Commentary: Here comes the Texas sun

By Matt Welch, For the Express-News Published 4:00 pm CST, Wednesday, March 4, 2020

A new Texas energy source is figuratively (and literally) just over the horizon.

We are all too familiar with the hot Texas sun that can easily fry an egg on the sidewalk and sends us running into air conditioning. But that heat is energy, and with it comes the ability to generate the same electricity needed to drive those air conditioners we rely on to stay sane. And Texas sure has a lot of heat.

Given its massive solar resource, Texas has been somewhat slow — but catching up fast — to the game as we have opted to develop our oil, gas and wind resources first, but that is about to change. We won’t stop developing those other energy sources, but a new source of energy is coming as demand growth is driven by a healthy economy.

Of the roughly 72,000 megawatts of solar deployed in the U.S., about 5 percent of it is installed in the Lone Star State. About two-thirds of Texas’ solar capacity is in large solar farms, such as the ones found mostly in West Texas, but a respectable one-third of solar is deployed on the rooftops of homes and businesses. In 2019, solar provided about 1 percent of the total amount of electricity we consumed in our homes and businesses.

Growth is expected in both types of solar, but the larger utility scale solar is poised to grow faster than ever. If all the projects in the development pipeline with signed grid interconnection agreements are deployed, Texas will increase its solar capacity by about five times in just two years — all without state mandates and as federal tax credits fade.

Today’s solar energy is enough to power about 400,000 Texas homes, but again, in just two years, that number could be as high as 1.5 million. This is great news for Texas as deployment means new revenue streams to help fix our roads and fund our schools — much like wind has done in West Texas.

With this growth in deployment comes job creation. The U.S. solar industry employed nearly 250,000 workers in 2019, an increase of 5,600 jobs since 2018, according to the 10th annual National Solar Jobs Census. Employment growth has been fueled by the rapid expansion of the U.S. solar industry, driven by the plummeting cost of solar technologies and its increased popularity with individuals, businesses and electric utilities. From 2014 to 2019, solar employment increased 44 percent, five times faster than job growth in the overall U.S. economy. Based on solar projects already in the planning stages, Texas jobs in the solar industry are going to skyrocket.

Why is this happening now? Because Texas is open for business. The competitive, deregulated Texas energy market allows it all to happen. Unlike some other states, we don’t have onerous regulations. In Texas, we simply get out of the way and let the free market work its magic.

We are no stranger to utilizing different sources of energy, and, frankly, this is just another chapter in a long and proud energy history. Texas leads the nation in wind, oil, gas and just about every other type of energy under the sun — and we are about to start harvesting that in earnest as well.

It is only natural that Texas would take the lead in solar. We didn’t set out to be a leader in clean energy, but we have always been an energy leader and, at the end of the day, when it hits your wall socket, clean energy is energy just the same.

Matt Welch is the state director of Conservative Texans for Energy Innovation, a statewide organization that promotes free enterprise, increased competition and less government regulation in the energy economy.

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