Solar Energy on the Texas Horizon
For the Texas energy industry, “Solar is where wind was 10 years ago,” says Roger Duncan, a research fellow with the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin. Although as early as 2004, Texas introduced statewide utility-sponsored solar photovoltaic (PV) incentive programs, PV installation has recently ramped up. In fact, more PV devices were installed in the third quarter of last year than in all of 2015, and Texas has been ranked third in the nation for projected solar growth over the next 5 years. The Texas Legislature also has supported the energy source by, most recently, passing a 2015 law which restricts Homeowners’ Associations from broadly regulating residential solar.
If your company intends to site a solar facility in Texas, your permitting needs naturally will differ based on the specific circumstances of your project. Utility-scale solar sites intending to interconnect with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which supplies power to about 90 percent of our state’s electric load, must ensure that the project’s location falls within ERCOT territory. If your project lies within ERCOT’s bounds, you then may register before the state Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC). After registering, the physical design and construction of solar PV systems are then governed by the Texas Electrical Safety and Licensing Act and the Texas Administrative Code, as described in further detail below.
Only certain specialists can design PV systems—namely, licensed Master Electricians through a licensed Electrical Contractor. As for working with a Master Electrician to contract a PV installation, certain conditions must always be met. The Master Electrician need always hold the required Electrical Contractor’s license and additionally ensure that all individuals installing, affixing, and connecting the system are licensed electricians. Particular information must be displayed on both sides of all vehicles being used to transport modules to the jobsite as well. Failing to comply with any of these regulations can lead the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) to assess penalties of up to $5,000 per violation and/or issue a cease-and-desist order.
Although the Texas Legislature generally promotes energy development without extensive state regulation, siting a solar project may pose some challenges. If your company is considering siting a solar facility, in addition to being advised of all applicable state and local regulations, it is likely in your best interest to be aware of potential local and environmental problems.
Texas municipalities can enact zoning ordinances to restrict certain aspects of solar development in order to protect and preserve public health and safety, general welfare, morals, and places and areas of historical, cultural, or architectural importance and significance. Although the ordinances cannot blatantly contravene Texas policy supporting energy development, they could limit precise parts of your project, such as by restricting height, imposing setbacks from residential areas, and regulating impervious coverage. If zoning regulations have not yet been enacted in the area your company hopes to site its project, talking with local officials about potential fears may be a good way to meet local needs without unnecessary legal battles.
Possible Environmental Concerns
Solar projects can offer economic benefits to surrounding regions that other energy sources may not, but they still may run the risk of detrimentally affecting the environment. If your company is considering siting a solar project, special attention should be paid to federally and state listed endangered species. If any potential concerns arise in your proposed region, your company may be required to draft conservation plans in compliance with the Endangered Species Act (ESA), subject to approval by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Know the Law If You Are Siting Solar in Texas
As growing industrial solar development has shown, this energy source has a home on Texas terrain. However, with the relative novelty of siting industrial solar, staying informed about possible administrative hurdles and regulatory protocols may be key to ensuring your project’s long-term success.
1. Patrick Graves & Bruce Wright, Solar Power in Texas, TEXAS COMPTROLLER’S OFFICE: FISCAL NOTES, https://comptroller.texas.gov/economy/fiscal-notes/2018/april/solar.php (last visited Nov 16, 2018).
2. Austin Energy Solar Education, https://www.arcgis.com/apps/MapJournal/index.html?appid=d242eb5a271640849a6013e029aad2cb (last visited Nov 16, 2018).
3. Supra note 1, at 1.
4. SOLAR ENERGY INDUSTRIES ASSOCIATION, Solar State by State, https://www.seia.org/states-map (last visited Nov 15, 2018).
5. HOA Restrictions on Solar Panels, TEXAS ENERGY EXPERTS, https://texasenergyexperts.com/2017/01/24/hoa-restrictions-solar-panels/ (last visited Nov. 15, 2018).
6. ELECTRIC RELIABILITY COUNCIL OF TEXAS, About ERCOT, http://www.ercot.com/about (last visited Nov 15, 2018).
7. 16 TEX. ADMIN. CODE §25.109 (2013).
8. TEX. OCC. CODE ANN. §1305.001 (West).
9. 16 TEX. ADMIN. CODE § 73 (2018).
10. TEX. OCC. CODE ANN. §1305.153 (West).
11. TEX. OCC. CODE ANN. §1305.1618 (West).
12. TEX. OCC. CODE ANN. §1305.166 (West).
13. TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF LICENSING AND REGULATION, Electricians Penalties and Sanctions, https://www.license.state.tx.us/enforcement/elecsanctions.htm (last visited Nov 15, 2018).
14. TEX. LOCAL GOV’T CODE § 211.001.