May 13, 2009
A high-profile bill that would expand goals for renewable energy by encouraging the development of solar energy plants to generate electricity was passed Tuesday by the Texas Senate.
Approval of the bill came as the Texas Public Utility Commission made public a report that concludes that unless the state moves away from carbon-based power generation, federal greenhouse gas regulations could increase electricity prices by as much as $10 billion a year, or $27 a month for the average customer’s electric bill.
Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said his bill will mitigate that increase by sending more clean, renewable energy across the state.
“This bill will save ratepayers money,” he said.
Using the same Renewable Portfolio Standard that has made Texas a global leader in wind power, Senate Bill 541 will create a new goal for electricity generated by solar, biomass and geothermal projects across the state, according to Watson.
The bill would allow for the generation of up to 1,500 megawatts of nonwind renewable power by 2020.
It would also reward companies that invest in wind turbines, solar panels and other renewable energy equipment manufactured in Texas, Watson said.
Watson and other supporters said that by expanding solar development, Texas will be better prepared for possible federal regulation on greenhouse gas emissions, diversifying the industry with the sort of energy that Congress is almost certain to encourage.
Even so, Sens. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, and Mike Jackson, R-LaPorte, questioned whether the bill will drive up consumers’ electric bills. Fraser said it would cause a jump of $27 a month, by some estimates.
Though Watson insisted that electric bills would not go up, Fraser said any possibility of that should preclude approval of the measure.
“This is an issue that has not matured to the point of needing it,” Fraser said of solar energy incentives. “I think the timing is wrong.”
Though the legislation opens the door to renewable power development in Texas, the amount of nonwind power it imagines is a tiny fraction of the amount of electricity capacity on the state grid.
Currently, the state grid has 74,000 megawatts of electricity available, said Dottie Roark, a spokeswoman for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the grid.
By 2020, that number is expected to reach 90,000 megawatts.
Still, Senate passage of Watson’s proposal buoyed environmental groups and renewable industry companies, which had sought some encouragement from the Legislature.
With possible federal rules limiting carbon emissions sure to raise the price of carbon-based electricity (like power from coal plants), and a volatile gas market, investing in renewable power is a good bet, said Colin Meehan, a renewable energy specialist with Environmental Defense Fund.
“There’s tremendous potential in the marketplace for renewable energy,” Meehan said.