Green coffee

Starbucks brews up solar energy initiative across Houston and Texas

The coffee company announced three Houston-area solar projects. Courtesy of Starbucks

Coffee shop chain Starbucks is plugging into Texas' solar energy industry in a big way.

Two 10-megawatt solar farms in Texas owned by Cypress Creek Renewables LLC are providing enough energy for the equivalent of 360 Starbuck stores, including locations in Houston, Humble, Katy, and Spring. Separately, Starbucks has invested in six other Texas solar farms owned by Cypress Creek, representing 50 megawatts of solar energy; Santa Monica, California-based Cypress Creek is selling that power to other customers.

Three of the eight solar farms in the Texas portfolio are just outside the Houston metro area. One is in the Fort Bend County town of Beasley, while two of the projects are in Wallis and Wharton.

Starbucks already relies on a North Carolina solar farm equipped with 149,000 panels to deliver solar energy equivalent to powering 600 Starbucks stores in North Carolina, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

"Our long-standing commitment to renewable energy supports our greener-retail initiative and demonstrates our aspiration to sustainable coffee, served sustainably," Rebecca Zimmer, Starbucks' director of global environmental impact, says in an April 15 release about its solar investment in Texas. "Now, we are investing in new, renewable energy projects in our store communities, which we know is something our partners and customers can appreciate for their local economy and for the environment."

The solar commitment in Texas aligns with Starbucks' goal of designing, building, and operating 10,000 "greener" company-owned stores around the world by 2025. The Seattle-based retailer expects this initiative — whose features include renewable energy, energy efficiency, and waste reduction — to cut $50 million in utility costs over the next 10 years.

U.S. Bank's community development division teamed up with Starbucks and Cypress Creek on the Texas solar farms. Chris Roetheli, a business development officer at U.S. Bank, says solar tax equity investments like those undertaken by Starbucks are growing in popularity among non-traditional investors.

"Starbucks is taking a unique approach — investing in solar farms regionally to support a specific group of its stores," Roetheli says in the announcement of the solar collaboration. "This is a new concept, and one that I think other companies are watching and may follow. It's an interesting model that allows them to talk specifically about the impact of their investments."

Starbucks' investment comes as Texas' stature in the solar energy sector keeps rising, along with the state's role in the wind energy industry.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, more than 2,900 megawatts of solar capacity are installed in Texas. That's enough energy to power nearly 350,000 homes. Among the states, Texas ranks fifth for the amount of installed solar capacity.

Solar investment in Texas exceeds $4.5 billion, with about 650 solar companies operating statewide, the association says. The solar energy industry employs more than 13,000 full-time and part-time workers in Texas, according to the Texas Solar Power Association.

With more than 4 gigawatts (over 7,000 megawatts) of solar capacity expected to be added in Texas over the next five years, the national solar association reported in 2018 that "Texas is poised to become a nationwide leader in solar energy … ."

As it stands now, though, solar supplies less than 1 percent of Texas' electricity.

A 2018 state-by-state report card for friendliness toward solar power assigned a "C" to Texas, putting it in 34th place among the states.

The report card, released by SolarPowerRocks.com, lauds the backing of big Texas cities like Houston, Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio in encouraging residential solar installations.

However, the report card adds, outlying areas in Texas lag their urban counterparts in support of residential solar, "and we'd like lawmakers here to codify more protections and goals for solar adoption, but in the most populous areas, the Lone Star [State] shines."

In order to stay competitive, Texas needs to stay innovative. Photo by gguy44/Getty Images

It's no accident that Texas has one of the strongest economies in the world. Generations of leaders have built and sustained a business climate that welcomes investment and innovation without allowing burdensome regulations and high taxes to get in the way.

Because Texas welcomes job creation and offers families a great quality of life, our population is projected to grow rapidly in the coming years. Experts say the Texas population will increase by 10 million people by the state we celebrate the Texas bicentennial in 2036. There is no doubt that this is a place where people want to live and businesses want to create jobs.

But we cannot assume that our past record of success is destined to repeat itself. When it comes to creating an economy that offers opportunity for our fellow Texans, we have a lot of advantages. But it is up to all of us to make the most of those advantages and also identify ways that we can do better.

That's why I founded an organization called Texas 2036. We are here to support the long-term strategies and investments that will help Texas remain an economic juggernaut for decades to come — a place where great ideas thrive and the brightest minds want to work.

Texas 2036 is intentionally and unapologetically nonpartisan. While we will engage closely with elected leaders, our work is far different from the short-term urgency of politics. We aren't just thinking about the headlines of the day or the whims of the electorate. We believe what Texas needs is someone taking the longer view and focusing on the demands we know are coming down the road, no matter who is holding public office.

This long-term focus requires actionable, credible data. The Texas 2036 team has spent significant time over the last couple of years building the data sets that will help Texas leaders and the people they represent make the best decisions for our future. This data will provide a foundation upon which we can build consensus around solutions that will support continued growth.

For example, there is no better magnet for job creation than a well-educated workforce with diverse skills. Yet there is plenty of work to do to ensure Texas has the robust workforce needed to attract high-quality jobs. Soon, more than 77 percent of jobs will require a college degree or certificate, but only 28 percent of Texas 8th graders complete a postsecondary degree or certificate within six years of high school graduation. We cannot continue our economic success without significant improvements in educational performance and attainment. But if we make those improvements — and I have no doubt that we can — then we will not only sustain our prosperity, but allow more Texans to partake in it.

Our mission is ambitious, but so are Texans. That's why we want as many people as possible engaging with Texas 2036. I hope you will become part of this conversation by texting JOINTX to 52886 and visiting our website. Over the course of the next year, we will be developing and releasing strategies and recommendations for how Texas can meet the demands of the future, and we need as many Texans as possible engaged in this critical effort.

Texas is a place of big dreams and endless possibilities. We have a storied past and a proud present. It's up to all of us to make sure the future is even better.

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Tom Luce is the founder of Texas 2036, an organization focused on bringing attention to issues that are going to affect the Lone Star State in the long term.