News Room

From the Senator's Desk . . .
April 2, 2009

For nearly a century, Texas has led the nation in hydrocarbon energy production. For the next hundred years, Texas is blessed once again to be able to lead in solar energy. All it takes is political will. In Texas, El Paso is literally the "Sun City"—we are best positioned to develop, market and lead the state in encouraging solar energy. We are ready to make El Paso the Energy Capitol of Texas.

Written by Senator Eliot Shapleigh,


"El Paso: The Energy Capitol of Texas"

For nearly a century, Texas has led the nation in hydrocarbon energy production.  For the next hundred years, Texas is blessed once again to be able to lead in solar energy.  All it takes is political will. In Texas, El Paso is literally the "Sun City"—we are best positioned to develop, market and lead the state in encouraging solar energy. We are ready to make El Paso the Energy Capitol of Texas.

For more than 40 years, the U.S. has become more and more dependant on foreign oil. Today, our country imports two-thirds of its oil from foreign sources, many of whom are governments overtly critical of the U.S. We import 1.394 million barrels of oil per day from Saudi Arabia, 1.028 million barrels per day from Venezuela  and more than 500,000 barrels a day from Iraq. Every year, we sent one trillion American dollars oversees to buy foreign oil. Incorporating more renewable sources into our nation's energy portfolio would both better insure our security and boost our economy.

Photovoltaic (PV) modules covering only 0.3 percent of  U.S. land could provide for all of our country's electricity consumption. Texas alone receives enough solar energy to supply one and a half times the world's current energy consumption. Demand for electricity is predicted to grow 30 percent by 2020. Today, Texas households pay 56 percent more in monthly energy costs than the national average.  Harnessing Texas' natural resources for the production of high efficiency, clean energy will not only help preserve the environment, it will boost the economy and help energy consumers save money. 

Across the country, states like California are already promoting solar energy, giving $54 million in subsidies to utility companies for solar and other renewable resources. In Arizona, the state government is requiring one percent of all new electrical generation to be from solar energy. In total, California and Arizona have announced almost 4,800 megawatts (MW) of large-scale solar projects, including 4,000 MW of Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) and Photovoltaic (PV) projects. 

This will lead to the creation of 154,000 jobs, $10.1 billion in earnings, and $25.4 billion in economic output in those states over the next 30 years. The PV market is estimated to grow 20 percent each year and the number of American companies manufacturing PV panels alone has doubled since the 1970s.

In California, cities have taken steps to help their citizens invest in solar power by helping them afford expensive initial costs to install the technology. In Palm Desert, the municipal government created a financing program that lends citizens the money and allows them to pay it back with interest over 20 years as part of their property taxes. Under this program, all homeowners are eligible for a solar upgrade and the obligation to pay the loan attaches to the house and any of its future owners. Similar programs exist in other California cities like Berkeley and Palm Springs.

Palm Desert invested $7.5 million to run a pilot program. By March 2009, nearly 100 households have been approved for solar panels. The monthly energy bill for a 3,400-square-foot home before its upgrades routinely cost more than $1,400 in summer months. After the upgrade, solar panels can produce more than enough energy in the daytime to power such a home—cutting the bill down by more than two thirds. Additional power is sent back to the grid and is credited on the costumer's utility bill.

In some Texas cities, utilities are also already also looking at increased use of solar cells as an alternative source of power generation.

In Austin, their electric utility has already opened two photovoltaic generating stations that generate 315 kilowatts of electric power. The utility has also worked to expand a new rooftop solar program, and incent homeowners to produce their own power.

In Dallas, power utility Oncor has set aside $2 million in incentives for homeowners to install solar water heaters in their homes. The solar panels can heat up to 80 percent of a household’s hot water. The utility announced that it will offer further rebates in 2009 to customers who install solar technology in their residences, offering up to $2.46 per watt for up to 10 kilowatts produced in the home. The company said it will spend $18.5 million in a campaign to increase awareness of PV technology, and train installation and maintenance contractors.

For several years, our Senate office has asked El Paso Electric (EPEC) to take much more aggressive steps to lower costs, allow consumers to generate and sell solar power, and put El Paso on the map. Today, changing EPEC from a 1950s electric company to a 21st Century energy company—encouraging EPEC to follow models adopted by other cities —must now be a top community priority.

For this reason, this session our office filed SB 211, which would prevent public utilities from raising rates to consumers unless they meet certain efficiency standards. The legislature has already set these minimum standards, but many public utility companies have yet to meet them.  Should SB 211 be passed, the Public Utility Commission could only approve a rate increase for a public utility if the utility can prove it has achieved each energy efficiency goal.

Our office also filed SB 618, which would require all public energy utilities to provide net metering to their customers. Net metering allows utility companies to measure customer-produced electricity while also saving consumers money on their utility bills and providing the opportunity for customers—like in Palm Desert—to sell electricity back to the company.  Oncor is currently working on an initiative to install 3 million meters to enable their customers to net meter.

Our office's SB 677 would compliment this goal by requiring homebuilders to offer installation of solar energy devices for heating, cooling or the production of power. Rooftops have the capacity to provide up to 70 or 80 percent of annual water heating energy in Texas and would generate 40 percent of the state's energy resources. To encourage existing homeowners to invest in solar, our office filed SB 619, which would exempt consumers from paying sales tax on solar devices.

Finally, our office's SB 620 would move Texas' renewable energy program forward by increasing the goal for non-wind renewable energy production from 500 MW to 1,500 MW by 2015. The bill would also have the state establish a target of 11,000 MW of installed renewable capacity by January 1, 2025. This bill compliments federal calls for modernization of the electrical grid and proposed federal legislation that would require every region of the country to produce a quarter of its electricity from renewable sources like wind, solar and geothermal by 2025. In the economic stimulus act passed in February 2009, Congress allocated $4.5 billion for smart grid investments. These initiatives would both also go a long way in meeting President Obama's call for a 14 percent reduction of U.S.-produced carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases by 2020.

Since the early days of the Sun Carnival, our community has been the "Sun city." Now, it's time to move Texas power into the 21st Century and make El Paso the Energy Capitol of Texas.

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