Why Dallas and Houston Lag Behind Austin and San Antonio in Solar Power
May 6, 2019
Solar energy is booming all across Texas.
The Lone Star State recently ranked as the third fastest-growing solar market in the nation. Analysts expect Texas to add 4,266 megawatts of solar power by 2023. That’s 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, Environment America named the city one of its solar leaders in 2018.
San Antonio is also 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, with multifamily properties representing the most growth. San Antonio solar power grew by about 37% that year, cementing its reputation as an undisputed U.S. solar leader.
However, Texas’s largest cities have been much slower to accept solar power. For example, Dallas had installed just 16.4 megawatts of solar power in 2017, ranking 26th among U.S. cities for total solar capacity. And Houston, long a Texas energy epicenter, 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 solar panel company Freedom Solar, we were curious why some of the largest Texas cities would have such lackluster solar energy performance. Here’s what we found.
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. For example, Austin Governor Steve Adler won first place in the 2018 Mayors’ Climate Protection Awards for his Austin Energy Community Solar Program. The program allows Austin Energy customers to purchase 100% locally generated solar power at a fixed rate for 15 years.
Meanwhile, San Antonio ranks sixth in the nation for total solar power capacity, according to Environment Texas. Some of that growth ties directly to local utility CPS Energy, which has been energetically pushing for solar citywide. The city-owned utility offers a rebate program for rooftop solar and announced a new plan that would generate at least half its energy from renewable sources by 2040.
[Related: Pedernales Electric Cooperative Rate Changes]
Dallas has been much slower to accept solar power. A planned solar farm outside 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 generally not as onboard with solar power.
Houston has faced less open opposition to solar power. However, as a national oil and gas leader, it’s not a leap to assume those working in conventional energy industries would question the viability of alternative energy sources like solar. For example, the trade association Texas Competitive Power Advocates (TCPA), which has actively supported bills reducing solar subsidies in Texas, represents several Houston-based organizations. These include NRG Energy of Houston, Calpine and Shell Oil Co.
2. State Precedent
The Texas solar market is heating up. However, the Lone Star State historically has had a fairly lukewarm attitude toward policies promoting solar energy development. Texas is one of the few states that doesn’t 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 that the state of Texas set.
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% of the state’s population lives, customers can 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. Their motivation usually lies in other strategic objectives, such as meeting city sustainability goals. As a result, the regulated markets have tended to offer more extensive and robust rebates to incentivize going solar.
Dallas and Houston Are Warming Up to Solar Power
Dallas’s and Houston’s solar markets are small compared to those of other Texas cities. And exceptionally small compared to where some of the best solar companies in Florida are setting up shop. Nonetheless, 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% 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. The primary reason was the city’s spectacular solar growth.
Also in 2017, Vistra Energy, an independent energy provider based just outside Dallas, bought big into solar power. It purchased 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.
[Related: Dallas Branch Opened for Freedom Solar]
That’s good news, especially because these regions have so much solar power potential. According to Google’s Project Sunroof, over three-fourths of Dallas rooftops are suitable for solar. If all those roofs carried solar panel installations, the city could generate an estimated 5,500 megawatts of solar energy annually. That share would be even larger in Houston because Project Sunroof estimates that roughly 90% of its rooftops 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!
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