Texas proposes tightened renewable energy permits: An industry reacts

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The utility-scale solar and wind market was dealt a blow to the head when a Texas senate group voted 21-9 in favor of SB 624, a state bill which would enforce permitting restrictions and fines on solar and wind projects in the state. A companion bill now heads to the state’s House for approval.

In recent years Texas has become the largest wind energy market in the United States and is soon to take over as the number one state for solar, potentially leapfrogging California. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) expects the state to add 36 GW of solar over the next five years, building on the 16 GW that is active to date, and making it the nation’s sterling example of harnessing the sun’s energy.

Texas lawmakers showed their support for SB 624 in late April.

The law singles out solar and wind facilities, requiring them to obtain a permit from the Public Utility Commission (PUC) of Texas, while excluding fossil fuel facilities. Governor Greg Abbott, who has long shown an affinity for fossil fuels, has appointed all the PUC members, who now would act as gatekeepers for any renewable energy project.

(Read more: “Texas Senate approves tight permit restrictions on solar and wind”)

pv magazine USA touched base with several project developers where Texas is a primary market for project development activity. Many developers have stated that if SB 624 remains, they would consider focusing development activity in other states.

Karlis Povisils, senior vice president of development at Apex Clean Energy said, “if this bill becomes law, projects currently in development will be delayed, downsized, or cancelled altogether, harming rural communities that are anticipating new tax revenue for schools, services, and infrastructure.”

“The bill also threatens Texas landowners who want to exercise their private property rights to earn multi-generational income for their families by harnessing energy resources on their land. Texas will lose thousands of megawatts of new, clean, low-cost capacity and economic development at a moment when it’s crucial that the state adds more generating capacity to meet surging demand and ensure the diversity of its power fleet,” Povisils said.

This week, Apex Clean Energy and Powin announced the development of the 195 MW Angelo solar-plus-storage (100 MW | 200 MWh) system using Powin’s Centipede modular battery systems. The project was advanced despite the threat posed by SB 624 and other anti-renewable energy bills in the Texas senate.

Mike Wietecki, senior vice president of strategy and regulatory affairs of Powin said, “Texas has undergone a rapid and seismic shift in its generating fleet. An incredible number of resources have gone into converting the state to a global leader in the energy transition. Such rapid transformation is expected to be challenging and hit some speed bumps, but it is hard to argue against Texas’ leadership and success,” he said.
“This new legislation will undeniably hinder continued transformation of the Texas grid and threaten investment, growth, workforce advancement, and energy cost reduction within the state,” Wietecki said. “Because of the rapid transition, and the potential for unintended consequences, there may be an opportunity to evaluate progress thus far to ensure the continued deployment of clean energy happens in an efficient manner. Unfortunately, that does not appear to be the goal of this legislation. Rather it seems intent on putting up illogical roadblocks that will cost Texans real dollars by increasing energy costs, all while reducing the status of Texas as a leader in the sector,” added Wietecki.

Diane Sullivan, senior vice president, environmental and permitting of Chicago-based Hecate Energy said, “Texas invited us in more than a dozen years ago and continues to be one of the largest renewable producers. Now with a shift this one administration has changed the way we look to do business in Texas.”

Hecate Energy has developed more than 554 MW of Texas solar and 1 GW of storage projects.

Raina Hornaday, co-founder and general manager of Caprock Renewables, an Austin, Texas-based utility solar and wind project developer said, “While the bill lists a series of items that a project must provide, PUC’s authority to approve or reject a project is entirely subjective. There is no objective criteria that projects could meet to be assured approval.”

“This is deliberately designed to allow the wealthy and politically-connected to control the process, and creates chaos in the renewables development world,” Hornaday said. “We are working with industry groups here in Texas to fight this legislation.”

To date, Caprock has installed over 1.2 GW of renewable energy projects across the Lone Star State.

Caprock is among several Texas developers that are members of CleanTX, a statewide clean energy advocacy platform that in late April partnered with REAL Houston, the Advanced Power Alliance (APA), the Consumer Energy Alliance and the Texas Land & Liberty Coalition to provide webinars and various community-wide educational sessions for locals and regional constituents. The programs are designed to inform various stakeholders on SB 624 and the various bills that could blunt the growth of Texas’ burgeoning renewable energy market, such as SB 6, SB 7 and SB 2014.

The other Texas legislation packages are geared towards incentivizing natural gas fired power plants (SB 6), including coal, nuclear and gas-powered resources as “dispatchable energy resources” as an affront to distributed energy resources (DER) (SB 7),  and the termination of the state’s Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZ), renewable energy portfolio standards (RPS) and renewable energy credits (REC) (SB 2014).

A replay of an April 27 informational CleanTX webinar is available here.

The Advanced Power Alliance published an April 27 report from NERA Economic Consulting  and Astrapé Consulting highlighting that in 2024, renewable generation in the ERCOT grid will deliver $6 billion in net system operating cost savings with more than 18 GW of reliable capacity contributions.

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