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Marston: Fossil-fueled Texas can't see solar light

"Marston: Fossil-fueled Texas can't see solar light(By Jim Marston, Environmental Defense Fund via Statesman.com)What began as ""the sunny"" 81st legislative session ended overcast this week
as political wrangling and well-funded special interests clouded
opportunities to bring thousands of jobs to Texas and position us as a
leader in the new energy economy.It appears that the adage ""the more things change, the more they stay the
same"" rings true once again. While other states develop economically
beneficial policies to bring jobs and cleaner energy, Texas is stuck trying
to hold on to our fossil-fueled past.So what happened?Things started brightly enough. For the first time, solar had broad,
bipartisan support from the leadership in both houses. There were at least
69 solar/renewable energy bills filed — by Republicans and Democrats.Along with bipartisan support, there was solar industry interest. In March,
an eight-hour ""solar"" day hearing attracted the attention of solar
installers and international manufacturers. These industry representatives
testified in support of state policies with up-front costs of as little as
20 cents per month for the average homeowner (with even lower costs or net
savings when compared to future natural gas and regulatory costs).A good solar incentive bill SB 545 (Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay; Rep.
Mark Strama, D-Austin), combined with a new renewable portfolio standard
bill SB 541 (Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin; Rep. David Farabee, D-Wichita
Falls), represented our best opportunity to bring solar manufacturing jobs
to Texas. Both passed the Senate with strong bipartisan support and were
placed on major state calendars in the House, giving the bills high
priority.Then the rains came. On top of voter ID and other parliamentary delays,
industry support for renewable energy began to waiver. The Texas
Association of Manufacturers began to circulate costs for SB 541 that were
clearly inaccurate and misleading. Their estimates were much more costly
than the Public Utility Commission estimates of the bill and failed to
consider any of the financial benefits of the current renewable portfolio
standard (RPS) outlined by the Public Utilities Commission and the Electric
Reliability Council of Texas.According to the University of Texas' ""Opportunity on the Horizon"" report,
the right suite of solar policies, including an RPS and solar rebates,
would have brought Texas 123,000 jobs. Even without those policies in
place, Texas attracted some attention from solar manufacturers in the last
couple of years, at least enough to get them to visit and determine state
interest in new jobs. But there was very little official state activity in
response to those visits, especially when compared to what other states
were doing. Just this session, economic development officials from another
state scheduled meetings with solar executives visiting Austin when word
got out that Texas failed to roll out the red carpet.Without the incentives that the renewable energy bills would have brought
to Texas, other states now have more opportunity to attract clean energy
investment. Even while Luke Bellsnyder, executive director of TAM, opposed
some of the proposed legislation, he acknowledged in The New York Times
that ""panel manufacturer X or Y was looking to Texas, but decided to go to
other states because they have a better RPS or better incentives for
production.""Certainly, solar and renewable energy made important strides this session,
especially given strong bipartisan support. In the end, however, political
wrangling and heavy lobbying from opponents of clean energy sank any hope
Texas had for showing energy leadership. With all the excitement around
solar power and renewable energy, people seemed to forget why it was so
exciting: good jobs, cleaner energy and lower, stable energy costs.Marston is regional director of Environmental Defense Fund.For the very latest in green jobs please"