Texas, RPS Distributed Energy, provide affordable, clean energy

Dianne Anderson
By Dianne Anderson
For business

Access to affordable, clean energy can reduce carbon emissions and benefit the environment.

Keeping up with next generation technology and affordable clean energy remains one of the hardest questions behind Distributed Generation interconnections.

The sun and wind are free, but that doesn’t make their energy easy to store or transmit.

Distributed Energy Resources, such as solar panels, wind turbines and microgrids, have seen robust localized growth in recent years. Eventually, the hope is improved policy will boost integration and deployment of renewables to consumers.

Today, much of the success that Texas experiences with clean energy is primarily driven by a few fundamental early endeavors.

Environment Texas Director Luke Metzger says it first started with the 1999 deregulation bill and Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS). This was followed by a push in 2005 by then-Governor Rick Perry that doubled the renewable mandate to less than five percent.

“That really kicked into high gear,” Metzger explains, noting that Perry, current United States Energy Secretary, initiated the authorization that spurred $7 billion in investments in new transmission lines.

“Now, there is more wind producing power than coal for the first time. With the interconnection queue for ERCOT, there is a lot more wind planned,” he says.

Solar PV is also rapidly expanding in Texas, projected on pace for second place behind California for total installed capacity within the next two years. Still, further transmission is needed in order to achieve 100 percent renewables, which is what scientists warn is needed to mitigate climate change.

Renewable portfolio standards increase energy access, create jobs, reduces emissions

Electric utilities in each of the 29 states that adopted the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) are working toward meeting targets and are committed to producing more wind or solar energy deployment for customers. Under the RPS federal mandate, the framework for renewable energy development is established, which creates clean energy jobs and reduces carbon dioxide emissions.

RPS seems to be progressing as hoped. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that half of all renewable energy generation since 2000 are linked to RPS requirements.

The renewable standard needs to be raised

However, Metzger emphasizes that the time has come to raise the renewable standard because it surpassed the five percent point a decade ago.

Energy storage is another ongoing concern. Metzger points out the Texas Public Utility Commission (PUC) has sent a strong message that storage is acceptable if owned by third parties, such as an electric utility that does not own the storage themselves, rather than contracts with another party.

“We already have investor-owned utilities investing in storage, including Luminant and Vistra, known for their coal plants. Now they’re investing in a big way in storage and solar. But the PUC action is necessary for ratepayer-funded utilities to ensure that we can finance storage that way,” he explains.

Meanwhile, the industry is waiting for more clarification from the PUC about what lies ahead as acceptable third-party contracts that wouldn’t violate the deregulated market.

“We’re seeing a lot of positive growth,” Luke adds. “Not as much as we need, but it’s definitely headed in the right direction.”

DERs pull from several types of smaller grids and renewable energy sources, but are no match for the massive older fossil fuel systems running through the centralized generation. Despite the shortcomings, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects distributed energy generation is set to grow and renewables will comprise half of world electricity by 2050.

Renewables becoming more affordable, more accessible

“Resource availability, renewable policies, regional load growth, and declining technology costs drive EIA’s projected increase in global electricity generation from solar technologies. As more solar power systems have been installed, installation costs have experienced the steepest cost declines of all renewable technologies in recent years, and EIA expects that they will continue to decline as a result of learning-by-doing effects,” the EIA reports.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) handles electric power for over 25 million customers and is also experiencing an impressive mix of clean energy choices.

Leslie Sopko, spokesperson for ERCOT, said the developers continue to express interest in building new generation in ERCOT. This new generation has a current interconnection queue showing a significant amount of new utility-scale solar and wind projects.

As of Aug. 31, there is 64,579 MW of utility-scale solar and 35,276 MW of wind. Moreover, growth of solar and wind over time is seeing a progression in resource capacity trends.

ERCOT welcomes all types of generation resources into its market, she notes. They are currently working with the Public Utility Commission of Texas and stakeholders to develop market rules for energy storage and distributed generation resources.

“As these new technologies continue to grow in the ERCOT region, it has become increasingly important that we are able to accurately account for them in our network models and planning and operations studies and also ensure they have access to ERCOT’s energy markets,” Sopko says.

Dianne Anderson covers education, health, and city government stories with an eye on legislative impacts to diverse communities. She has received awards from the American Cancer Society – Inland Empire, and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Over the years, she has reported for the Long Beach Leader and the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin and been a contributor to the Pasadena Weekly.

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