The New Solar Boom Turns Homeowners into Power Generators — What Does That Mean for Texas?
November 1, 2022
By Bret Biggart
The solar boom is here, and Texas needs to think about what it means.
Congress recently created a runway for solar power unlike any we’ve ever seen. The Investment Tax Credit, which refunds part of the cost of a rooftop solar system to customers who buy it, was increased to 30% and extended 10 years.
That means a generation of homeowners will have a powerful incentive to install solar systems that will help make them more free and more safe from bills and blackouts.
As this recent Dallas Morning News story notes, the number of solar installations on Texas homes and businesses more than doubled in the last two years alone. That already fast growth rate is about to spike: by 2027, residential solar in Texas will be five times bigger than it is now.
It will take a while for this growth to play out: our industry, like many others, was hit hard by supply chain issues in recent years, and it may be a few months for them to level out.
But very soon, supply will catch up with demand. When it does, Texas — already the nation’s energy leader — will have a massive new resource at its disposal.
We must take advantage of it.
First and foremost, as I’ve written before, the state must cut the red tape that needlessly slows the installation of solar systems. In some areas, Texans are waiting up to six months — after their solar panels are installed — for utilities to inspect the equipment and allow it to be activated. Some customers of ours went through a ridiculous experience in the Houston-area hamlet of West University Place where the city delayed inspecting their solar system because they sealed mailing envelopes and didn’t buy extra stamps (read more about that in a Texas Monthly opinion piece I co-authored).
Recent projections show that about a million Texas homeowners are going to install solar panels on their roofs in the next five or six years. The state doesn’t need to do anything to make that easier — we just can’t let local officials or homeowners associations make it harder.
There are broader questions for Texas’ power grid as well. The solar boom means about a million Texas homes are about to become miniature power plants. On many days, they’ll generate more electricity than they use. On some of the hottest days — when Texans are cranking up the air conditioning — they’ll produce excess electricity right when the state needs it most, and that power will often flow back out onto the power grid for others to use.
Those homeowners should be paid for the electricity they’re providing to Texas, but they often aren’t. Instead, utilities sell this excess electricity to other customers, even though those utilities never paid for that electricity in the first place.
That’s more than unfair: it actually creates a perverse incentive for homeowners to use as much of that electricity as they can — even as the state grid needs it — while the blazing sun is still shining.
Fortunately, the Public Utility Commission of Texas may authorize a small pilot project as early as next month to study how home-scale power plants, especially those coupled with battery storage units, can fortify the power grid — and how these homeowners can be compensated for the electricity they’re providing to others.
Again, no one is asking for special treatment, just fairness.
Solar power already made financial sense for millions of Texans — the Investment Tax Credit extension makes the benefits even clearer. Solar was already growing — that growth is about to become a boom.
This is great news for Texans who seek freedom from high electricity bills and safety from grid instability and extreme weather. And it’s great news for Texas, which can apply our state’s vast energy expertise to wring as much value from the sun in our sky as we have from the oil beneath our feet.
One way or another, Texans’ energy picture will look very different in 10 years than it does today. Let’s take this chance to shape it — and to get all the value from it that we can.
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