As Texans hunkered down again from a “reserve capacity energy shortage” this week, one thing was clear: Texans who have invested in solar helped the electric grid keep us cool.
The great thing about solar in increasingly hot Texas, with temperature records blown out across the state the past three days, is that at the exact times when we’re reaching to increase the air conditioning, solar is doing its thing: offsetting that increased need with the sun’s increased rays.
As natural gas price increases blast off, and gas, coal and nuclear barely met the challenge this week, solar has done its work affordably. All of which makes for head-scratching over the decisions that Texas municipalities and electrical co-ops are inflicting on solar installers and their customers that are slowing the pace of this clean energy source across our sunny state.
Texas Solar Energy Society is the oldest solar nonprofit in Texas — established in 1976. Recently, our business members tell us of the ever-increasing obstacles being put in their way, just at this critical time when we could use more Texas-abundant cost-effective energy pushed onto our electric grid.
From Houston to Central Texas to the Panhandle, excessive and lengthy municipal permit processing and inspections are slowing the pace of solar installations. What many readers may not know is that every solar installation requires multiple building and electrical permits; with some cities requiring as many as six different permits. Some installers now won’t work in Waco because of its labyrinthian permit processes. In Houston, the energy capital of the world, solar installers can wait months for their permit approval, often sent “back to the end of the line” for the slightest error on the long application form.
Another hurdle installers face is the rapidly increasing processing fees for solar permits. In many Texas cities, solar electricity installation permit fees can be 10 times as much as residential general electrical installation permit fees. The largest electrical co-op in the country, the Pedernales Electrical Co-op near Austin, has the following fees for homeowners who want to install rooftop systems: application and engineering study fee: $250; an interconnect agreement and inspection fee: $250; and if your home or ranch is much larger than average, seeking 50-kW rooftop panel placement, then there’s an additional $150 to the application fee along with an additional $250 for the interconnect and inspection fee and the full cost of a larger engineering study fee.
Inspections are often another morass of wait time. And while our industry absolutely promotes safety inspections, it would be cost-effective for cities to start investing in trained inspection personnel, capable of efficiently carrying out these assessments.
Solar is a massive growth industry in Texas, supplying well-paying jobs. More than 85% of homeowners in Texas are now purchasing batteries as a part of their rooftop solar systems, using their own stored energy instead of grid-generated energy.
Having more efficient inspections and permitting processes can allow the current backlog of solar rooftop projects to get online faster when we need them the most, in what will likely be the hottest summer on record in Texas history. And while the costs of solar panels and storage batteries have come down in price significantly in the past few years, these are not inexpensive systems. Texas solar rooftop homeowners’ investment doesn’t just benefit them; their investment helps all Texans. Let’s work to get renewable energy added faster to our massively over-stressed grid.
Texas cities and the 67 electrical co-ops throughout the state should not hamper solar energy’s growth.
Instead, they should speed its path to connect more renewable energy to the grid. The Texas Solar Energy Society will be reaching out to all municipalities to promote a universal permit that will speed the process of Texans investing in solar for themselves, and for all of us who use energy. In the meantime, we hope that Texans will reach out to their local city and co-op leaders and ask what kind of welcome mat they’re providing for solar installers and solar rooftop investors. It should be an efficient one.
Patrice Parsons is the executive director of Texas Solar Energy Society, a nonprofit
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