Solar Powered Generation Sees Significant Growth while Some Solar Energy is Increasingly Blocked from Production – JD Supra

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Our Currents’ focus article this month is on developments in the growth of solar electric power generation and obstacles to future growth that are occurring around the U.S. from environmental groups and other energy producers attempting to limit the advancement of renewables. As someone who regularly writes about energy production and is Co-Chair of the firm’s MSHA and OSHA Safety practice groups, I will take a deep dive into these issues.

As the U.S. and the rest of the world attempt to reduce CO2 emissions to limit global warming, many states and countries have turned to renewables – wind and solar – to meet future power needs. As discussed in this article by Power Engineering, states that have made significant investment in infrastructure like power transmission lines and industrial scale solar are beginning to see a big return on their investments. Texas just announced that solar power generation provided 10 percent of the state’s power needs last year, while coal-fired electrical generation has declined to 9 percent. Last year, Texas generated 3.26 MWh from solar and only 2.96 MWh from coal.

The change is accelerating. In 2022, Texas coal-fired generation provided 20 percent of its power needs. In 2023, coal’s share dropped to 15 percent and is expected to continue to decline. (Nationally, coal-fired generation is now below 20 percent on a yearly average.) In that same two-year period, solar electric generation in Texas increased from less than one percent (.6 percent) to 10 percent last year. And, the amount of new solar in Texas is growing. In the last year alone – March 2023 to March 2024 – solar grew by 56 percent. The total amount of solar in Texas is now 22,710 MW. By the end of this year, another 7,168 MW (one-third of the current capacity) will be added. This growth is also possible because in the 1990s and early 2000s, Texas built powerlines from West Texas and its northern panhandle (where the land is well suited to wind and solar generation) to the urban areas like Dallas, Houston and Austin that need power.

Solar has a strong potential to reduce greenhouse gases, but as shown in this article from Energy News Network, new solar and at times wind generation are facing concerted efforts by environmental groups, some with ties to fossil fuel groups, to put in planning and zoning or other impediments to building industrial scale solar and wind farms. Some of these battles have led to restrictions from local or county zoning boards, while other efforts to restrict renewables have occurred through new laws that make it difficult to construct new solar farms.

In Ohio and many other states, groups opposed to solar have used zoning laws and involvement by state legislatures, to restrict solar and make it very difficult to add new solar capacity. These events have led to local environmentalist groups teaming up with small home owners and others who have moved to rural areas to oppose large scale solar developments. Solar developers are now paying annoyance payments to neighbors as solar farms are built, but still see growing opposition to solar. The opposition to solar farm construction has led to push back from farmers who want to develop some of their farm land for steady solar lease payments per year. Farm owners are also fighting attempts to prevent them from leasing farm land that has been in their families for generations.

These developments have led some states like Ohio to grandfather projects in the process of being approved. But in other states, opponents have used legislatures and Public Service Commissions to oppose new solar projects.

All of these developments have left uncertainty and difficulty in constructing new solar farms in areas with a need for more power. It is possible that the U.S. government will have to be involved to fast track wind and solar projects. Such action was necessary to get completion of the Mountain Valley Gas Pipeline in West Virginia and Virginia after litigation stopped or delayed construction over five years and added billions to the cost of the project to pipe gas to the Carolinas.

It is also noteworthy that while groups have tried to stop solar farm construction on the grounds of protecting farm land or preventing pollution, few of those groups or communities have stopped farm land from being developed for homes and subdivisions that take land out of agricultural production forever. Farmers have noted they can have solar panels on their land and still graze sheep to keep the vegetation under the panels mowed down.

Without federal action to speed up and clear the way for renewable solar and wind farms to be built, it will be near impossible to reduce worldwide CO2 levels.

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