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Group Urges Texas to Promote More Solar Power Use

With a surplus of both land and sunshine, Texas could easily be the nation’s leader in solar power generation but needs more help from state leaders, advocates said Wednesday.

A coalition of environmentalists, politicians and more than 80 businesses held events around the state to release a letter urging Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Public Utility Commission to take more action promoting solar power use.

The group noted that Texas, which produces and refines a huge portion of the nation’s oil, already is home to many companies in the solar business as well as plenty of high-tech and energy industry expertise. So they say there’s no reason only 0.01 percent of the state’s power should come from the sun.

“We’re here today to call on Governor Perry to use his authority to make Texas go solar,” Environment Texas spokesman Sriram Madhusoodanan said at a 5,000-square-foot home in suburban Dallas that produces its own solar energy. “Right now is really the time for Texas to take the lead, to lead the world.”

Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle said the governor supports all sorts of alternative energy in Texas, which leads the nation in wind energy production. Three major solar projects are scheduled to begin this year, others are in development and 11 utility companies are already offering rebates for solar energy systems, she said.

“Texas is the very picture of a state aggressively seeking its future in alternative energy through incentives and innovation, not mandates and overreaching regulation,” Castle said.

Energy supply is a huge concern in Texas. The state is growing so fast that an estimated 2.2 million single-family homes are expected to be built between 2010 and 2030. Texas also has chronically dirty air, caused in part by numerous coal-fired power plants.

The PUC is considering a rule requiring electric companies to obtain 500 megawatts of electricity from solar energy and other emerging renewable technologies by the year 2015. That’s about the size of one coal-fired power plant.

The solar group, called the Go Solar Texas Coalition, wants the rule passed quickly and wants Perry to increase those numbers dramatically. It thinks Texas should push for 1,000 solar megawatts by 2015 and 5,000 by 2025.

The group also released a report proposing ways to add solar power, including more incentives for solar construction, loans to homeowners for solar panel installation, tax breaks for solar use, more rebates from electric companies and construction for solar tie-ins to new power transmission lines.

The report said Texas businesses are already positioned for a boom in solar power that would bring investment and high-paying jobs to the state. It urges quick action, considering two solar manufacturers already have left Texas for states that offer more incentives.

Jim Sargent, the builder of the “zero-energy” home in Farmers Branch, near Dallas, has built five such homes this year. He said increasing solar energy use can solve a lot of problems in the state.

“Solar is the one source of energy that can be productive on any rooftop in Texas,” he said. “The state has the raw material and resources to build this industry.”

Kevin Brooks of PPG Industries, which produces glass used on solar panels, said the bulk of his products get shipped out of the country, to be made into panels in places such as Spain, China and Greece where incentives are offered.

“It doesn’t have to be that way,” he said. “We want those jobs here, too.”