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Archive for March, 2018

A new study by an SMU geophysical team found alarming rates of ground movement at various locations across a 4000-square-mile area of four Texas counties. (Zhong Lu and Jin-Woo Kim, SMU) Credit: Zhong Lu and Jin-Woo Kim, SMU. This shows where WCS is locating their proposed high-level radioactive interim waste storage facility in relation to the area in the SMU study.

 

A geophysical team from Southern Methodist University, near Dallas, TX is reporting that various locations in large portions of four Texas counties (Winkler, Ward, Reeves and Pecos) are sinking and uplifting with significant movement of the ground across a 4000-square-mile area—in one place as much as 40 inches over the past two-and-a-half years.

The scientists made the discovery with analysis of medium-resolution (15 feet to 65 feet) radar imagery taken between November 2014 and April 2017 which cover portions of four oil-patch counties where there’s heavy production of hydrocarbons from the oil-rich West Texas Permian Basin.

The imagery, coupled with oil-well production data from the Texas Railroad Commission, suggests the area’s unstable ground is associated with decades of oil activity and its effect on rocks below the surface of the earth.

The SMU researchers caution that ground movement may extend beyond what radar observed in the four-county area. The entire region is highly vulnerable to human activity due to its geology—water-soluble salt and limestone formations, and shale formations.

And right on the edge of the study area sits WCS’ proposed interim storage site for high-level radioactive waste. One of the geophysical team conducting the study, Zhong Lu, a professor in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences at SMU and a global expert in satellite radar imagery analysis, told reporters, “These hazards represent a danger to residents, roads, railroads, levees, dams, and oil and gas pipelines, as well as potential pollution of ground water. Proactive, continuous detailed monitoring from space is critical to secure the safety of people and property.”

With the NRC license application now going forward again, this is a new development about which Texas should be very concerned.  We hope NRC will have SMU expand the scope of their study to include the area immediately surrounding the WCS site near Andrews, Texas and the Holtec site just across the border in New Mexico.

You can read about the findings in Phys.org or see the study in Nature.

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La Loma Community Solar Farm – Photo by RALPH BARRERA / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Just northeast of Springdale Road and Airport Boulevard and adjacent to the Austin Energy’s Kingsbery substation, La Loma boasts more than 9,000 panels. The 2.6 megawatt project will produce at least 4,400 megawatt-hours of electric power per year. Community solar allows multiple customers to share the output of a central facility rather than installing solar on their own roofs. Customers include renters, people with shaded roofs, and residents who can’t afford the upfront costs of rooftop solar. More than half of Austin Energy customers are renters and have limited access to rooftop solar.

Following Austin City Council approval in December, Austin Energy dedicated half of La Loma’s capacity to low-income customers in the City of Austin Utilities’ Customer Assistance Program at a discounted rate. At the time of the opening, 130 had signed up for the 220 slots available in the discount program. The market-rate community solar option is fully subscribed with 220 participants and another 38 on the waitlist for future projects.

“Austin Energy’s Community Solar Program is another great example of what happens when the City Council, the community and the utility work together to drive value for all of our customers,” said Jackie Sargent, General Manager of Austin Energy. “Our new program will help bring the benefits of our local solar offerings to even more of our customers.”

Austin Energy has offered solar incentives to customers since 2004, and today more than 7,200 customers have solar panels on their rooftops. The Utility’s Community Solar Program launched more than a year ago with a 185-kilowatt rooftop solar array at the Palmer Events Center in Central Austin, which serves 23 customers. The program allows residential customers to meet their electric needs with 100 percent locally generated solar energy, and participants lock in the price for 15 years.

Austin Energy’s Customer Assistance Program provides utility discounts to some 37,000 energy customers who qualify by participating in at least one of seven specified social service programs.

