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Chart: Who’s the leader in utility-scale solar — California or Texas?

After several years running of massive solar capacity buildouts, the Lone Star State is rapidly gaining ground on the long-established renewables leader.
By Eric Wesoff, Maria Virginia Olano

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A photo of a large utility-scale solar farm next to a graphic that reads Chart of the week

Canary Media’s chart of the week translates crucial data about the clean energy transition into a visual format.

Sometime in May of this year, those cowboys in Texas are expected to have officially added more utility-scale solar to their electric grid than the hippies in California have added to theirs, ending the Golden State’s perennial lead in this contest.

At the start of 2023, California was ahead of Texas by about 1,000 megawatts. Texas had 14,806 megawatts of utility-scale solar capacity as of December 2022, according to state grid operator ERCOT, while California had 15,967 megawatts as of January 5, 2023, according to state grid operator CAISO.

But Texas is simply building solar faster than any other state. It essentially doubled its capacity from 2019 to 2020 and again from 2020 to 2021, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. The pace of Texas’ capacity additions in the last few years is making California look uncommitted to this whole renewables thing.

Texas has 7.7 gigawatts of capacity additions planned for 2023, a solar development queue larger than California’s 4.2-gigawatt pipeline, setting the stage for Texas to seize the No. 1 spot in the next few months.

The Texas solar project that tips the scales could be the 640-megawatt Roseland Solar project in Falls County, or Intersect Power’s 300-megawatt Radian project in Brown County, or the 270-megawatt Blue Jay Solar plant in Grimes County — just a few of the many projects scheduled to enter commercial operation in the Lone Star State this year. There’s even a 100-megawatt solar project being built in the state with modules mounted directly on the ground, but that won’t go live in 2023.

It’s not just Texas and California surging ahead in utility-scale solar. The solar market across the whole country is forecast to add 29.1 gigawatts of new capacity in 2023, more than doubling the record 13.4 gigawatts installed in 2021 and amounting to over half of new U.S. capacity in 2023, according to the EIA. The industry is rebounding from a difficult 2022 replete with trade conflicts, labor ethics issues and supply-chain challenges.

Texas’ leadership in solar and renewables is driven by good old-fashioned energy economics, something Texans know a lot about.

Hat tip to Doug Lewin of Stoic Energy Consulting who tweeted about Texas’ impending solar dominance.

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Eric Wesoff is editorial director at Canary Media.

Maria Virginia Olano is editorial producer at Canary Media.