San Antonio has further climbed the ranks of major U.S. cities that are leading the way for solar power installation in the United States.
Environment America, a nonprofit national network of 29 state environmental groups, on Wednesday released its annual analysis of installed solar electricity capacity in major U.S. cities and San Antonio ranked fifth and was named a â€śSolar Starâ€ť for its initiatives that have increased solar availability for its residents.
The No. 5 ranking, which is for 2019, is the highest San Antonio has achieved since the surveys began in 2013. In the past few years, the city has hovered around sixth and seventh. It is the only Texas city to rank among the top 10 cities nationwide thanks to an increase of nearly 67.6 megawatts of solar capacity installed within city limits on residential and commercial rooftops and solar farms in the past year. That number marks a 36 percent increase over 2018 while U.S. capacity grew 23 percent.
â€śWe saw San Antonio really doubling down [on solar] last year,â€ť saidÂ Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas, the Austin-based branch of Environment America, the nonprofit that performed the analysis.
Environment Americaâ€™s â€śShining Citiesâ€ť report has surveyed 57 cities for the past seven years. Almost 90 percent of those cities more than doubled their total installed solar photovoltaic (PV) â€” the direct conversion of light into electricity â€” capacity between 2013 and 2019.
San Antonio has more than 254 megawatts (MW) of installed solar capacity: Austin ranked 14th with nearly 62 MW and Houston ranked 19th with about 42 MW. Los Angeles still leads the nation with nearly 484 MW.
CPS Energy ranked No. 2 nationally for municipally-owned utilities with installed capacity with its nearly 765 MW. Much of that capacity is outside San Antonio city limits.
The utilityâ€™s largely successful solar incentivesÂ have boosted adoption of solar throughout the city, Metzger said.
â€śDespite the [coronavirus] crisis that weâ€™re in, the momentum has continued,â€ť said Mayor Ron Nirenberg at a press conference held over Zoom. â€śI will remain committed, along with my [City Council] colleagues, to pushing renewable, sustainable energy moving forward.â€ť
Last year, CPS Energy saw a 21 percent increase in residential solar panel rebate applications, Nirenberg noted. â€śThe folks on the ground, our residents, are seeing the value to their households â€“ the value to their families â€“Â of the adoption of solar.â€ť
Commercial applications for the utilityâ€™s rebate program also increased, said Nirenberg, who sits on the utilityâ€™s board in his official capacity. Twenty commercial projects have been proposed this year through April, compared to a total of 27 in all of 2019.
CPS Energy President and CEO Paula Gold-Williams said renewable energies such as solar will play a critical role in the utilityâ€™s transition away from burning fossil fuels.
Solar is a major component of utilityâ€™s award-winning energy conservation program, Gold-Williams said. The Save for Tomorrow Energy Plan which saved 845 MW of electricity from 2009 to 2020 â€“ beyond the 771 MW goal.
â€ś[Solar] is definitely a part of whatâ€™s attractive to our customers â€“ itâ€™s a part of whatâ€™s right in terms of evolving our portfolio to cleaner technologies,â€ť she said. â€śWe continue to think about where can we go from here.â€ť
There is an estimated 3,721 MW of potential residential and commercial rooftop capacity, according to the analysis.
â€śWhile we want to do a lot of large-scale [solar farm],â€ť Gold-Williams said, â€śwe definitely feel like thereâ€™s a huge component of value with distributed solar.â€ť
To replace 1,700 MW of capacity from gas steam unitsÂ approaching the end of their useful lives, CPS Energy plans to release a global request for proposals (RFP) for companies to apply to fulfill that need. The so-called â€śFlexPower Bundleâ€ť would add 900 megawatts of solar capacity to the utilityâ€™s portfolio, 50 megawatts of battery storage, and 300-500 megawatts of natural gas capacity or other technology.Â
â€śThat [breakdown between energy sources] can change, depending on how effective that bid is,â€ť Gold-Williams said. â€śWeâ€™re going to keep that flexibility.â€ť
Natural gas is â€śhard to beatâ€ť in terms of price and reliability, she said, but the utility started getting companies â€“Â prior to the coronavirus pandemic â€“ â€śknocking at on our door and telling us that they have some things that [they] think could rival gas. So we think there could be a lot of opportunities there.â€ť
That RFP was slated to be released earlier this year, but the pandemic slowed the process, she said.
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â€śWe would be lucky if we can get it in late summer,â€ť she said. â€śIt will depend on our ability to have people respond to that RFP. The more that we can get global attention, the better it will be.â€ť
While San Antonio â€“ and CPS Energy â€“ is still heavily dependent on fossil fuels and natural gas and environmentalist donâ€™t always agree with the utilities policies, Metzger said, â€śwe want to give credit where credit is due. Itâ€™s clear from the data that San Antonio is a shining city.â€ť
Gold-Williams said the coronavirus pandemic willÂ impact the utilityâ€™s budget, but that ultimately wonâ€™t derail its FlexPower plans.Â
As the utility continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic, two more CPS Energy employees have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total to three. The utility learned of the positive tests earlier this week, according to aÂ Wednesday press release.Â The employees are quarantining and recovering at home.Â
â€śNeither employee had customer interactions,â€ť the press release reads.Â â€śOne remote team member last reported to a CPS Energy facility more than 14 days ago. The second is a field services team member who last reported to work six days ago and who continues to be in quarantine. We do not anticipate this development to significantly impact our business operations.â€ť
During her opening remarks at the board meeting Wednesday, Gold-Williams said the two employees do not work in sectors of the utility thatÂ may need to be sequesteredÂ should the virus spread further in the community.