EDPR NA Energy Insight
Overcoming Obstacles to Wind and Solar Development in Texas
September 5, 2023
As states craft their strategies to achieve a low-carbon future, Texas faces an opportunity to become a leader in the energy transition through further investment in clean power generation that has already saved Texans from recurring blackouts.
For two summers in a row, solar power has prevented the Texas energy grid from the impact of consumers turning down their thermostats to survive triple digit heat. On top of growing demand, the state has a reliable surplus of both windy and sunny weather. At the end of 2020, the DOE reported that Texas has the potential capacity for 1.35 million megawatts of wind generation alone.
Despite this progress, Texas wind and solar project development is hindered year after year by a challenging state legislative landscape, insufficient transmission infrastructure, widespread misinformation, and politicized energy policies. This prevents the industry from contributing essential power to a more reliable and resilient grid – a universal cause all Texans can support after Winter Storm Uri and more recent close calls during sweltering summer months.
The renewables sector faced unprecedented opposition during the 88th Session. While anti-renewable forces previously sought to impede future project development, proposed legislation this spring threatened both future and operating projects. While many of these bills failed, their core themes – restrictive siting setbacks and novel PUC permits – are likely to reemerge in 2025.
Similar to the conversation at the federal level, Texas’s transmission infrastructure desperately needs updates and expansion to support our homes, businesses, schools, and communities. Transmission buildout is more critical than ever for a state that takes pride in its isolated grid but has a very congested interconnection queue. According to ERCOT’s June operational report, solar represents 47.9% of projects in the queue, followed by storage at 38.1%, wind at 8.3%, and gas at 4.85%. Developers are ready to bring more power to the grid to boost resilience and keep consumer costs low. Only Texans can decide to seize this opportunity sooner rather than later.
Public misconceptions surrounding clean power are expected, but organized misinformation stokes confusion and concern surrounding grid resilience, public health impacts, and land use. Grid reliability is top of mind for Texans after Winter Storm Uri in 2021, but many still believe state leaders’ false claims that renewable energy caused the grid’s failure. On the contrary, as Texans endured record highs both this summer and last, solar generation overperformed in order to meet demand, which kept the grid stable and protected it from failure.
During the early stages of project development, there are often questions about possible public health impacts from renewable energy projects. According to Clean Grid Alliance FAQs, research repeatedly shows proximity to a wind or solar site is not linked to adverse health impacts. Similar concerns often emerge surrounding land use. Land leases with developers help landowners keep their property in the family, and developers perform comprehensive environmental due diligence to preserve agricultural viability. For wind farms, only 2 to 5% of land leased by developers is needed to host the wind turbines themselves.
Politicizing Energy Resources
U.S. voters and lawmakers uniquely politicize energy resources, and that polarization is especially intense in Texas with its oil- and gas-producing heritage. Political expedience often trumps well-informed energy policy. Some purposely criticize certain types of generation as a way to rally support among their peers and constituents. They then often lose sight of the reason why they were elected – to serve the public and act in its best interest. In defending fossil fuels, lawmakers ignore Texas’s greater wealth of sunshine and prairie breezes. More importantly, Winter Storm Uri and the past two summers proved that keeping Texans connected to the grid is a matter of public safety that we all must take seriously.
Much of the politically rooted opposition to renewables comes from this mindset, but the conversation is admittedly changing. As an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy has become a buzzword in recent years, lawmakers who publicly support this approach should be ready to vote accordingly. Some officials interpret attempts to advance renewables as efforts to edge conventional resources out of the market. This is not true, especially in states like Texas. In the end, our grid needs all the electrons that we can supply.
Taking Charge of Our Future
By welcoming wind and solar to the state, Texans have everything to gain: lower utility bills, added grid reliability, and a cleaner, brighter energy future. Overcoming major obstacles to development can seem daunting, but voters ultimately dictate the state’s energy future. Pay attention to who’s in power and what policies they implement or block. Take time to learn about how the grid works and stay up to date on news from ERCOT, the PUC, and the Legislature. Finally, always consult trusted sources – including those who work in the industry – if you have questions about wind and solar development. Fighting misinformation by going straight to the source is ultimately critical to prioritizing people over politics.