Wind is soooo last year, Texas is all about solar now (updated)

mccormick_bw5 Solar panels covering the roof of the McCormick Spice Mill in Hunt Valley, MD. (Photo: McCormick)

Now that Texas has firmly established itself as king of the hill in U.S. wind power (and the U.S. is king of the world), state leaders seem to be moving on to sunnier skies, namely with solar power.
More than a dozen bills have been filed with the Texas legislature this session related to ways to promote solar power. A gaggle of state lawmakers touted their efforts in Austin on Monday.

“We’re energy experts in Texas,” said state Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) in a release before the event. “We have led the nation in fossil fuel based energy, we have led the nation in the development of wind energy, and we can lead with the development of solar as well. I am excited to see so much support for this prospect in the legislature.”

Here’s a link to video from the press conference today.
Wind power is still coming on strong on Texas, with more projects in the pipeline and the state moving forward with plans to build nearly $5 billion in new power lines to move energy from West Texas wind farms to major cities. But solar supporters are looking to build on that success and expand the support to their cause. Even Bob Lukefahr, the former CEO BP Wind America in Houston is jumping on the solar train, taking a spot with Stirling Energy Systems, a Phoenix solar power firm.
According to a new report by Environment Texas, Public Citizen and Vote Solar, the new laws could lead to solar panels on as many as 500,000 roofs in Texas by 2020 at a cost of about 98 cents per month per Texan. The report estimates 22,000 jobs would be created in the state by solar incentives and that carbon dioxide emissions would be cut by 29 million tons, or the equivalent of taking 4.3 million cars off the road for a year. Here’s a link to the full study.
Solar isn’t just about photovoltaic cells, those flat sheets that turn sun light directly into electricity. There’s the good old thermal properties (focusing sun light to boil water to create steam to drive a turbine, as Dynegy will be doing on one of its plants) and even using thermal power to drive small power generators like these being developed by Stirling Energy Systems.
A few of the bills to watch:
SB 545: creating a rebate program to make it easier for Texans to install solar on their homes and businesses.
HB 278/ SB 427 : would require the state’s electric utilities to support the development of 2,000 megawatts of solar and other on-site renewable technologies by offering direct incentives to consumers and businesses.
SB 541: creates incentives for electric providers who meet renewable energy requirements with locally manufactured renewable energy.
Here’s something on related legislative efforts in Austin.
Seem like a stretch to you? If Gov. Rick Perry can mention the idea of incentives for plug-in hybrid cars, anything can happen.
McKinsey & Co. says the economics of solar are continuing to improve:

“Within three to seven years, unsubsidized solar power could cost no more to end customers in many markets, such as California and Italy, than electricity generated by fossil fuels or by renewable alternatives to solar.
These markets have in common relatively strong solar radiation (or insolation), high electricity prices, and supportive regulatory regimes that stimulate the solar-capacity growth needed to drive further cost reductions. These conditions set in motion a virtuous cycle: growing demand for solar power creates more opportunities for companies to reduce production costs by improving solar-cell designs and manufacturing processes, to introduce new solar technologies, and to enjoy lower prices from raw-material and component suppliers competing for market share.”