Green

Texas' largest solar panel installation to power 50,000 homes in Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) -- More of Austin's homes and businesses are about to be powered by the sun.

A five-hour drive west of Texas takes you to Pecos County, where developers just broke ground on what will become the largest solar panel installation in the state.

Once complete, the Midway Solar project will generate enough power to run 50,000 home. And all of that energy is coming to Austin, boosting Austin Energy toward their aggressive renewable energy goals.

As it stands now, 35 percent of Austin Energy's electric load is powered by solar and wind -- commonly referred to as "renewable" sources of energy. The remainder of the load comes from "non-renewable" sources, including but not limited to coal and natural gas.

"It would be nice if there were more sustainable and renewable," Austin resident Grant McCollor said.

But Austin Energy says that current 35 percent renewable level actually leads the pack for large cities in the U.S.

"The initial 2020 goal, which we put in place in 2003, was 20 percent," Khalil Shalabi of Austin Energy told KXAN. "We revised that up to 30 percent, then subsequently two years later, we revised it up to 35 percent."

In fact, Austin Energy has been meeting and exceeding their goals so regularly, they are on track to becoming majority solar and wind power by 2025.

The Midway Solar project in West Texas will provide another leg-up toward meeting future renewable goals in the city. The plot spans 900 acres slated to house more than 600,000 solar panels, installed and functional by early 2019.

"We're blessed here in Texas to have incredible natural resources," Austin Energy Solar Program Manager Danielle Murray said. "Particularly out in West Texas, we have great wind and great solar."

Data from the First Warning Weather center confirms that this site will stretch for miles across some of the sunniest land in the country, producing on average 5.5-6.5 kWh/m2/day.

"For our customers who really care about being green and sustainable in the long run, we have a really fantastic opportunity to get that power from west Texas to power homes here in Austin and green up our electric supply," Murray said.

Austin Energy customers who are feeling green and antsy have other options to implement into their homes on a quicker timeline. Austin Energy offers customers sign-ups to two community solar installations, supporting their renewable energy efforts right here in Austin.

  • Palmer Events Center solar installation downtown (functional)
    • 185 kW
    • Enough to power about 25 homes
  • La Loma solar installation in east Austin (under construction)
    • 2.6 MW
    • Enough to power 400-450 homes
    • Features a battery the size of a shipping container to preserve energy when demand stays high but supply drops from passing shade clouds

"It's really exciting to see it take off, to be affordable, and to be available at the kind of scale that it is here in Austin," Murray said.

As Austin Energy outpaces their goals so handily, why not be even more aggressive with them?

"The reason we gave ourselves more time is because the technology is getting cheaper so quickly," Shalabi said. "It's one-fifth the price now than it used to be five years ago."

And when Austin Energy saves money on their renewable energy contracts, they can pass the savings along to their customers.

"Sounds good," Austin resident McCollor said through laughter. "Yes! I approve."


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