Texas attorney general: Counties cannot block solar development

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Residents of rural Franklin County in northeast Texas have been actively fighting solar development in their community. They have pushed for county commissioners to impose a 180-day ban on solar development.

The issue was raised to the Texas attorney general’s office, which this week advised that county governments lack the legal authority to place such a ban.

The anti-renewable stance of some Texas residents stems from concerns about the land use required for utility-scale projects. Trees, brush, grasslands or farmland are sometimes cleared for these larger projects, fueling resident concerns about over-development.

However, solar is a flexible resource, and utility-scale projects offer co-benefits when developed with pollinator habitats or dual-use agrivolatics, which combines productive farmland with renewable energy production. Another way to add emissions-free solar while limiting development is distributing it on the built environment – on rooftops, carports, and highway rights-of-way. Meanwhile the old alternatives of oil, gas and coal, often require more invasive methods of extraction and production, and produce health-damaging emissions.

In other anti-renewable efforts, some Texans have also urged lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 624, which would have placed significant permitting restrictions and fines on solar and wind energy projects in the state. The bill, which met the ire of renewable energy developers and environmental advocates, passed the Senate, but was unable to make it out of the legislature.

Texas, once the heart of the nation’s oil boom, is now undergoing the nation’s largest solar boom. A 36 GW buildout is expected by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) over the next five years, building on the 16 GW that is active to date. This buildout will make Texas the #1 state for solar development in terms of capacity, leapfrogging California, the perennial leader.

Much of this investment in solar, which nears $20 billion, is going toward big solar farms, often exceeding 100 MW in capacity. Over 10,000 Texans are employed by the solar industry, and those jobs numbers will rise sharply as more utility-scale projects are built. Today, nearly 5% of Texas electricity is generated by solar.

While some Texans are resistant to the transition to renewables, others have embraced it. Take Concho County, for instance, which houses the Galloway solar project. The project has led to 250 construction jobs and is estimated to generate $18 million in local property tax revenues over its operational life.

“Today, solar is not only one of the lowest cost forms of electricity generation, but also one of the fastest growing workforces in America. Here in Texas, we are creating lifelong careers in clean energy that can sustain generations to come,” said Tom Buttgenbach, founder and chief executive officer of Avantus, developer of the Concho County project.

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