Two Texas cities are among the nation's leaders in solar power, a new report says.
San Antonio ranks sixth among U.S. cities in installed solar capacity, and Austin ranks 16th, according to a report released Thursday by the advocacy group Environment Texas. San Antonio utilities and residents had installed 84 megawatts of solar capacity through 2013, while Austin had installed 12 megawatts, the report said. Nationally, one megawatt of solar powers an average of 164 homes.
The U.S. has more than 200 times as much solar power capacity installed today as it did in 2002, according to the report. That’s largely because improved technology has driven down prices.
“For a long time, the question has been when, not if, solar becomes competitive with fossil fuel energy,” said Luke Metzger, executive director of Environment Texas. “That time seems now.”
The top five U.S. cities for solar power installations were Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, San Jose and Honolulu.
Texas, with its long-stretching boundaries and ample solar radiation, leads the nation by far in solar energy potential. Much of that capacity is in West Texas, where the sun gives off 75 percent more direct solar radiation than East Texas, according to the State Energy Conservation Office.
But the industry has struggled to gain an edge statewide. Solar energy makes up a tiny fraction of Texas' energy use, and compared with other states, Texas ranks just sixth in installed capacity, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. That’s largely because Texas officials have not implemented the same mix of incentives for solar power seen elsewhere, advocates say.
San Antonio and Austin are the brightest spots for solar energy in the state. The cities and municipally owned utilities have driven growth by setting renewable energy goals and offering financial incentives for solar installations.
San Antonio’s CPS Energy, for instance, has set a goal of using renewable energy to meet 20 percent of its electricity demand by 2020, with at least 100 megawatts of energy derived from renewable resources other than wind. Austin enacted a renewable electricity standard in 2011 that requires its utility, Austin Energy, to get 35 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. That includes 200 megawatts from solar power.
Texas cities powered by competitive utilities inside the state’s deregulated energy market fell lower in the solar rankings.
Houston ranked 32nd with a solar capacity of 4 megawatts. Dallas, with 1 megawatt, ranked 44th, according to the report.
The Texas Legislature has taken some steps in recent sessions to boost solar power statewide. In 2011, lawmakers passed House Bill 362, which prevents homeowners associations from interfering with the installation of solar panels. In 2013, the Legislature approved a program — Property Accessed Clean Energy — that cities may enroll in to help commercial property owners finance clean energy projects.