There's a Reason San Antonio Ranks Ahead of Other Texas Cities on Solar

click to enlarge The 40 MW Alamo is one of several solar farms in the San Antonio area. - OCI SOLAR
OCI Solar
The 40 MW Alamo is one of several solar farms in the San Antonio area.
San Antonio's solar energy capacity grew 37 percent last year, helping it rise to No. 6 on the list of U.S. cities with the biggest solar deployments, according to Environment Texas Research & Policy Center's annual Shining Cities survey. Last year, the Alamo City ranked 8th.

Worthy of note, cities with municipally owned utilities — such as San Antonio's CPS Energy — tended to outshine those served by investor-owned utilities, said Luke Metzger, Environment Texas' executive director. His group's report compares solar stats for 70 of the nation's biggest urban areas.

While the Alamo City boasted 161 megawatts (MW) of solar capacity in 2017, for example, Dallas and Houston had just 16.4 MW and 9.5 MW respectively. The latter two cities are served by investor-owned power companies — which, as a group, tended to put short-term profits ahead of long-term commitments to clean energy.

"The key difference is that (CPS Energy) is municipally owned and sees the long-term value of solar to the community," Metzger said.

San Antonio has about 1,400 solar installations, including rooftop panels, community solar projects and utility-scale solar farms. With 107 watts per person, the city also received a “Solar Star” designation in the report for being one of just 18 cities with more than 50 watts per resident.

Metzger points to the San Antonio's development of its first Climate Action and Adaption Plan and CPS's ongoing use of solar incentives as positive commitments to clean energy.

Cris Eugster, CPS's chief operating officer, said the utility also is pursuing more opportunities to develop solar capacity in the city itself rather than at off-site solar farms. That helps generating local economic benefit and allows it to better adapt to demand.

"We want to see more and more of our investment in renewables done here in San Antonio," Eugster said.

But the city still has room to grow, Metzger said. Solar is currently deployed on just 1.4 percent of rooftops in San Antonio, and more than 3,700 MW of solar could be installed on small buildings here, according to U.S. Department of Energy stats.

Metzger also urged CPS to establish new and aggressive long-term goals for solar expansion, such as those in its Vision 2020 plan, which aimed for 20 percent of its overall capacity to come from renewable sources. The utility hit that goal in 2016.

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