Solar farm in Denton?

A month or so ago, representatives from the Sierra Club stopped by our offices to share information about an initiative they were working — to get the Public Utility Commission of Texas to write rules that would get more solar energy into the Texas grid.

The PUC took a long time to write the rules for wind energy, despite clear direction from the Texas Legislature to get wind and other renewable sources on the grid, the representatives told us. Once completed, Texas rapidly became a powerhouse in wind-generated electricity. (I guess if there is a pun in there, it was intended.)

Rules for solar could provide real relief for Texas ratepayers, as well as relief for the environment. Texas’ electric emergencies are most likely to be on hot, sunny, summer days (see p. 11). During emergencies, ERCOT allows up to $4,500 per megawatt on the deregulated market, compared to about $30 per megawatt during normal conditions.

Denton is expected to turn down a round of proposals for a solar farm Tuesday. The city’s RFP was seeking a 20 MW project, which appears would be on the scale of solar farms that recently came online in San Antonio and Austin.

It’s difficult to know why the city turned the proposals down, since the council has been briefed in closed session. The vendor’s responses to the RFP show some concern over what looks like extraneous matters (building demonstration projects and bringing a manufacturing facility to town) compared to providing another reliable, renewable source of  energy to Denton residents. In addition, DME protects key competitive information; e.g., what it pays for the cost of power. More information on that feedback from vendors and the city’s response is here: 4859 Addendum # 2- Final.

A policy paper the Sierra Club provided for us shows a different kind of evaluative criteria for policy makers when considering solar energy. You can read more here: Re-considering_Economics_Solar.

The shorthand version of the paper is that in order to evaluate projects, policymakers consider the price-per-watt of the modules ($ per W) and the cost of electricity ($ per kwh)  – but these numbers are not always calculated in a transparent way. Policymakers also often consider ‘grid parity,’ which the authors consider an outdated concept. They caution policymakers to make sure they have the best, most current information when evaluating a project.

Denton gets about 40 percent of its energy from wind-powered sources and powers the equivalent of about 1,600 homes each year with gas captured at the landfill (a generating capacity that can triple in the coming years.)

Brian Daskam, spokesman for DME, said the utility will wait for direction from the council before — perhaps even if — going out for bid on the solar farm again. Story coming tomorrow.