the waters on climate change. The deference to local control is also somewhat ironic considering that Texas lawmakers have snatched authority from local governments on ESG investing.
Another twist of the knife was a provision that imposed new transmission fees on renewable energy. “If these bills had passed, this additional financial burden could have potentially hindered the economic viability of renewable energy projects and discouraged further investment in the sector,” Chick and Rahmn noted.
Solar Power Saves The Day
“Based on those bills that passed — and, perhaps more importantly, those that did not — Texas legislators signaled that the state is more concerned about protecting and improving its current energy grid, rather than placing unnecessary burdens on the renewable energy industry,” Chick and Rahmn concluded.
Chick and Rahmn warn that the bills could be revived in the next legislative session, and that is probably so. However, the crushing heat wave over Texas is providing solar power advocates with a clear argument in favor of renewable energy.
New York Times reporter J. David Goodman, reporting from Austin and Houston with with an assist from Mary Beth Gahan in Dallas, took stock of the renewable energy situation in Texas on June 23, and he did not mince words.
“Strafed by powerful storms and superheated by a dome of hot air, Texas has been enduring a dangerous early heat wave this week that has broken temperature records and strained the state’s independent power grid,” he wrote. “But the lights and air conditioning have stayed on across the state, in large part because of an unlikely new reality in the nation’s premier oil and gas state: Texas is fast becoming a leader in solar power.”
Wind speeds in Texas have slacked off during the heat wave, leading to a drop in wind production relative to other periods. However, solar appears to be making up the difference and then some.
The Energy Storage Angle
E&E News reporter Benjamin Storrow also weighed in on June 26 with some observations by Alison Silverstein, a Texas-based energy consultant.
“On most of our days, we’re getting close to 20 percent or more from renewables, particularly at peak,” Silverstein told Storrow. “That is a lot of solar and wind, and stabilizing prices and shielding us from our vulnerability to dispatchable resources, many of which are older, dropping out and causing risky grid reliability events.”
“About 15 percent of ERCOT’s power generation came from solar alone during most afternoon hours, often making solar the second-largest source of electricity production after natural gas,” Storrow noted, drawing from data compiled by the website Grid Status.
The solar inputs were particularly important, Storrow added, due to shortfalls at a nuclear power plant and two coal facilities.
The E&E piece also indicated that state lawmakers made a serious goof when they excluded energy storage from the new $10 billion Texas Energy Fund. Energy storage acts as a extender that enables solar power to keep kicking if demand stays high after the sun goes down, as can happen during heat waves.
Nobody Expects The Green Hydrogen
Regardless of what happens the next time anti-solar legislation comes up for another vote, Texas ratepayers are now stuck with the $10 billion Texas Energy Fund (not to be confused with the Clean Energy Fund of Texas), which will stick them with a whole new generation of gas power plants.
Unless we missed something, though, the legislation that established the Texas Energy Fund doesn’t specify what gas. Presumably they mean fossil gas from underground, not green hydrogen gas produced from water with renewable energy.
If they didn’t spell it out, they left the barn door wide open for green hydrogen. New gas turbines are in the pipeline that can run on natural gas or green hydrogen or both, depending on availability, with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and GE Gas Power among those in the running.
Hydrogen stakeholders are banking on the vast wind and solar power resources of Texas to provide for a plentiful supply of green hydrogen with an assist from the state’s existing energy infrastructure. The Texas Energy Fund may propel a new fleet of gas power plants onto the grid, but the benefits to natural gas stakeholders may not materialize as expected.
Be careful what you wish for…
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