Texas Power Company to Boost Solar Capabilities

Although Austin Energy is falling behind its goal to expand the supply of solar energy in Austin, Texas, the company is pursuing new plans that would create a massive facility in West Texas and significantly increase the city’s renewable energy capacity.

Austin Energy announced in 2003 a plan to have 20 percent of its electricity generated from renewable sources by the year 2020. Solar energy was a significant part of this plan, with the goal of creating the capacity for a 100-megawatt threshold in 2020 and the intermediate goal of 15 megawatts in 2007. Currently, Austin is only generating about one megawatt of solar energy, which produces electricity for 300 to 700 homes depending on the amount of sunlight, said Roger Duncan, Austin Energy’s deputy general manager. Austin Energy has had a difficult time in reaching the goal for 2007 due to the high cost and short supply of pure silicon, which is necessary to produce and manufacture solar panels, Duncan said. The material is in high demand since it is also a necessary component in various consumer electronics, such as computers and cellular phone chips, he said. Despite the shortfall, Duncan said he is hopeful the overall goals will still be reached, since new technology will make the production process more efficient and less expensive. “I’m still confident that we’ll be at the 100-megawatt goal by 2020,” Duncan said. Two important initiatives related to solar energy are set to appear before the Austin City Council on Thursday for approval. The first would be a 50-year lease for the city of Austin to obtain 453 acres from the Texas General Land Office in West Texas, which could eventually hold a large facility of concentrated solar paneling capable of producing 50 megawatts of power. The lease would cost $1 million total, but the city still lacks the resources to meet the costs of building the infrastructure, Duncan said. The second plan would provide solar energy for the Austin Convention Center and a city warehouse located in East Austin, helping to accomplish the initial goal of powering all city buildings with renewable energy sources. The combined cost of this measure would be $315,000 a year for up to 20 years. Another way that the city is trying to alleviate its energy dependency on oil and gas is by offering rebates for individuals that outfit their homes with solar systems. Duncan said the rebate program offers one of the highest incentives out of any similar system around the world, at $4.50 back per watt. The rebates cover about 70 percent of the costs for the individual, and the city has spent over $3 million on the program since its inception in 2003. While Duncan admits there is no specific timeline for when these plans will be completed, he said solar energy in Austin has a bright future. Jared Mason is a staff writer at The Daily Texan. This article was reprinted with permission from The Daily Texan.