Texas State College expands solar energy tech program to meet growing industry needs

texas solar

To deploy more solar, more people must be ready and interested in doing so. Within a state with a lot of potential, Texas State Technical College is growing its Solar Energy Technology program and poised to fill an expected growth of jobs in the state. Equipment used for program lectures and labs will be moved throughout the spring semester from an older metal building on Airline Drive to a newer, larger structure up the road next to the Building Construction Technology program’s building. The new building provides more space to teach solar energy design, troubleshooting, solar thermal systems and other classes.

“Having spent several years in the industry recently, I have a detailed understanding of what employers require in their employees,” said Hugh Whitted, a Solar Energy Technology instructor at TSTC. “Using this experience, I have made adjustments to curriculum and labs that allow students to be successful employees.”

TSTC is helping to contribute to the state’s growing solar energy industry. Solar energy technology jobs grew in Texas by more than 30 percent between 2015 and 2016, according to The Solar Foundation’s 2016 National Solar Jobs Census. In 2015, there were 7,030 industry jobs and in 2016, the workforce grew to more than 9,300. This put Texas third in the country in solar energy jobs, followed by California and Massachusetts.

RELATED: PV in schools: Education sector is one of solar’s best opportunities 

Texas had about 21,000 commercial and residential properties using solar panels as of summer 2016, according to the Texas Solar Energy Society. Usage has been seen primarily in parts of Texas that use deregulated energy sources and in the Austin and San Antonio areas, according to information compiled by the state solar energy society.

“Solar is growing in Texas right now,” Whitted said. “With federal rebates and local rebates being offered and a climate that makes solar very productive, many individuals and businesses are adding in solar power.”

 

There were more than 260,000 solar jobs in the United States in 2016, according to the solar jobs report. Nine percent of the workers were veterans, while 28 percent were women and 17 percent were Hispanic. TSTC offers the Associate of Applied Science degree in Solar Energy Technology. Since 2011, the program has had more than 20 graduates.

— Solar Builder magazine

Freedom Solar launches new rebate program for rural solar customers

Texas-based Freedom Solar announced a substantial new incentive for homeowners serviced in rural electric cooperatives (outside of Austin and San Antonio) to install solar on their homes.

“Our commitment as a company is to increase solar adoption across all areas of Texas, especially to the 75 rural electric cooperatives that serve more than 3 million residents but do not offer any economic incentives for solar generation,” says Kyle Frazier, director of sales.

freedom solar incentives

The deal

Freedom Solar is offering qualifying homeowners an up-front rebate of 15 cents per watt, up to $3,000. A qualifying homeowner is anyone who lives in a utility territory that does not currently offer a rebate for solar.

The discount represents the value of renewable energy credits generated by the residential solar system, which Freedom Solar will purchase from the customer and retire as part of the company’s commitment to building a more sustainable future for generations to come.

Freedom Solar started utilizing the policy of purchasing renewable energy credits to offset the carbon footprint associated with its operations last year, and hopes to become entirely carbon-neutral by 2018.

Bret Biggart, managing director, says: “Over the past decade we’ve seen solar prices decrease and solar efficiency increase dramatically; however, the upfront cost of solar installations often makes it impossible for rural Texas residents to transition to renewable energy because they don’t have access to the same substantial solar rebates offered by municipal city utilities. We’ve introduced this new program to change that and make solar accessible to all Texans.”

Freedom Solar’s innovative rural rebate program is made possible by their partnership with SunPower as a master dealer, the only company with that distinction in Texas. Freedom Solar will be able to provide 40 homeowners with this incentive to per quarter, for a total of 160 budgeted per year.

— Solar Builder magazine

Reliant offers new 12-month solar plan for homeowners in Texas

texas panels

For Texans who want their power to be supported by Texas sunshine, Reliant has launched an offer called the Reliant 100% Solar 12 Plan. As consumers consider a variety of solutions to power their homes, Reliant ensures access to the plans and products that best fit their budget and lifestyle.

The 100% Solar 12 Plan offers a 12-month term with an affordable price, based on solar renewable energy credits produced in Texas to match electricity used by customers who choose this option.

“Our customers can make a difference by choosing products with a purpose, and our new plan gives them another innovative way to power their homes,” said Elizabeth Killinger, president, Reliant and NRG Retail. “We design our electricity solutions to match the unique needs of Texans, whether that’s providing competitive plans with no surprises or enabling the option to support a specific energy source. Texas is a national leader in the production of renewable energy, and Reliant has a growing set of these energy-based choices for customers who prefer them.”

Additionally, for consumers who want to energize small devices with the sun, Reliant also gives them an easy way to purchase portable solar panels and solar-powered chargers, lights, speakers and other gear from sister company Goal Zero that let customers get the energy they need at home, at work or on the go.

RELATED: Texas rate case settled, should be good for future solar customers 

 

— Solar Builder magazine

Texas solar deal: Provider offers rebate for installing SunPower system, net meter credit

Texas solar demand charges

Texas electricity provider TXU Energy is issuing a limited-time instant rebate for residential consumers who purchase SunPower rooftop solar systems through the company. At the same time, TXU Energy unveiled a new plan that increases the credit customers get for the electricity that their solar systems generate but they don’t use.

TXU Energy’s instant rebate and its new offer for excess solar generation will help maintain momentum in the state’s growing solar market and will provide clear and easy benefits for customers who select TXU Solar from SunPower.