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The Texas Public Policy Foundation, the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, the Texas Press Association, the Texas Association of Broadcasters and Public Citizen presents

Open Government, Engaged Citizens:
A Conversation on Texas’ Public Information Act

Texas once led the nation in government transparency, but a series of recent developments have stymied the public’s ability to access information and provide opportunities for public comment about how your tax money is being spent and about who is acting on your behalf. This new dynamic has spurred many to call for change. Join the Texas Tribune’s Ross Ramsey and our panel of policy experts to discuss what changes, if any, can be made to strengthen the Public Information Act and how Texas can let more sunshine in.  This is a free event, so register early to get a ticket – Open Government, Engaged Citizens: A Conversation on Texas’ Public Information Act

It is not often that Public Citizen’s name appears in concert with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, but this is an important issue and we encourage our supporters to attend.  Be sure to register by clicking on attend below.

Thursday, March 29, 2018 from 11:30 AM to 1:00 PM (CDT)

Texas Public Policy Foundation
View Map

901 Congress Avenue
Austin, TX 78701

Attend

Complimentary lunch will be served.
For a map of downtown Austin public parking, please click here.

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City owned Palmer Events Center features Austin’s first community solar project.  This and individual home solar installations are spurring solar employment nationwide.

The Solar Foundation recently released the National Solar Jobs Census 2017, an annual survey of solar employment nationwide and by state.

Download the report now or view the infographic on key findings. There is a lot of information in the report, including:

  • Solar jobs data by industry sector
  • A new analysis on installer efficiency
  • Solar workforce demographics
  • Wages, hiring, and education data
  • Profiles of solar employees

U.S. solar jobs declined 4 percent from 2017 as the industry scaled back installations, primarily because of changes in federal policies.  Nevertheless, the U.S. solar industry, which has outpaced other industries in job creation, remains strong.  Last year alone, the industry added 51,000 jobs, bringing the total number of Americans working in solar to more than 250,000  in all 50 states. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has also released 2017 data that puts the industry’s rapid growth into perspective and says the solar installer will be the fastest-growing job in America over the next  decade.  As the U.S. economy adds a projected 11.5 million jobs over the next decade, solar installer jobs will grow by 105 percent — more than any other occupation. (Note that The Solar Foundation’s Solar Jobs Census places any employee of an installer company in the “installer” category while the BLS considers just those physically getting on roofs to install panels.)  Solar is truly an American success story and will continue if the government leaves the market alone.

The solar industry is already adding jobs 17 times faster than the rest of the nation’s economy, and as the U.S. Solar Market Insight report has said, the industry is expected to triple in size by 2022. But this won’t happen if the government blocks the solar job wave by messing with the market through the pending Section 201 trade case. The case threatens to raise the cost of solar and cause tens of thousands of Americans in solar to lose their jobs.

As you can see in the Bloomberg chart above, wind turbine technician jobs followed closely at No. 2, showing that clean energy jobs are driving the U.S. economy forward.  We should keep an eye on the impacts of new trade agreements and tariffs on these booming industries.

 

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Two people were injured and another is missing in Cresson, TX (near Fort Worth) after an explosion and fire on Thursday at 9:45 a.m. The plant appears to belong to Tri-Chem Industries, a chemical blending facility. Some reports have identified it as a fertilizer plant.

Update:   Officials recovered human remains about 3 p.m. on Wednesday, March 21st and they are believed to be those of Dylan Mitchell, 27, the one worker who has remained missing since the March 15 fire and explosion, according to officials.

At least one more large explosion was captured by cameras and posted to Twitter. Plumes of black smoke from the plant closed a nearby state highway.

Texas has been the scene of other plant explosions in recent years, including the Arkema facility in Crosby after Hurricane Harvey and a massive fertilizer plant fire in West in April 2013 that claimed 15 lives.

In the minutes after such chemical disasters, knowledge can save lives. Twelve first responders to the Arkema explosion were injured by exposure to unknown contaminants in the fire. In today’s explosion, first responders were held back for their safety.

For surrounding communities, knowing how to react–whether to evacuate or shelter-in-place–is a matter of survival. Texans living near chemical plants and refineries know this all too well, but it can still be impossible to make the right decision without accurate and timely information.

