Solar and the 87th Texas Legislature: how’d we do?

by Luke Metzger

More Texans are going solar every day. Texas currently has enough solar energy capacity installed to power the equivalent of more than one million homes. 

Yet we’re still not even close to reaching solar’s potential. Every year, enough sunlight shines on Texas to provide 100 times more power than we need. Unfortunately, we’re capturing only a tiny percentage of it. Harnessing more of this power would mean cleaner air and a more stable climate; less strain on natural resources and more resilient communities; and an energy source we can depend on to be virtually pollution-free for as long as we can imagine. And Texans prefer it over any other energy source. 

So what’s slowing us down? What, if anything, can stop us?

Well, as the Velvet Underground pointed out “Who loves the sun? Not everyone.” Right now in Texas, we’re thinking too small, failing to update policies that would encourage even more Texans to go solar. We’re also thinking too narrowly, putting the short-term interests of old industries with outdated business models ahead of our health, environment and wellbeing.

Case in point: this past legislative session. 

As Texans, including my young family, suffered from blackouts from Winter Storm Uri this February, Governor Abbott went on Fox News’ Hannity show and blamed wind and solar energy for the energy shortages. The Governor changed his tune the next day as state energy regulators made clear natural gas failures were primarily responsible, but the damage was done.

Fossil fuel proponents and their allies in the legislature pushed bills to make wind and solar farms pay potentially billions in fees to provide backup power and interconnect to the grid. The bills would have slammed the brakes on the enormous planned growth of clean energy and led some existing renewable companies to declare bankruptcy. The bills quickly passed the state Senate and we went to work stopping them in the House.

Stopping these attacks was Environment Texas’ top legislative priority. Working closely with the renewable energy industry and other allies, we worked to debunk myths about the blackouts. We alerted the media about the threat to wind and solar energy and were quoted in the Austin American-Statesman, the Dallas Morning News, Bloomberg, The Economist, and other prominent outlets. Our lobbyist, as well as dozens of student activists from across the state, made our case directly to lawmakers. Our call center and digital organizers generated thousands of phone calls and emails into the offices of key lawmakers. We produced a video that was seen more than 300,000 times on Facebook and via mobile phone ads in key districts.

Legislators, including state Reps. Donna Howard, Erin Zwiener, and many others lobbied their colleagues, identified points of order to slow, kill or modify bills, and stood up for wind and solar. 

Ultimately, none of the bills became law! So while we were able to stop the bad – which is a big deal – we missed huge opportunities to take proactive steps to advance solar. 

However, there were some modest steps forward for solar. SB 398 (Menendez/Deshotel), aka the Solar Customer Protection Act, preempts cities from adopting anti-solar policies (e.g., the city of Allen’s prohibition on street-facing solar should be preempted by state law). SB 1772 (Zaffirini/Zwiener/Cyrier) will help solar developers install pollinator-friendly landscaping at solar farms. And SB 415 (Hancock/Holland) allows electric utilities in the deregulated market to invest in battery storage. 

With the 87th Legislature in the books, we’ll now return our focus to other forums to promote solar, including asking Congress to extend solar tax credits for the long-term and asking Texas cities to adopt solar-ready standards on new buildings. 

To end on a more positive musical note, “Here comes the sun, and I say it’s all right.”

Luke Metzger is Executive Director, Environment Texas