San Antonio leads Texas in solar industry

San Antonio leads Texas in solar industry
December 16, 2014 | posted by The Institute


By: Taylor Tompkins

As Texas’ renewable energy pool grows and with it the solar industry, San Antonio is leading the state in solar expansion and employment, according to researchers with Pew Charitable Trusts.

Texas is a “rising star in solar power,” according to Tom Swanson, manager for clean energy at Pew. San Antonio, along with Austin, leads the charge for the advancement, with 85 percent of installed solar capacity in the state coming from the Alamo City and state’s capital, according to Pew’s Clean Energy Rising Texas report released Monday.

“CPS Energy’s approach to attract business partners is helping to drive job growth, improve our environment and invest in education,” said Kim Stoker, the utility’s director of environmental planning, compliance and sustainability. “We believe this commitment is really helping our community, and San Antonio is emerging as a hub for clean energy technology.”

With a total capacity of 213 megawatts of solar, Texas was ranked 13th in the nation as of 2013, the year the study looked at. As of 2014, CPS contributed 129 MW of solar to the total capacity and has about 315 MW under development with OCI that will be operational in 2016.

Because of its low cost of energy from traditional sources, CPS has the flexibility to invest in solar in different forms, from rooftop panels on homes across the city to solar farms built to harvest the sun’s rays on a larger scale.

The cost of renewable energy generation was a hurdle for solar expansion in the past, Stoker said.

“The cost of renewables are competing with the traditional generation sources so that is helping with” solar expansion, Stoker said.

The state ranked eighth in the nation in new solar capacity with 75 MW in 2013.

CPS has attempted to expand solar by tying utility-scale solar with solar manufacturing in the city, bringing jobs and money to San Antonio, Stoker said.

Texas’ solar industry has added 4,100 jobs to the state as of 2013, making it sixth in job creation in the nation. As of 2014, CPS’ partnership with companies such as OCI and Mission Solar has contributed 570 full-time positions.

Four of CPS’ solar partners — OCI, Mission Solar, Consert and Greenstar, — have moved their headquarters to San Antonio, Stoker said.

However, the financial impact of the expansion of solar energy reaches further than just jobs, Stoker said. CPS’ solar work also has contributed $25 million in payroll and $105 million in construction work to the local economy.

On top of that, companies in partnerships with the utility have contributed $1.2 million to education in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields in order to prepare students to be the next generation of CPS workers, Stoker said. That money has gone to developing additional curriculum for area schools and special programs such as camps, she said.

The energy industry “has an issue with a lot of our personnel being older and eligible for retirement,” she said. “We don’t have as many younger folks coming into the industry. Working at a power plant just doesn’t seem to be too exciting. So we’re trying to get more students interested in the science, technology, engineering and math.”