For a state steeped in the mythology of Big Oil, Big Coal (plants) and well, big everything, Texas does not necessarily come to mind when you think of Big Green.
It’s a reputation somewhat undeserved, given the Texas-sized wind farms sprawling across the hundreds of thousands of acres of the state’s ranch lands. Now there are signs that California’s solar boom is spreading eastward. One leading indicator: Silicon Valley solar power plant startup Ausra is opening an outpost in the Lone Star State and hiring an executive to “lead the development of stand-alone solar thermal power projects in Texas using Ausra’s proprietary Compact Linear Fresnel reflector technology and the sale of solar field to utility scale customers,” according to a job description posted last week at the Berkeley Institute of the Environment at the University of California, Berkeley.
Like a growing number of states, Texas has a so-called renewable energy portfolio standard that mandates a certain portion of its electricity supply come from green sources. (Unlike most other states that require utilities to obtain a set percentage of electricity from renewable sources, Texas sets a total green energy target and ups the ante every two years. For instance, the 2009 target of 3,272 megawatts rises to 5,880 megawatts in 2011. Texas utilities are allocated a share of those megawatts based on their sales.)
But if you want to sell solar to Texans you have to be in Texas. That’s because when it comes to electricity, Texas is literally a country onto itself: the Texas power grid is not connected to the rest of the country (except for some outbound transmission lines) and all renewable energy must be generated within the state. (Unlike, say, California, which can buy electricity produced by solar power plants in neighboring Nevada or Arizona.)
“Texas is another California-sized market that’s growing rapidly and seeking clean options in the portfolio,” Ausra executive vice president John O’Donnell tells Green Wombat. “While solar resources are somewhat lower than the Mojave, west Texas is a very good solar region and we see major opportunities going forward.”
O’Donnell wouldn’t reveal details about Ausra’s Texas plans (though the job posting says Ausra aims to build 1-to-2 gigawatts worth of solar power plants a year). But Texas clearly is in the market for green energy. Utility TXU’s (TXU) cancellation of several massive megawatt coal-fired plants (and Wall Street’s growing aversion to such projects) along with the ratcheting up of renewable energy mandates means the state will increasingly be looking to solar and wind to fill the void.
Utility El Paso (EE) is accepting bids to supply for 300-megawatts of green energy while Austin Energy is committed to obtaining at least 100 megawatts of solar energy under the city’s goal of going carbon neutral by 2020.
With wide open spaces and plenty of sunshine and flat land, look for other solar power plant players to beat a path to Texas in the coming months.