San Antonio Ranks 6th in Nation for Solar Energy

April 14, 2014 | posted by The Institute


By: Luke Metzger

SAN ANTONIO – A new report ranks San Antonio 6th in the nation for the amount of solar installed, and provides a first-of-its-kind comparative look at the growth of solar in major American cities. The Environment Texas Research and Policy Center report finds that San Antonio’s 84 megawatts (MW) of installed solar energy places it among the nation’s leading solar cities, following Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, San Jose, and Honolulu.

“Solar power is booming across the country and San Antonio is at the forefront,” said Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas. “San Antonio’s leadership in tapping in to this clean energy source means the sun is rising for a solar future.”

San Antonio has led solar development through its municipal utility CPS Energy, which has set high goals for solar power adoption. CPS Energy has adopted a goal of using renewable energy to meet 20 percent of its electricity demand by 2020, with at least 100 MW of energy derived from non-wind renewable sources. With this goal to drive them, CPS Energy has offered an array of solar financing options and incentives from which residents can choose, including a solar PV rebate program with tiered incentives for residential, school and commercial installations and extra funding for those customers that use local solar installers.

"This recognition demonstrates that San Antonio is making progress in becoming a leader in the New Energy Economy," commented San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro.

The report found that there is more than 200 times as much solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity installed in the U.S. today compared to 2002, much of that in America’s cities. The top 20 cities account for 7 percent of the installed photovoltaic solar, while occupying only 0.1 percent of the land area. San Antonio leads all Texas cities, with Austin ranked 16 with a solar PV capacity of 13 MW, Houston ranked 32 with a solar PV capacity of 4 MW, and Dallas ranked 44 with a solar PV capacity of 1 MW.

With the cost of solar coming down, there’s growing awareness of solar power as a mainstream energy solution with widespread benefits for our health, our economy and the environment. 

The report highlighted the benefits of solar energy, including:

  • Solar energy avoids pollution—Pollution-free energy from the sun reduces air pollution that contributes to urban smog and global warming.  It also helps save the massive amount of water that’s normally consumed during the cooling of fossil-fuel-burning power plants. 
  • Solar energy protects consumers— Since solar has no fuel costs, it can protect us from the rising cost of fossil fuels.
  • Solar energy helps the economy— Texas has 4,100 solar jobs, growing by 28% since last year. 

The top 20 solar cities in this report have more solar power within their city limits than was installed in the entire U.S. just six years ago.

“The sky’s the limit on solar energy. San Antonio is a shining example of solar leadership,” said Metzger.  “But, we’ve barely scratched the surface of the potential to capture this pollution-free energy source. By committing to bold goals and expanding on the good policies we’ve adopted, we can take solar to the next level.”

The state Legislature has taken some modest steps to promote solar. In 2011, a bill was passed to stop homeowners’ associations from interfering with the installation of solar panels and in 2013, the legislature approved a new program to help commercial property owners finance clean energy programs. Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing allows property owners to borrow money from a specially created fund for clean energy projects. The loan is paid off on property tax bills over a number of years, thus, future repayment of the loan is assured, even if the property changes hands. Environment Texas urged local governments to take advantage of the program to help businesses go solar.

But without a statewide solar requirement for utilities and financing programs, these smaller policies have proven to be inadequate to support solar growth in Texas’ deregulated portion of the electric market. Oncor, AEP and some other Texas utilities offer incentives to their customers, but all operate with small budgets compared to what is available in San Antonio and Austin.

Environment Texas warned that the future of solar in San Antonio is not secure because the CPS Energy solar rebate will run out in the summer.  Without a rebate until next year, the local solar industry will be at risk.  CPS Energy has not yet announced any plan to supplement the rebate.

In March, the Austin city council approved a deal with SunEdison to provide 150 MW of energy by building two west Texas solar farms. The deal comes with a historically low price for solar, comparable with current natural gas prices. On April 16, a new city council appointed task force will start meeting to consider changes to Austin’s generation plan, including possibly doubling the solar goal.