is micro-solar getting cloudy in Austin?

Article in today's local newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman, about solar in the city and a desire by the city to support macrosolar (solar farms in West Texas) instead of microsolar (solar on roofs here in Central Texas). Local microsolar currently has about 6 megawatts of capacity (out of 2,800 megawatts of total capacity). The city has a goal of having 200 megawatts of solar capacity by 2020 (which ain't all that far away). The city could continue with incentivizing local microsolar, but it's twice as expensive compared to larger solar farms: 22 cents per kilowatt-hour versus 10 cents per kilowatt-hour. And given the criticism Austin Energy is taking for raising rates (the first rate increases in 18 freakin' years, fer cry eye!), it's hard to fault them for pursuing a more affordable path toward more expensive renewables.

The local solar industry is not happy with the plan and has pressed for the creation of Local Solar Advisory Committee to advise city council on microsolar, something the council will vote on Thursday. The local industry points to the local jobs created with solar here as opposed to solar over there in West Texas. Perhaps a combined local goal for micro solar and broader goal for overall solar is the path. We shall see.

Read the full article here.

[photo from Wikipedia]


  1. I'm not sure what this $.10 vs. $.22 figure means since, at least for distributed solar ("microsolar"), the city makes a one-time investment for ongoing generation, so a price per kWh of generation doesn't really make sense to me (what are the assumptions?). A more straightforward figure (which also came from Michael Osborne, special assistant to AE General Manager Larry Weis, at a talk I attended last month) is that it costs $2.32/watt to build solar/wind farms in West Texas (not to be confused with West, Texas, where $2.32 gets you a kolache or two). At that price, a $2.50/watt rebate for distributed solar doesn't make sense on its own, although maybe it still does if you consider the impact of local jobs. But with the price of solar coming down, it's probably about time for AE to reduce the amount of the rebate anyway.

  2. Good point. If it costs them $2.32 per watt to build solar out yonder, then why not pay the same to incentivize here? Something's not adding up here...

    1. I quickly scanned this article:


      I can see why it makes sense to report on cost per kilowatt-hour because of solar efficiency due both to location, climate, and obstructions (or lack thereof). According to this report, rooftop residential is about 50% as efficient in generating solar energy at dedicated facilities, particularly in west Texas.

    2. Okay, good point right back atcha. But it still seems like it's $.10/kWh versus $.22/kWh over a certain period of time. (BTW, our installer says that Michael Osborne's calculations of how much distributed solar in Austin can generate (per kW) are a lot lower than his (our installer's) own calculations based on actual installed projects.

    3. Agree that it has to be over a certain period of time (and that period of time is unspecified for some reason). I'm *guessing* it's for the life of the cells (the text suggests the macro-solar is being purchased under contract), but guessing ain't good enough for policy decisions.

      On the (literally) bright side: Y'all's house is perfect for solar, especially if the city starts charging for during peak hours! Ours? meh.