Solar Panels Opinion: Despite Texas cities’ hurdles, solar shines in the heat
Solar Panels Opinion: As Texans once again cringed over a “spare capacity power shortage” last week, one thing was clear: Texans who have invested in solar have helped the electric grid keep us cool.
The great thing about solar in an increasingly hot Texas, with record high temperatures across the state, is that at the exact times when we’re reaching for increased air conditioning, solar is doing its thing: offsetting that increased need with increased sunshine.
While natural gas prices are skyrocketing, and gas, coal and nuclear have barely met the challenge this week, solar has affordably done its job. All of which has us scratching our heads, the decisions Texas municipalities and electric cooperatives are inflicting on solar installers and their customers that are slowing the pace of this clean energy source across our sunny state.
The Texas Solar Energy Society is the oldest non-profit organization in Texas (founded in 1982). Recently, our business members tell us about the ever-increasing obstacles being put in their way, just at this critical time when we could use more cost-effective Texas energy pushed onto our electric grid.
Excessive and time-consuming permits for solar panel installation
From Houston to Central Texas to the Panhandle, excessive and time-consuming permitting and municipal inspections are slowing the pace of solar installations. What many readers don’t know is that each solar installation requires multiple building and electrical permits; in some cities as many as six different permits are required. Some installers don’t want to work in Waco because of its labyrinthine permitting processes. In Houston, the energy capital of the world, solar installers can wait months for approval of their permits, often sent “to the back of the queue” for the slightest error on the lengthy application form.
Another obstacle facing installers is the rapidly increasing processing fees for solar permits. In many Texas cities, solar electric installation permit fees can be 10 times higher than those for general residential electric installation permits. The largest electric cooperative in the country, Pedernales Electric Cooperative near Austin, charges the following fees to homeowners who want to install rooftop systems: application and engineering study fee – $250; and interconnection and inspection agreement fee – $250; and if your home or ranch is much larger than average, looking for 50 KW rooftop panel placement, then $150 must be added to the application fee along with another $250 for the interconnection and inspection fee and the full cost of a larger engineering study fee.
Inspections are often another morass of waiting time. And while our industry absolutely encourages safety inspections, it would be cost-effective for cities to start investing in trained inspection personnel capable of performing these assessments effectively.
Solar is a massive growth industry in Texas that provides well-paying jobs. More than 85% of Texas homeowners are purchasing batteries as part of their rooftop solar systems, using their own stored energy instead of grid-generated power.
Having more efficient inspections and permitting processes in place may allow the current backlog of rooftop solar projects to get underway more quickly when we need them 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 recent years, they are not cheap systems. Texas solar rooftop owners’ investment doesn’t just benefit them; their investment helps all Texans. Let’s work to get renewable energy onto our overburdened electric grid sooner.
Texas cities and the 67 electric cooperatives across the state should not stand in the way of solar growth. Instead, they should accelerate their path to connect more renewable energy to the grid. The Texas Solar Energy Society will be reaching out to all municipalities to promote universal permitting to accelerate the process of Texans investing in solar for themselves, and for all of us who use energy. In the meantime, we hope Texans will contact their local city and co-op leaders and ask them what kind of welcome mat they are providing for solar installers and solar rooftop investors; it should be an efficient one.
Patrice “Pete” Parsons is the Executive Director of the Texas Solar Energy Society. Learn more at https://txses.org/.