Tarrant County will receive part of $250M federal grant to expand solar energy – Fort Worth Report

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Millions in federal solar funds could flow into Tarrant County following an Environmental Protection Agency grant announcement Monday. 

A coalition of urban Texas cities and counties, including Tarrant, will receive about $250 million to provide solar energy to low-income and disadvantaged communities across the state. Tarrant joined Harris County, Dallas County, Travis County, the city of San Antonio and a group of border counties in their application last year. 

The Solar for All program awarded $7 billion to 60 applicants across the country, including $150 million to another Texas-based group working with universities primarily serving minority students. About 900,000 households nationwide will save over $350 million on their electric bills as a result of the investment, according to EPA estimates.

Tarrant County nearly didn’t apply for federal funds after Republican county commissioners voted against joining the coalition in July, citing a lack of information about the program and distrust of the solar industry. The vote prompted weeks of back-and-forth debate between Democrat Alisa Simmons, who championed joining the coalition, and Republican County Judge Tim O’Hare, who said solar panels negatively impact residents trying to sell their homes. 

Following a vocal push from environmental advocates and Simmons, Republican Gary Fickes switched his vote in August to allow Tarrant to join the coalition. On Monday, Simmons thanked Fickes and Democrat Roy Brooks for supporting the Solar for All application. 

“I am excited to see how we can use this federal money to provide benefits for some of Tarrant County’s most economically disadvantaged residents while bolstering our grid and improving air quality,” Simmons said in a statement. 

It’s unclear how much funding Tarrant County will receive out of the $250 million grant. After commissioners initially voted against joining the coalition, Tarrant missed a mid-August deadline to notify the EPA of its intention to apply. 

That delay caused Tarrant to be considered a sub-applicant of Dallas County rather than a full coalition member, said Nathan Smith, Simmons’ policy coordinator. The exact amount of Tarrant’s grant funding still needs to be negotiated with Dallas and Harris, which served as the lead applicant. 

“The next steps will be to work within the consortium to ensure that all participants receive an equitable allocation,” Smith said. “Commissioner Simmons will ensure that county staff is present and active in those conversations.” 

Tarrant officials are still determining which projects they will pursue with the grant funds, Smith said. The equation will likely include partnerships with nonprofit organizations to install rooftop solar and provide savings to low-income clients. United Way of Tarrant County CEO Leah King told commissioners last summer that her organization was prepared to help dispense grant funds and oversee management of the program. 

“We want to come alongside the county and provide our services if that is desired and necessary,” King said in August. “We really think that a collaborative approach is something that the federal government is looking for.” 

Grant recipients are expected to receive funds this summer and launch their new programs in the fall and winter of 2024, according to EPA officials. 

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at [email protected]. 

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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