Lights go out on Texas solar bills… for now

The solar power and environmental communities (no, they’re not always synonymous) had high hopes this legislative session that a bunch of proposed laws would give a big boost to the industry in Texas. Those hopes were dashed on Friday night however, largely on a technicality.
The bills sought to provide $500 million in incentives for homes and businesses to install solar panels, require retail electric companies to buy a customer’s surplus electricity at a fair market price and make it so homeowners associations didn’t have blanket powers to prohibit solar panels on roofs (among other things).
Like many bills the solar efforts were trapped by House Democrats who delayed business in order to avoid a vote on picture IDs for voters. Several of the bills seemed to have found new life after a vote deadline passed last week when they were attached to a related Senate bill. But a point raised by Houston Democrat Sylvester Turner about how much low-income consumers would pay to fund the solar incentives delayed the bill long enough that it didn’t reach a vote before the Friday midnight deadline.
Environmentalists are trying to stay upbeat:

“The fact that both the House and the Senate passed major legislation on energy efficiency and renewable power with bipartisan agreement shows that Texas leaders are willing and able to develop clean power and green jobs for our state,” said Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.

But the wish list that didn’t come to-be is pretty long:

• Raising the state’s minimum residential and commercial building codes from 2001 to 2009 standards (passed Senate as SB 16 and HB 2783 in House)

• Raising the utility efficiency goal (SB 546 passed both houses but no agreement was reached between Senator Fraser and Representative Anchia on the size of the goals)

• Adopting appliance efficiency standards for a variety of products, including pool pumps (passed Senate as SB 16)

• Creating a 1,500 MW Emerging Technology Renewable Standard (SB 541 – passed the Senate)

• Creating a $500 million solar incentive program (SB 545 – passed the Senate).

• Creating a Policy requiring utilities and retail electric providers to pay consumers fair buyback rates for excess electricity generation from renewable energy (HB 1243 – passed House and Senate, but was killed in the House through concerns over germaneness and Senate amendments.)

• High performance energy efficiency building standards for state buildings, including universities and public schools (HB 431). The Senate may pass the conference committee report today, on Sine Die.

Despite their losses, the environmental community did get a few bills through both chambers, including:

• Green fleets legislation to promote low emissions and plug-in hybrid vehicles for fleets of major State Agencies (HB 432)

• Legislation allowing cities to create financial districts to loan money for renewable power and energy efficiency (HB 1937)

• Legislation setting a ‘no regrets’ strategy for greenhouse gas reduction in the State; a study of the state’s energy use to find ways to reduce our emissions and save money at the same time (SB 184)

• A coordinated green jobs strategy including funds allocated for child care programs, vocational training initiatives, energy efficiency measures, the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), and/or any other recovery funds (passed as a Rider to Article 12)

• Green fee bill passed allowing governing board of public colleges and universities to institute an environmental service fee once approved by student body election.

“This has been a disappointing session,” said Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas. “However, with the passage of HB 1937, we can start the ball rolling on developing Texas’ solar future, working with local communities one at a time to start financing solar and energy efficiency projects.”
The Texas Association of Manufacturers lauded some of the solar bill defeats (SB 541 in particular they were against) but said they supported others:

“Texas’ manufacturers promote and desire diverse electric generation options, including renewable sources. The Legislature made great strides in crafting meaningful incentives – vs. mandates and subsidies – to expand use of renewable energy sources like solar power. While time ran out for these proposals, their work will surely bear fruit in the future as renewable energy policy evolves. Lawmakers were wise to reject several renewable mandates, which would have raised energy prices by $205,000 to $700,000 a year for manufacturers. Cost increases of that magnitude cost jobs.”

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