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Texas Aims for Solar Dominance

March 25, 2009

By Kate Galbraith
New York Times
Green Inc. blog

Solar panels
Kelly LaDuke for The New York Times

Texas wants to be No. 1 in producing energy this way.

The Lone Star State leads the country in wind power. Now Texas aims to ramp up its solar production, too.

This week the state senate is considering an avalanche of bills that would boost state incentives for solar power, and the entire legislative session has become known as the "solar session."

Altogether, according to David Power, the deputy director of Public Citizen Texas, a consumer and environmental advocacy group, there are 69 renewable energy bills before the legislature, and more than 50 of them promote solar power — far more than ever before.

“There are senators and representatives that are talking about solar that have never mentioned the word probably in their lives,” he said. “We’ve actually heard the term ‘global warming,’ and two years ago that was called ‘the G word’ — you didn’t talk about it.”

Mark Strama, a state representative who is a leading promoter of renewable energy, has introduced at least five green bills this year (including a measure that would allow local governments to create a property-tax financing program for solar, along the lines of several California cities).

“It just seems like everybody recognizes our leadership in wind, and that government policy got us where we are today in wind,” he told me last month.

In solar, he added, “We need to catch up.”

Some businesses, concerned about higher energy prices, urge caution.

“The state should avoid picking economic winners and losers in our economy through subsidizing solar — or any energy source — at the expense of the residential, commercial and industrial consumers who contribute significantly to the Texas economy,” Luke Bellsynder, the executive director of the Texas Association of Manufacturers, said in an e-mail message.

He also said, however, that his group supported incentives and tax abatements for solar, and broadening the state’s energy portfolio.

Earlier this month, the city of Austin, which is aggressively pursuing renewable power, unanimously gave a go-ahead to a private company to build the largest photovoltaic plant in the country, so that the local utility, Austin Energy, can buy the electricity produced.

But the city met fierce opposition from struggling local technology companies and other groups, who complained about the prospect of higher electric bills.


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