Texas Senate Passes $500 million Solar Incentive Bill


Jim Vertuno

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Texas would develop a $500 million solar energy rebate program to help make it easier for homeowners and businesses to tap into the power of the sun under a bill passed in the Senate.

Environmentalists hailed the 26-4 vote Tuesday as a big step toward a greener future for Texas. And by getting more Texans use solar power, consumers can reduce dependence on foreign oil, said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Troy Fraser, a Horseshoe Bay Republican.

The fund would be paid for with fees built into monthly electric bills. Homeowners would pay 20 cents, commercial users $2 and industrial users $20 a month.

It's a small price to pay for a program that could let Texans recoup thousands of dollars through rebates, federal tax incentives and lower energy bills, said Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas.

The bill also requires developers to offer solar as a standard option in developments with 50 or more homes, creates a loan program for schools and prohibits neighborhood associations from banning homeowners from installing solar projects.

Although solar is becoming more mainstream as an energy source, the cost of installation can be too much for homeowners or businesses without rebates and tax incentives.

"This will help tens of thousands of Texans install solar on their rooftops, kick starting a solar industry in the state that will create good paying green jobs while helping protect the planet," Metzger said.

Fraser's bill is designed to collect up to $100 million annually over five years. It would pay rebates of up to 30 percent of the cost of installing solar technology. The federal government also allows tax credits of up to 30 percent.

Up to 70 percent of the fund could go toward utility-scale projects. For example, Austin Energy is considering building a large-scale solar farm. That project is already out for bid.

The fund expires after five years unless the Public Utilities Commission determines that there is a "substantial amount" of solar generation projects being manufactured in Texas. In that case, the program could be extended another five years. The bill provides additional rebates for buying technology made in Texas.

The Association of Electric Companies of Texas said it supports the incentives in the bill because they don't impose "an unreasonable financial burden" on customers or markets.

The group said it backs use of alternative energy technologies on a voluntary basis as they become economically viable and in demand.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the Utah Legislature could pass a bill like this?

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