One of the many reasons to switch to solar energy: the sun creates enough energy every hour to power the planet for an entire year. The Texas Solar Energy Society (TXSES) wants the state to adopt solar energy and harness this economic natural resource. To power this growing clean energy initiative, TXSES is leading the way in educating Texans about solar energy opportunities and advocating for better policies across the state.
TXSES wants to create an “equitable 100% clean energy future” for each Texas household, company and community. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), in 2020, Texas ranked second among states with installed solar capacity. The benefits of solar energy are endless. Solar energy produces zero pollution or waste; generates jobs in every state; and can lower energy costs while growing energy security. However, these benefits have yet to become equitable despite the growing solar industry within the state. That’s where TXSES comes in.
Solar In Peril
Not everyone in Texas is eager to take advantage of solar energy. Last December, the Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC) voted unanimously for regressive and punitive policies for current PEC solar customers: mandatory time-of-use (TOU) rates, demand charges (typically for commercial customers) and hefty solar application fees ($650), all designed to discourage PEC members from going solar. These changes were proposed under the guise of fairness; that PEC solar customers aren’t paying their fair share and PEC’s non-solar customers are picking up the tab to maintain grid infrastructure. This decades-old allegation is bogus at best. It’s patently false. Despite utilities’ attempts to prove this inequity, dozens of studies prove that having solar on the grid benefits everyone.
Since then, TXSES, a coalition of stakeholders and unaffiliated PEC members engaged with PEC members and the board to challenge these regressive policies. As a result, PEC scheduled three informative webinars for its members in May, June and July in an effort to increase member awareness of the issues. In July 2021, the PEC board voted to rescind all rate changes for members with solar and to reduce the $650 fee to $500.
In addition to the three informative webinars, the coalition urged the board to conduct a comprehensive value of solar study (VOSS) to quantify all the costs and benefits associated with distributed solar. While PEC staff did conduct a VOSS, the process was rushed; there was no member input on assumptions or goals for the study.
When the PEC board met again in November 2021, once again the staff did not take into account all of the value solar brings to the utility. Staff proposed rate increases and an end to net metering. The board’s final action on December 17 reduced the solar buy-back rate by 42.5%, from 9 cents to 5 cents/kilowatt hour. Currently, TXSES is working with PEC solar members and the PEC board of directors to allow existing solar projects to be grandfathered in.
As the rural electric cooperative that serves more meters than any other U.S. co-op, and with 5,000 solar meters in 24 Texas counties, these anti-solar policies will not only cripple solar in PECs service territory, it could also have a profound effect on solar customers in other Texas rural electric cooperatives. TXSES and their partners will continue to fight these new attacks on solar homeowners in other electric cooperatives.
Solar Inequity In Texas
Despite Texas’s ranking second in the country for installed solar capacity, predicted to be the top ranking in the next five years according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), a majority of counties still rely on the Texas Interconnection electricity grid. To ensure a 100% equitable clean energy future, TXSES provides grants to its five regional chapters to help educate rural and urban Texans to make sound decisions about solar policies. TXSES’s chapters in Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Houston and San Antonio provide the possibilities of accessing and harnessing solar energy equally among different communities.
The TXSES grants provide chapters like Solar Austin the opportunity to help install solar through partnerships with local solar entities. Other chapters like North Texas Renewable Energy Group are able to spread solar awareness with their DFW Solar Tour, the largest solar tour in the state.
With more Texans going solar, more job opportunities arise within the industry. But a 2019 U.S. Solar Industry Diversity Study showed that women and people of color were underrepresented in the workforce. To address this inequity, TXSES pursues job opportunities and internships for students of color. Through a Solar Austin initiative, Pathways to Clean Energy Careers, the future of the solar industry for consumers and workers can be diverse and open to all.
Help Adopt Solar Energy
Funding solar expansion will help communities of Texas increase their energy efficiency and output. A donation to EarthShare Texas will help non-profits like Texas Solar Energy Society succeed in reaching its goal. A 100% clean energy future, provided by the one and only Texas sun, is on the horizon.