Stopped clock saves solar bill

A bill aimed at providing up to $500 million in state incentives for the installation of home and business solar systems (on top of existing federal subsidies) averted death in the Texas Senate last night by getting attached to another bill.
Sen. Troy Fraser was able to amend his bill, 545, to another related measure, HB 1243 by Rep. Pete Gallego (D – Alpine), which sets minimum standards for utilities to compensate consumers for surplus power generated by solar. It took the unplugging of the clock on the Senate floor at 11:58 p.m. Wednesday to let debate on that and many other bills continue, however.
According to Environment Texas the amended HB 1243:

• Requires homebuilders to offer solar as a standard option in developments with 50 homes or more. Installing solar during construction reduces the costs

• Prohibits homeowners associations from blocking solar

• Creates a loan program for solar on schools

• Allows up to 70% of the incentive funds to be used for utility-scale solar projects

• Allows the Public Utility Commission to extend the program for an additional five years and another $500 million if it determined that a “substantial amount of manufacturing of solar generation products located in Texas after the initial five-year program”

• Requires electric co-ops to allow consumers to interconnect solar to the grid

• Clarifies that consumers will not have to register as a utility and that third party ownership of solar is allowed

• For the next two years, requires retail electric providers to pay at least five cents per kilowatt hour for surplus solar and four cents for other renewable technologies and directs the PUC to determine a fair market price that will become a new “floor” following the two years

• Creates a “Made in Texas” program to certify and encourage Texans to buy locally manufactured solar panels and other energy products

Harvey Kronberg’s Texas Energy Report has more on the last-minute maneuvers:

Fraser and House sponsor Patrick Rose (D-Dripping Springs) had been huddling on and off since late Tuesday when it became clear that the co-op bill they had been working on for about a year was in danger of dying on the House calendar when the lower chamber’s deadline for hearing bills passed.
The effort began in earnest when media reports about abuses at the Pedernales Electric Cooperative surfaced. The bill requires open elections, access to board meetings by co-ops’ owner-customers and transparency in financial dealings.
The solar bill, which originally was Senate Bill 545, would impose a 20-cents-a-month surcharge on homeowners — plus $2 a month for commercial enterprises and $20 a month for large industrial users– to fund a $100 million a year pool for solar-power incentives. The money would pay for up to one-third the cost for installing solar-generating devices.

And just a reminder from one of our readers: the reason there’s any bill to provide incentives is because solar, like other renewable energy sources, is not cost competitive with fossil-fuel sources of power. Supporters argue it needs a kick-start to create a market that would lead to the cost-cutting economies of scale, and that the nuclear power industry has also been the beneficiary of government incentives.