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Business coalition pushes solar energy in Texas

Feb 9, 2010 - McClatchy-Tribune Regional News - Bill Teeter Waco Tribune-Herald, Texas

A business organization is pressing for the state government to expand its solar power goals to make Texas a national leader in solar energy.

Texas has the largest potential solar capacity of any state in the country but is tied with Wisconsin for ninth place in the use of solar power, said Lucy Midelfort, an organizer for the Go Solar Texas coalition, at a Monday press conference.

The coalition is a group of 80 businesses across the state interested in pushing the development of solar power. The group, which has sent a letter about its position to Gov. Rick Perry and the Public Utility Commission, favors the use of financial incentives to get people to install solar panels at their homes and to build large solar farms in the state.

Texas has all the materials the industry would need to be self-sufficient within the state and dominate the solar market, she said.

Texas has a precedent in leading renewable energy, she said.

"Texas has become the national leader in wind power," Midelfort said. "It's time to do the same thing with solar."

Public Utility Commission spokesman Terry Hadley said wind energy could set a precedent for the future of solar energy in Texas.

"The reality has far surpassed the standards in the law," he said. "There is a track record for renewables in general."

The commission has a law in place defining a 500-megawatt target for nonwind renewable energy to be obtained by power companies in the state by 2015.

The target is not mandatory, but a proposal now in the works would make it mandatory, with 100-megawatt annual increases until 2015. Environmental and solar groups are hoping 100 megawatts of the 500 will be set aside in a new regulation for on-site renewable energy generation, such as solar panels on private homes or businesses.

A typical coal-fired electrical energy plant produces 500 megawatts of power. The coalition wants to see the goal set much higher for solar power specifically, Midelfort said.

The coalition wants the goal to be 1,000 megawatts of solar by 2015 and 5,000 megawatts by 2025. Billions of dollars and tens of thousands of jobs can be made in Texas from solar energy under a well-run program, Midelfort said.

'100 percernt clean' The media appearance at the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce featured Waco Mayor Virginia DuPuy; Scott Connell, Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce senior vice president for strategic development; K. Paul Holt, president of the Associated General Contractors of America's Central Texas Chapter; and business owners involved in Waco's solar industry.

Solar electric energy is attractive to businesses considering relocating, so it's a good economic development bet, Connell said.

"They look for states that prioritize solar," Connell said.

Under new air quality standards being considered by the Environmental Protection Agency, McLennan County soon may be tagged as an air-quality nonattainment area. The designation would mean government entities would have to undertake efforts to improve air quality.

Solar power is becoming important to Waco and other cities because of air quality, DuPuy said.

"Solar power is 100 percent clean, it is green, and it is abundant," she said. "We are foolish not to look at that as an industrial opportunity."

Holt said the solar power industry is small but growing in Waco.

"It's at a very beginning," he said.