The news today of a large solar plant in Texas tells a story about the future of energy in a place with a rich energy past.
Electricity provider Luminant announced a 116 MW power purchase with a solar plant to be built by SunEdison in West Texas. West Texas is known for oil. Upton County, where this SunEdison plant will run, is home of McCamey, Texas. George McCamey was an oil wildcatter, and the town that bears his name was organized the day after he struck oil there in September, 1925.
That area is also known for wind power. I recognized the name of McCamey from the start of the more recent boom in wind energy production in Texas. The McCamey area was so central to wind in Texas that in 2001 McCamey was declared the “Wind Energy Capital of Texas.”
Big, but not Texas big
Upton County, where all this is happening, is not an especially large county. At 1242 square miles, it is just 10 percent larger than the average size of a county in the United States. The solar plant will be 800 acres, or 1.25 square miles. To complete the math here, that is one-thousandth of the area of the county. As Luminant describes it, it is the area of 600 football fields.
From an economic perspective, this news is a sign of things to come. This utility does not have a monopoly and its customers can choose other suppliers, so Luminant has made this choice for solar in a price-competitive market.
In a state that has abundant energy resources, and transparent energy markets, solar has taken a place alongside the other sources of energy. This state, and this county in particular, has seen the success of oil, then wind, and now solar energy.
This news demonstrates that there will be more renewable energy added to the power grid. Planners in Texas have been preparing for increasing amounts of renewable energy. Other regions are also confident that managing the grid with as much as 10 times more wind and solar is not an obstacle to lowering carbon pollution. With the new Clean Power Plan rules expanding the role for renewable energy, this is good news.