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Houston — The growth of renewables has showed no signs of slowing down and Texas is set to become a leader in solar generation, in addition to having the largest wind capacity in the country, according to a presentation at Thursday's Gulf Coast Power Association Houston luncheon.

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"Solar is coming to Texas," Chris Shugart, GCPA board member and senior vice president of operations at Pattern Energy, said as he introduced the speaker. "We've been waiting for it to come for a while and now it is."

Cary Kottler, senior director of business development at Pattern Energy, discussed Trends in US Renewable Energy Development at Thursday's event, and a lot of the focus was on Texas renewables as solar is where wind was five to 10 years ago.

"It already is catching up," Kottler said. "You'll see more solar than wind, especially in ERCOT."

There is about 60 GW of solar generation across the US, with Texas ranking sixth or seventh, but solar generation growth is coming in a big way to the state.

"Eight years from now, Texas will be number two or one," Kottler said. "Solar is coming. You'll see Texas move way up."

Of the 254 counties in Texas "I'm sure there are utility-scale projects being proposed in half of them," Kottler said.

The Electricity Reliability Council of Texas currently has 1.7 GW of installed solar capacity, with 2 GW to be added this year and nearly 2.6 GW to be added in 2020, according to the latest ERCOT data. It's the opposite situation for wind generation across the state, as Texas is already leading the way at about 20% of the roughly 100 GW across the US, Kottler said.

ERCOT's Competitive Renewable Energy Zone buildout helped facilitate growth in wind generation. ERCOT currently has nearly 21.8 GW of installed wind capacity, the most of any state in the nation, with over 7 GW slated to be added this year and 6.7 GW to be added in 2020, according to ERCOT.

"We'll continue to see more wind in Texas," Kottler said, adding 2019 will be another solid year for wind generation growth.

DRIVERS OF RENEWABLE GROWTH

The main drivers behind the growth in renewable generation are falling costs, fossil fuel retirements and load growth.

"This is a unique story in Texas," Kottler said about the flat load growth in other regions. "Certainty, the ERCOT market is going to have load growth."

The booming oil and gas industry in west Texas is helping to drive the increased load growth for the state.

In 2018, 4,273 MW of coal was retired in ERCOT or 20% of its coal capacity, according to the US Energy Information Administration. That included the 1,865-MW Monticello plant, the 1,200-MW Sandow (4 & 5) plant, and the 1,208-MW Big Brown plant.

"This wave of retirements across the US is going to continue," Kottler said, adding more retirements are expected in 2019.

WIND HURDLES

It is harder to find adequate locations to build wind projects as the best locations have already been taken.

"It's not that all the good locations are gone," Kottler said. "It's that we need to get transmission access to them."

However, technology advances are helping as large turbines and blades are being produced that can catch more wind.

"That allows us to put projects in less windy areas," Kottler said. "That's been a really exciting development ... Turbine technology has really allowed them to be produced for a much lower cost. A lot more power for a lower cost."

As the demand for electric vehicle helps lower the cost of battery storage, storage and transmission are going to be the game changers in incorporating more renewable energy, Kottler said.

While renewables account for about 10% of the electricity in the county, that number must grow to 20% in 10 years, Kottler said, adding there would probably be more growth in solar generation than wind as wind tax credits expire, but solar tax credit run through 2023.

"I think it's safe to assume costs will bump up as tax credits phase out," Kottler said.

-- Kassia Micek, kassia.micek@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Derek Sands, newsdesk@spglobal.com