(Issued July 26, 2017)
Two of the most pressing issues affecting Congressional District 6 are the need to develop more and better jobs for our young high school graduates (only 30 percent of our district gets a 4-year college degree) and the need to clean up our air quality, which fails federal standards and is harming our health.
Both problems can be at least partially addressed by an aggressive push to develop renewable energy – particularly solar – in the district. Federal policy on renewables is important because the market does not factor in the value of climate benefits of non-carbon fuel.
Right now, Texas electricity utilities are importing coal from coal-producing states, namely Wyoming. This does nothing to create jobs in Texas, and it contributes massively to our poor air quality. Natural gas, produced here, is about 50% cleaner than coal and will continue to fuel utilities for some time to come. We could, however, rapidly transition to solar and other affordable clean energy production in CD6, helping to clean our environment and create many new jobs.
The renewable energy sector is growing 17 times as fast as the rest of the U.S. economy and increasingly provides more and more jobs. The solar energy industry created 73,000 jobs nationally in 2016, an increase of 25%. We must bring some of those jobs to this district. Less than 1% of the electricity produced here is solar, so there’s tremendous opportunity for growth. We should strive to increase that number every year until it reaches at least 20%.
Every increase in the percentage of solar energy produced here will increase jobs exponentially. That’s because renewable energy is job intensive. The wind and solar industries each employ twice as many as those employed in coal mining (despite producing 30% of energy versus 6% for wind and solar combined): Money invested in oil, gas and coal is mainly spent on getting fossil fuels out of the ground. The jobs created in renewable production are good, blue collar jobs of the future, as renewable energy production will only increase over time as fossil fuels are depleted. To install solar panels, you need people who can sell, market, and manage the installation, and you need installers: these are typically high-school graduates with some education and training in electrical, carpentry, and other building trades.
The entire DFW region is a non-attainment area for ozone. This means we have ozone that damages the lungs and increases death rates. President George W. Bush tightened standards to 75 ppb, and President Obama tightened them even further to 70ppb. Dallas region is at 80 ppb right now. President Trump wants to roll back national standards.
Our district can produce solar three different ways: residential panels, community solar where a subdivision or neighborhood invests together in panels, and utility-scale solar farms. There may also be opportunities to develop small-scale wind or geothermal power in our district.
Promoting Renewable Energy Production
There are numerous state and federal steps that need to be taken to promote solar, wind, and geothermal production in our district. Here are some of the main ones:
- Subsidy extension: The Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) is a 30 percent tax credit for solar systems on residential and commercial properties that is scheduled to phase down starting in 2020. This tax credit should be extended and paired with low-interest federal loans, so homeowners can afford solar installations that typically pay for themselves over 10 years. We also need to reinstate the tax credits for geothermal heat pumps and residential wind systems, which expired at the end of 2016. Solar, geothermal, and wind all help Texans save on our energy bills while cutting pollution from power plants.
- Import tariffs: The Federal government should drop plans to charge import tariffs on solar panels. In May, the Trump administration informed other members of the WTO that it was considering imposing tariffs on imports. This would drive up the cost of installation.
- Net metering: Make net metering mandatory across the state and country. Net metering means utilities have to net out the electricity used by the solar energy producer. Right now, some utilities charge solar customers a much higher rate for the electricity they use than for the energy they contribute to the grid. Solar panel owners should only be charged for the net amount of energy they use over a given month so that they can get the full value from their investment.
Research and Development
Critical to that objective is investment in scientific research and development. It is disturbing that President Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress is proposing devastating cuts in energy R&D. I will support increases to make the U.S. the global leader in energy technologies, and I will work ceaselessly to make sure that the great research universities of Texas — UT, TAMU, SMU, U of H, Rice — are poised to be major contributors to this R&D effort. Nearby SMU is already a leader in research on geothermal energy — an affordable, clean energy resource that could be a great complement to other energy sources, since it can provide power when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.
University scientific research leads to innovation which can launch the next generation of industry players. The decisions we make in the next few years will decide which state is the friendliest to those businesses. I want those companies to thrive in Texas and not just in California or New York or Massachusetts, so Texas will remain the energy capital of the U.S. and the globe. I will work with state leaders to help create university business incubators that help translate energy research into new business.
JANA LYNNE SANCHEZ: Renewable Energy Promotion