Last legislative session, Rep. Eddie Rodriguez filed HB 1927, which would have establish a system to alert neighboring communities when a facility releases toxic chemicals or experiences a chemical disaster.

Unfortunately, the bill never made it out of of the House Committee on Environmental Regulation. But each time a disaster such as this occurs, it underscores the need for such legislation.

The bill would have directed the State Emergency Response Commission to develop a statewide system to inform the public of chemical emergencies in a timely manner using a multi-media approach, including traditional media, social media, and wireless emergency alerts.

This statewide system would have eliminate patchwork local approaches and relieve local governments of the burden of developing and maintaining their own systems. Residents would be directed to a hyperlink, which would provide:

  • The geographic area impacted by the release
  • Information on symptoms that could require emergency medical treatment,
  • Directionality of plume movement,
  • The chemicals involved in and toxicity of the release,
    and
  • Instructions for protection from exposure to the release.

Just like the Amber Alerts for missing persons and emergency weather alerts available on our phones, a Chemical Emergency Alert System should be available to keep our communities safe.  Call your representatives or candidates and ask them to support chemical emergency alerts.

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CDP, formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project, runs the global disclosure system that enables companies, cities, states and regions to measure and manage their environmental impacts. CDP has the most comprehensive collection of self-reported environmental data in the world. Of the 570 plus global cities reporting to CDP, over 100 now get at least 70% of their electricity from renewable sources such as hydro, geothermal, solar and wind.

Data on renewable energy mix is self-reported via CDP’s questionnaire.  These cities report at least 70% of their electricity is from renewables. Because this is a self-reporting survey, some cities (such as Georgetown, TX) may noy appear on the list.  Cities reporting they are powered by renewable energy are ‘city-wide’, not just municipal use only.   Read on to see the whole list. (more…)

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More Solar for Austin, Texas

 

The groundbreaking ceremony takes place at the site of Midway Solar project near McCamey, TX.
Photo by Midland Reporter-Telegram

Austin Energy customers will have an opportunity to get power from the new west Texas Midway Solar project that will generate enough power to run 50,000 home all of which has been purchased for Austin.

City owned Palmer Events Center features Austin’s first community solar project

In addition to this large solar farm, Austin Energy also has two community solar installations.

 

 

Palmer Events Center (functioning)

  • 185 kW
  • Enough to power about 25 homes

La Loma solar installation in east Austin (under construction)

  • 2.6 MW
  • Enough to power 400-450 homes
  • Features a battery the size of a shipping container to preserve energy when demand stays high but supply drops from passing shade clouds

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pollution
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Six months ago, when Hurricane Harvey struck Texas, industrial facilities in the state shut down, then reopened a few days later. In doing so, they produced nearly 2,000 tons of “excess emissions”—air pollutants in addition to what was allowed as part of their normal operation.

A study by Indiana University (IU) researchers shows that excess emissions—which occur with plant shut-downs, start-ups and malfunctions, and not just in connection with natural disasters—can make serious contributions to overall air pollution. Yet excess emissions have not received a lot of attention from researchers or regulators, the study’s authors noted. Only three states—Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma—systematically track and report excess emissions and make the data public.

“These emissions are significant,” said Nikolaos Zirogiannis, a scientist at the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs and an author of the study. “They are a regular feature of the operation of industrial facilities, and a single event lasting from a few hours to a few days can produce a large quantity of emissions.”

They also can have a serious impact. The study includes an analysis that concludes excess emissions in Texas cause approximately $150 million a year in negative health consequences.  People living near these facilities are most at risk for short-term and long-term health impacts and frequently have the least resources to mitigate the impacts of these emissions.

The study, “Understanding Excess Emissions from Industrial Facilities: Evidence from Texas,” has been published online by the journal Environmental Science and Technology. Additional authors are SPEA assistant professor Alex Hollingsworth and associate professor David Konisky.

(more…)

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