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Solar gets royal treatment in Texas, where oil is king

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In the state where oil is king, solar energy is finally getting some respect. Texas, with its wealth of oil and natural gas reserves, has long emphasized two approaches to dwindling conventional energy supplies -- drill, and drill some more.

However, with state production of oil and gas continuing to slip, Texas has developed what many consider its first comprehensive policy to exploit another rich resource: sunshine.

The Texas Energy and Natural Resources Advisory Council (TENRAC), which formulates broad energy policy for the state, late last year adopted 25 recommendations to spur solar development. The most significant of those recommendations now are being introduced in the Texas Legislature.

"The realization is dawning that Texas must conserve and stretch out its supply of oil and gas," says Russel E. Smith of the Texas Solar Energy Society. That recognition has forced the state to look at a whole range of alternate energy resources, including lignite, biomass, geothermal, and solar, he says.

The solar energy recommendations requiring legislative action would:

* Form a nonprofit corporation to make low-interest loans for new homes using solar energy, or for the retrofitting of homes for solar equipment.

* Establish uniform requirements for licensing solar installers in the state.

* Expand and existing franchise tax exemption to include companies that manufacture or install solar equipment as part of their overall business. Only firms exclusively in the solar business now qualify.

* Increase state funding of solar research and development to $5 million in fiscal 1982 and to $9 million the following year. (TENRAC has spent a total of about $1 million on solar energy development to date.)

* Require all new state buildings constructed after August 1981 to use solar energy.

Many of these steps have already been taken in other states, and Mr. Smith considers Texas a laggard in solar development, particularly among the Sunbelt states.

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