A leading solar power lobbying organization’s promises of growth in Texas continue to sit under a cloud of economic challenges. Amid cheap natural gas prices and established wind farms in much of the solar-friendly regions, solar panel arrays are proving a tough sell.
The Washington, D.C.-based Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) recently forecast that Texas “is on track to become the fastest-growing utility-scale solar market” in the nation over the next five years. The state’s current electrical production capacity from solar projects is 566 megawatts (MW), allowing Texas to be ranked number 10 in the country. On the sunniest of summer days, only 61,000 homes can be sufficiently powered, however. By 2020, the solar lobby hopes to see Texas’ output double. In a state of nearly 10 million households, the alternative utility has a long way to go and, may be too late to carve out a substantial market share.
A devastating combination of cheap conventional energy sources, competitive pricing from wind farms and crippling bankruptcies risk derailing the solar lobby’s growth plans altogether.
Take the case of the Nazareth Solar project planned to be built 60 miles south of Amarillo. The 2,400 acre development valued at $320 million in theory would have added another 40,000 homes to Texas’ solar grid, nearly meeting the lobbyists’ growth projection. In reality, the groundbreaking ceremony is six months overdue and shows no sign of beginning anytime soon, according to the Houston Chronicle.
“You haven’t seen quite the liftoff with solar yet in Texas,” Philip Moore, a spokesperson for the development company Lincoln Clean Energy told the paper. To date, solar accounts for less than one percent of the state’s power grid.
Among renewables, solar fails to stack up against wind in Texas despite federal subsidies for both. The Houston paper notes that wind generation is 15 percent cheaper. Previous turbine farm developments have also positioned the energy type at a substantial market share advantage, currently able to power five million Lone Star State homes.
Bankruptcies have also places existing and planned solar developments in a state of limbo in recent years. The nation’s largest solar power company, Missouri-based SunEdison, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April 2016 after a disastrous trend of debt-fueled acquisitions failed to prove profitable over time, according to the Houston paper. The company was forced to shutter its Pasadena, Texas manufacturing operation, losing roughly 150 jobs in the process. Multiple projects throughout west Texas and the Panhandle face uncertainty in the near future.
Apart from long-held notoriety of being a major player in the global oil and natural gas markets, Texas has been no stranger to renewable wind power. Breitbart Texas recently reported in May that the state is attracting international investors to the heart of Texas:
“A Chinese wind energy company has set its sights on the Heart of Texas with a recent acquisition and development plan that will create its largest wind farm in the country … Goldwind Americas, a subsidiary of Xinjiang Goldwind Science & Technology Co., Ltd. (Shenzen: 002202, Hong Kong Limited: 2208) announced this week its plans to expand upon the existing Rattlesnake Wind Project consisting of 64 turbines in McCulloch County, 125 miles northwest of Austin. The company intends to build out the plant, eventually doubling its output to 300 megawatts.”
Wind-related capital investment has also set new records in the state, according to an April Breitbart Texas report:
“Figures released by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), a Washington D.C.-based trade organization, commends Texas for not only securing the highest rate of job growth across the country, but also as the recipient of the most capital investment over the past decade, garnering $32.7 billion of the estimated national total of $128 billion. California lags behind Texas with $11.9 billion, while Iowa, Illinois and Oklahoma combined saw $29.1 billion in similar investments.”
Logan Churchwell is the Assistant Editor and a founding member of the Breitbart Texas team. You can follow him on Twitter @LCChurchwell.