Wind, sun and bullshit: Texas has plenty of all three, and we've done a good job converting wind to electricity. So, why hasn't the sunny Lone Star State done more to create more power from the sun?
Well, you could blame the bullshit.
Today in Austin, The Clean Energy Works for Texas coalition, a group that includes Public Citizen, Progress Texas, the Sierra Club and the Texas Blue Green Apollo Alliance, will rally at the Texas Public Utility Commission and deliver thousands of petitions calling for the PUC to get moving on rules that would encourage development of renewable energy sources other than wind power -- namely solar, geothermal and biomass.
In 2005, the Legislature passed a bill calling for the PUC to take steps to push the state's power generators to hit specific targets for renewable energy. By 2015, the legislation mandates that 5,880 megawatts of electric capacity come from renewables, a figure that includes -- depending on whom you ask -- 500mw from sources other than wind. (In the interminable jargon-speak of the electricity industry, this is called a renewable portfolio standard, or RPS.)
Hitting the overall goals for the RPS so far has been a snatch, thanks to all those turbines sprouting up like prickly pears in West and South Texas, but the PUC has yet to establish rules that would get us to the 500 Mwh windless portion of the program. We may meet the 2015 target anyway, but only if you count big solar projects from independent municipally owned utilities, like the one in San Antonio.
This means the state is leaving a lot of sun on the table, along with jobs like the 800 created by San Antonio's solar project, says Kaiba White of Public Citizen.
So why hasn't the PUC acted?
Well, mainly because they don't want to: The PUC commissioners contend renewable energy will cost consumers too much. Then there's the fact that the Legislature forgot to say "Simon says" when it set the target.
The law states that "installed renewable capacity in this state shall total 5,880 megawatts by January 1, 2015, and "the commission shall establish a target of having at least 500 megawatts of capacity from a renewable energy technology other than a source using wind energy." (emphasis added).
According to a letter Nelson sent earlier this year to state Senator Kirk Watson, the phrase "shall establish a target" means there's no hard mandate requiring the PUC to create regulations, and the conservative PUC commissioners are not inclined move on their own unless legislators say they really, really mean it by altering the language in the law.
Watson was unavailable for comment, be he apparently has a somewhat different interpretation of the Legislature's intent in 2005.
Unsurprisingly, White says the strict interpretation of the language by the PUC coincides neatly with the opinions of industry lobbyists who oppose any renewable-boosting regulations. But it's unlikely Nelson needed much persuasion by any lobbyist. "It's called a target," she said at a PUC meeting in January, according to Public Citizen, "and everyone knows a target is not mandatory. It would be my preference if we waited -- forever."
All of which makes sense, right? Those zany, madcap legislators hold hold committee meetings, take testimony and pass laws that contain highly specific numbers, dates and steps to be taken, but they're really only spit-balling. You know, just a runnin' it up the ol' flagpole sort of thing.
While the PUC declines to salute, solar power producers look to do business in more decisive places that have clear legislative and regulatory intent.
Hence Thursday's rally and petition delivery in Austin, which White says is intended both to encourage PUC to get off the dime and to ask the agency to consider a higher target -- 3,000 megawatts for the non-wind portion of the RPS by 2025, for example.
One can only imagine how the PUC, which would rather not do anything, will respond to a request that the target it doesn't choose to enforce be increased sixfold. (Derisive laughter? A little crotch-grabbing and the words "yo, target this, ya freakin' hippies?") Still, hope never dies -- for some people anyway -- and maybe the PUC will listen. On the off chance of that happening, if you want to sign the coalition's petition online it's available at cleanenergyworksfortexas.com.