Why Dallas and Houston Lag Behind Austin and San Antonio in Solar Power

Dallas Solar Power Sunset Skyline

Solar energy is booming all across Texas: the Lone Star State was recently ranked the third fastest growing solar market in the nation. Texas is expected to add 4,266 megawatts of solar power by 2023, a huge increase from 2017, when the state had a mere 1,874 megawatts of solar capacity.

Some of Texas’s urban areas are driving that change. In Austin last year, the city council approved a contract with Austin Energy to secure 300 megawatts of solar power — the largest Austin solar power project ever. With 41.5 watts of installed solar power per Austin resident, in 2018 the city was named one of Environment America’s Solar Leaders.

San Antonio, too, is leading the nation for solar adoption. Per-capita solar capacity in the Alamo City was about 108 watts in 2018, making the city 11th in the nation for solar panels installed per resident. San Antonio solar power grew by about 37 percent that year, cementing its reputation as an undisputed leader for solar in the nation.

However, Texas’s largest cities have been much slower to accept solar power. Dallas, for instance, had installed just 16.4 megawatts of solar power in 2017, ranking 26th among US cities for total solar capacity. And Houston, long an energy epicenter in the state, also paled in comparison to its sister cities in Central Texas with a mere 9.5 megawatts of total solar capacity by 2017.

Here at Freedom Solar, we were curious why some of the largest cities in Texas would have such lackluster solar energy performance. Here’s what we found out.

Why Does Solar Power in Dallas and Houston Rank Below Austin and San Antonio?

There are several potential reasons that these two cities are struggling to adopt solar power.

1. Lack of local support.

Austin and San Antonio solar power have both benefited from enthusiastic, actionable local government support. Austin governor Steve Adler, for instance, was awarded first place in the 2018 Mayors’ Climate Protection Awards for his Austin Energy Community Solar Program, which allows Austin Energy customers to purchase 100 percent locally generated solar power at a fixed rate for 15 years.

San Antonio, meanwhile, ranks number 6 in the nation for total solar power capacity, according to Environment Texas. Some of that growth can be directly attributed to local utility CPS Energy, which has been energetically pushing for more solar throughout the city. The city-owned utility offers a rebate program for rooftop solar and recently announced a new plan that would generate at least half of the utility’s energy from renewable sources by 2040.

Dallas has been much slower to accept solar power. A planned solar farm outside of the city drew plenty of detractors, with area residents organizing to prevent its construction. Meanwhile, DFW suburb North Richland Hills approved a measure to restrict where residents can install solar panels on their homes. Moves like these hint that Dallasites are not as onboard with solar power in general.

Houston has faced less open opposition to solar power; however, as a national leader in oil and gas, it’s not a leap to assume that those employed in conventional energy industries would question the viability of alternative energy sources such as solar. For instance, the trade association Texas Competitive Power Advocates (TCPA), which has actively supported bills reducing solar subsidies in Texas, represents several organizations based in Houston, including NRG Energy of Houston, Calpine, and Shell Oil Co.

2. State precedent.

Although the Texas solar market is heating up, historically, the Lone Star State has had a fairly lukewarm attitude toward policies that promote solar energy development. Texas is one of the few states that does not mandate net metering, a program that requires energy providers to offer a buyback program for residential solar power. Essentially, Dallas and Houston may be following the precedent set by the state of Texas at large.

3. Electricity market structure.

The Texas electricity market structure includes a combination of regulated utilities and deregulated areas that are open to retail competition. In the competitive markets, in which approximately 85 percent of the state’s population lives, customers have the option to choose their retail electric provider. The state’s municipally owned utilities and community owned cooperatives were exempted from deregulation. City-owned utilities are typically more focused on managing the long-term costs and development plans of electricity generation, and motivated by other strategic objectives such as meeting city sustainability goals. Because of that, the regulated markets have tended to offer more extensive and robust rebates to incentivize residents to go solar.

Dallas and Houston Are Warming Up to Solar Power

Although Dallas and Houston’s solar markets are small compared to other Texas cities, the outlook for solar in each region is looking bright. In 2017, Dallas was number two in the state for solar growth, with a 36 percent increase in solar capacity. With 12.5 watts of solar per person, the Environment Texas Research and Policy Center named Dallas a “solar builder” in its Shining Cities 2018 report — primarily due to its spectacular solar growth.

Also in 2017, Vistra Energy, an independent energy provider based just outside of Dallas, bought big into solar power, purchasing what will be Texas’s second-largest solar farm. Vistra subsidiary Luminant — Texas’s largest energy provider — closed three of its coal-fired electricity plants in 2018.

Meanwhile, in Houston, solar power grew by over 30 percent in 2016, and another 19 percent in 2017.

That’s good news, especially since these regions have so much potential for solar power. According to Google’s Project Sunroof, over three-fourths of Dallas rooftops are suitable for solar. If all of those roofs were equipped with solar panel installations, the city could generate an estimated 5,500 megawatts of solar energy per year. In Houston, that share would be even larger, since Project Sunroof estimates that roughly 90 percent of rooftops there are solar-viable. With almost double the population of other major urban areas, more solar initiatives in Houston could make a massive impact.

Want to take advantage of your Dallas or Houston home’s solar potential? Contact us today for a free consultation and start changing your city’s energy future!