Why Solar’s Still Struggling in the Lone Star State

A major solar farm project in the Panhandle has stalled, leaving energy analysts to wonder whether the future of solar is as bright as experts had predicted.
 

By Travis Putnam HillJuly 13, 2016 8:59 am| ,

Texas typically has about 300 sunny days every year. It’s a reality that led many to believe the state would become a powerhouse in solar energy. But even with a wealth of wide open spaces ripe for solar farms, Texas lags behind other parts of the country when it comes to solar. And if construction delays at a major project in the Panhandle are any indication, it looks as if Texas solar may have more overcast days ahead.

Jordan Blum, in the Houston Chronicle’s Fuel Fix blog, wrote about the setbacks at the Nazareth Solar project about 60 miles south of Amarillo.

Blum says the Nazareth project is supposed to be a massive $300 million solar farm project that is meant to power close to 40,000 homes. But it hasn’t broken ground because they haven’t secured a long-term contract for someone – a company or a city, say – to buy the power.

“They just don’t have a buyer at this point, so they’re not going to build it,” he says. “It’s very much not a ‘if you build it, they will come’ kind of thing.”

While the price of solar technology has dropped, Blum says it’s not competitive enough yet for people to make the switch. Blum says the project isn’t dead yet – Congress extended the solar tax credits at the end of last year, so they have more time to secure a buyer. “They want, at least, to start construction by the end of next year,” he says.

Wind supplies the state with 20,000 megawatts of power. When it’s blowing, it can supply power to 5 million homes.

“Wind got the head start,” he says. “It’s not renewables versus fossil fuels, so to speak. It’s also wind versus solar. And wind , in Texas at least, is winning.”

Texas ranks first in wind power in the country, but tenth in solar – behind some small states in New England like Massachusetts that power their grids with solar. States need to use both because they are best at different times of the year, Blum says. Wind is strong in the spring and weak in the summer, when solar power can swoop in to make up the difference.

“If you want to have a strong renewable (portfolio) and a diverse balance,” Blum says, “you need a mix… There’s still a lot of start-up, upfront costs. Once it’s built, you have long-term, cheap power.”

Post by Hannah McBride.