Texas missed out in the last legislative session on a chance to take a big step forward with solar energy, but there are still some things that can be done to keep moving in that direction.
Texas already leads the nation in producing wind power, and given its sunny climate, scientists say it has the capacity to dominate solar, too.
To help make that happen, solar advocates are urging the Texas Public Utility Commission to set solar usage requirements for electric retailers.
“We actually are a perfect environment, economically and thermodynamically, as a raw resource for solar, but it hasn’t taken off,” said Michael E. Webber, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Texas.
“However, I think it’s about to,” said Webber, who is also associate director of UT’s Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy.
The PUC, an agency run by three gubernatorial appointees, is considering a plan to give solar power the same kind of boost that the state gave to wind power in 1999.
The Legislature first told the PUC to boost solar power and other nonwind renewable energy sources in 2005, and the agency is now taking steps to implement those instructions.
Although Texas leads the nation by far in the potential for solar power, it trails many smaller states such as New Jersey in putting solar power in service. “New Jersey?” Webber asked in mock disbelief. “A small, cloudy state outdoes Texas?”
Texas has done well in getting wind energy going, and its renewable energy standards are at the forefront nationwide. But it does seem strange that we haven’t done more to develop solar energy. Encouraging the utilities to do more is fine, though it will be limited by the lack of a robust transmission network in the same way wind energy has been, but there are other approaches, too. Making it easier for individual homeowners to install solar panels could also accomplish a lot. That was one of the things that the major piece of solar energy-related legislation was supposed to do, but it died in the end. Unfortunately, I fear that the budget situation is going to make a similar bill impossible to pass in 2011, but I hope someone tries anyway. The longer we wait, the farther behind we fall.