The Tarrant County Commissioners Court will vote Tuesday on whether to join other Texas cities in competing for a $400 million solar grant. Courtesy of Storyblocks.
Aug. 11, 2023
Last month, the Tarrant County Commissioners Court turned down an invitation to join other Texas cities in a bid for millions of federal dollars to fund solar energy projects.
Now the Arlington-based commissioner who introduced the failed proposal is trying a second time to get it passed before the Sept. 26 deadline.
In July, the Tarrant County Commissioners Court voted down a proposal introduced by Commissioner Alisa Simmons to join the Solar for All Texas Consortium, which is competing for the EPA grant.
The vote failed 3-2, with Simmons and Commissioner Roy Charles Brooks, Precinct 1, voting for the resolution.
But Simmons wants another shot at swaying the court.
“Commissioner Simmons is fighting for this because it closely aligns with her top priorities — advancing sustainability goals, helping low-income residents and reducing people’s energy bills,” said Nathan Smith, community outreach coordinator for Commissioner Simmons.
The proposal will be reconsidered at the Tuesday meeting on Aug. 15 at 10 a.m. [UPDATE: The vote was postponed so Commissioners could gather more information. The final vote will be held at the Aug. 29 meeting.]
The Solar for All Texas Consortium is made up of the four of the five largest counties in the state by population. The counties are applying for the up-to-$400 million grant as a group to minimize the administrative burden as well as bolster their chances of receiving one of 60 grants available nationwide.
If awarded to Texas, Tarrant County's share could be as much as $20 million.
So far, Tarrant County is the only county among the top five largest counties in Texas to turn down the opportunity.
Harris, Dallas, Travis, and Bexar have already committed to the grant program.
“The EPA will likely only award one grant to Texas," said Smith. "If Tarrant County is not in the consortium, it will be much harder to receive any of this money.”
How the grants will be distributed is still being worked out but Tarrant County will likely be able to oversee its own allocation. Local nonprofits would then be asked to submit proposals directly to Tarrant County.
“It costs the county nothing to join the consortium," said Brandy O’Quinn, North Texas program manager for the Texas Electric Transportation Resources Alliance. "Cities can become Solsmart designated cities and apply for the funds along with nonprofits like United Way. Solsmart provides technical assistance so the county doesn’t have to. It’s a win-win.”
According to Smith, the county should also be looking at other opportunities available in the Inflation Reduction Act that could spur energy efficiency improvements, renewable energy advances and the transition to electrification in the community.
“This is an unprecedented moment,” he said of the federal program. “The IRA is the single largest infusion of federal money into energy efficiency and renewable energy writ large in U.S. history. All of that accrues to the county level. If we are not aggressively pursing this, we’re doing a disservice to Tarrant County residents and taxpayers.”
Smith pointed out the economic benefits — upgrading county buildings could ultimately save Tarrant County taxpayers thousands of dollars.
"The bill just for electricity in the county was $5 million last year," Smith said. “If we could get energy efficiency upgrades and solar arrays, why we would we not want to do that?”
In addition, he said that all of DFW should be more actively pursing grants from VW Settlement Grant, managed in Texas by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
In 2015, Volkswagen got caught rigging its diesel cars to pass emissions tests. Meanwhile, the cars, made between 2009 and 2015, were emitting up to 40 times the legal limit of nitrogen oxide, violating the Clean Air Act. As part of the settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency, VW agreed to pay $5 billion in environmental mitigation.
Texas was awarded $87 million for environmental mitigation programs based on the number of offending vehicles purchased in the state. According to the TCEQ website, only $10.1 million of that has been applied for.
Smith said Dallas-Fort Worth has a good chance of receiving VW Settlement money. DFW is considered by TCEQ to be a priority area because of its long history of nonattainment of federal clean air standards. The funds can be used to upgrade school buses or replace municipal fleets with electric vehicles, which would help cut polllution.
As for Tuesday's vote, Smith urges anyone interested in advancing renewable energy projects in Tarrant County to show up to speak or provide a written comment.
"Public comment at Commissioners Court makes an impact and is invaluable," he said.
Texas Solar For All Consortium
About: Solar for All is a competitive EPA grant with the mission of enabling low-income constituents to enjoy the benefits of solar through energy bill relief. Several large Texas counties are forming a consortium to make a joint application. The Tarrant County Commissioners Court will be voting on whether to join the Texas Solar For All Consortium next week.
When: The Tarrant County Commissioners Court will vote Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2023 at 10 a.m. [UPDATE: The vote was postponed so Commissioners could gather more information. The final vote will be held at the Aug. 29 meeting.]
Where: Tarrant County Administration Building, 100 E. Weatherford Street, Suite 502A, Fort Worth.
Public Comment: Anyone who’s interested in speaking at the Tarrant County Commissioners Court meeting or submitting a public comment, should sign up here.
Watch the Livestream of the Meeting
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