TXU Energy and just a few other Texas retail electricity providers pay customers for their excess solar electricity. Under the new TXU Energy Renewable Buyback plan, TXU Energy will buy this excess electricity from residential consumers who have purchased solar systems through TXU Solar from SunPower at the same per-kilowatt-hour rate that the customer pays for the grid-based electricity they use when that is needed. The company will deliver the credits to TXU Energy customers’ bills each month they generate excess electricity.

RELATED: Texas rate case settled, should be good for future solar customers 

TXU Energy customers who have solar panels from other manufacturers, as well as customers with qualified residential wind generation systems, will continue to have access to a competitive offer for their excess electricity.

“We were among the first retailers to pay our residential customers for their excess solar and wind generation in 2009,” said Sam Sen, vice president of TXU Solutions, the solar and value-added services arm of TXU Energy. “Based on our years of experience and feedback from customers, we have simplified and increased our offer.”

The new excess electricity purchase plan for customers of TXU Solar from SunPower comes as consumers get access to the first solar system rebate offer from a Texas retail electricity provider.

The TXU Energy instant rebate provides between $2,000 and $5,000 off the purchase price of a new TXU Solar from SunPower rooftop system. Customers purchasing a solar power system may also be eligible for federal tax credits. The price of a SunPower system varies based on system size and other factors.

“Our combined excess electricity purchase plan and instant rebate is a unique offer that provides tremendous value while still delivering the peace of mind of grid-power at competitive rates when that is needed,” Sen said.

Through their partnership, TXU Energy and SunPower make considering and going solar easy with a free quote, remote roof assessment and energy usage analysis.

The exclusive instant rebate offer is available for consumers who purchase a rooftop system before the end of the year.

— Solar Builder magazine

Texas rate case settled, should be good for future solar customers

el paso rate case solar

The solar industry in Texas is growing, and an unopposed settlement agreement filed by the El Paso Electric Co. for its rate case pending before the Public Utility Commission of Texas (the PUCT) should help clear future hurdles for distributed generation.

If approved by the PUCT, the Unopposed Settlement would resolve EPE’s rate case, including the revenue requirement for Four Corners Generating Station. The costs of serving residential customers with solar systems will be addressed in a future proceeding.

“While we did not anticipate some of the delays that occurred following the filing of the first proposed settlement in March, we are pleased to have been able to reach a resolution,” said Mary Kipp, El Paso Electric CEO. “We are fortunate to live in a growing region. The Company set a new native peak of 1,892 MW on July 14, 2016, which surpassed last year’s peak by more than five percent.”

RELATED: How to design rates for a distributed grid? This paper has some answers 

Sean Gallagher, vice president of state affairs for the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), had this to say on the unanimous settlement filed to resolve El Paso Electric’s 2015 rate case:

“While it took some work to get here, we now have a unanimously supported settlement that will allow solar customers – and those interested in going solar down the line – the freedom to do so without fear of penalty.

“SEIA is pleased that the El Paso Electric Company withdrew its original proposal. This proposal would have implemented demand charges on residential customers, resulting in confusion and undue financial burden.

“Texas has some of the strongest solar resources in the nation and we’re looking forward to working with El Paso Electric so solar growth can continue, further cementing the state’s role as one of the top solar states in the country.”

Background

On August 10, 2015, EPE filed a request for an increase in non-fuel base revenues of approximately $71.5 million with the City of El Paso, other incorporated municipalities in its Texas service territory and the PUCT. When EPE filed its rebuttal testimony on January 15, 2016, it modified the requested increase to $63.3 million.

On March 29, 2016, EPE and other settling parties filed with the PUCT a Non-Unanimous Stipulation and Agreement and motion to approve interim rates (the “Non-Unanimous Settlement”). Four parties to the rate case opposed the Non-Unanimous Settlement. Interim rates were approved by the PUCT effective April 1, 2016, subject to refund or surcharge. Subsequent to filing the Non-Unanimous Settlement, the case has been subject to numerous procedural matters, including a May 19, 2016 ruling by the PUCT that EPE’s initial notice did not adequately contemplate the treatment of residential customers with solar systems contained in the Non-Unanimous Settlement.

El Paso Electric is a regional electric utility providing generation, transmission and distribution service to approximately 400,000 retail and wholesale customers in a 10,000 square mile area of the Rio Grande valley in west Texas and southern New Mexico. El Paso Electric has a net dependable generating capability of 1,990 MW.

The terms of the Unopposed Settlement

  • An annual non-fuel base rate increase of $37 million, lower annual depreciation expense of approximately $8.5 million, a return on equity of 9.7% for AFUDC purposes, and including substantially all new plant in service in rate base, all as outlined in the original non-unanimous settlement;
  • An additional annual non-fuel base rate increase of $3.7 million related to Four Corners Generating Station costs;
  • Removing the separate treatment for residential customers with solar systems; and
  • Allowing EPE to recover most of the rate case expenses up to a date certain.

The Unopposed Settlement is subject to approval by the PUCT. At this time, EPE cannot predict when it will record the revenue and other impacts of the Unopposed Settlement for financial reporting purposes. Regardless of such timing, the new rates will relate back to consumption on or after January 12, 2016.

The settlement documents were filed with Administrative Law Judges assigned to oversee EPE’s Texas rate case, who have been asked to return the settled case to the PUCT for approval.

EPE continues to meet the needs of its growing service territory with two generating units coming online in 2016. EPE anticipates filing new rate cases in Texas and New Mexico in early 2017.

 

 

— Solar Builder magazine