Texas, long known for its preference for polluting fossil fuels, is now becoming a haven for solar and wind energy as costs are shifting the equation. It’s not a matter of climate change, it’s purely economics. In fact, the state is expected to add more utility-scale solar power this year than any other state, according to the US Department of Energy — but the transition is remarkable.
Developers are expected to add about 54,500 megawatts of electricity-generating capacity in the US this year. More than half of that, 29,100 MW, is expected to be solar, of which 7,700 MW will be set up in Texas, the Houston Chronicle recently reported. This is the second year in a row Texas would lead the US in solar capacity growth.
Texas and California would account for 71% of the 9,400 MW of new battery storage capacity planned to come online this year. The US has about 8,800 MW of storage capacity. Battery storage systems store extra electricity from wind and solar generators for later use, as wind and solar are intermittent sources of electricity generation.
A changing energy matrix
Texas has produced more GW hours of electricity from renewable sources than any other state in the US for several years, as Inside Climate News reported. Last year, Texas generated 136,118 GW hours just from wind and solar, with California coming in second place with 52,927 GW hours, according to the US Department of Energy.
The southern state is the leader in overall electricity generation in the US, not just for renewables but also for gas and coal. In fact, wind and solar were just 34% of the total of all sources last year. Texas has grown from having under 1,900 MW of solar power to around 15,000 megawatts in just a matter of years, which is quite impressive. For comparison, Texas’ total from wind and solar is more than either New York or Ohio’s production of all types of electricity.
The state has its own internal power grid that is independent of the federal one, serving over 26 million people in Texas. It’s managed by the nonprofit Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which has long been betting on solar and wind because of their lower construction costs, faster build times and zero fuel expenses.
However, fossil fuel lobbyists are still strong across the state, with some lawmakers working to block further renewable energy development. “There are different political figures who are trying to incentivize gas power plants or deny, prohibit, or inhibit renewables,” Michael Webber, professor at the University of Texas, told Vox.
The Texas legislature approved last year a law that prevents the state’s retirement and investment funds to do business with companies that boycott fossil fuels. Also, the state’s governor Dan Patrick said he’ll work this year to ensure natural gas has more support. “We have to level the playing field,” he said in November in a press conference.