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Big Hot Texas Sun: Problem or Resource?

Pearl Brewery San Antonio

Pearl Brewery, San Antonio - home of one of the largest solar roofs in the region

We’re in the midst of a heat wave and drought that are on record to be Texas’ worst in recorded history. (and now imagine if global warming actually kicked in, the way all those scientists say! *wink*)

But we have a few options. Cope, adapt, or conquer. I much prefer the last solution to the first.

First, we can cope. Rep. Joe Barton from here in Texas once famously said in a Congressional hearing that his constituents don’t have to worry about global warming- they’ll just find some shade. Well, we can do that. We can also do what is more likely which is just go sit in our homes and offices and blast the air conditioning as much as we can to make these ever-warming, record-breaking hot, dry summers as tolerable as possible.

The only problem is, all that electricity comes from somewhere. And with record-breaking demand on the ERCOT grid, they have been warning Texans to conserve or risk rolling blackouts. And while blasting the a/c may seem like an affordable luxury for the people who live in the McMansions of West Austin, I don’t know about the rest of you, but most Texas families can’t afford the huge energy bills that would be associated with just setting the thermostat at 70 and letting it go.

We can already see what coping is getting us.

Bluebonnet is already promising help to members and are refusing to disconnect any members during the hot summer months for non-payment. Pedernales is warning members to conserve or face ERCOT’s mandated rolling blackouts. A worse coping mechanism would be to double down on the bad policies which have contributed to the problem in the first place, which would mean building more pollution-belching, climate-killing coal-fired power plants. Even worse news is that this “solution” is far more expensive than any other, with building coal plants so fiscally shaky that they put coops’ financial futures at risk.

Or, we can adapt. We can change how we do things to stave off the worst effects of our unprecedented droughts and heat waves. This means doing smart things, like moving to smart meters, which help monitor and manage energy loads in individual home. Our central Texas coops have been among the best at rolling out some of these programs, including pilot smart meter programs at both the Bluebonnet and Pedernales Cooperatives. A greater push for efficiency decreases our need for consumption at peak times and the savings from efficiency from adding more insulation or weatherizing your home pay for themselves. Even being more responsive at peak is a a goal we can shoot for– imagine getting and email or a message on your smartphone from your coop to ask you to conserve energy and then being able to lower your thermostat or go into an energy saving mode for your appliances from your computer or your phone. That is the very real future of having a truly smart grid and smart meters in every home in your coop. And, of course, because this is a cooperative, when one of us saves money and demand, we all do, so it makes sense to use coop resources to take the bite out of our energy usage. But in the meantime, until your coop can let you change your thermostat from your iphone, you can work on voluntary conservation measures. PEC has created just this type of voluntary program to ask members to “Beat the Peak”, which would save coop member-owners millions of dollars if they would cut usage during the peak hours of 3-7pm.

Adapting is fine, but even better is conquering our problems. As Texans, and as Americans, this is generally the tactic most of us would choose. This would mean not only going after the low-hanging efficiency fruit, and aggressively going after demand-side management as a resource, but also looking for ways to turn our crisis into opportunity. While the Texas sun may be causing us problems, it can also be the key to our future, as solar prices drop to rates competitive with other “cheap” fossil fuels. Renewable wind power is also popular among cooperatives, with many Texas coops buying into wind. For example, the eight member coops who belong to the South Texas Electric Cooperative (STEC) recently ordered another 50 MW of wind power after a previous contract of 50 MW worked so well for member-owners. Golden Spread in Amarillo also recently bought into a local wind farm, a move which will save their member-owners money. Moving away from polluting fossil fuels will get us off the crazy train we’re currently on.

So, how do we beat the heat? Cope, Adapt, or Conquer. As I said, I’ll take the latter. In closing, here’s a fun video from one of our neighbors in Pedernales, (no, not Willie Nelson, but thanks for asking), a musical ode to the Big Hot Texas Sun.

Originally posted at MyEnergyCoop.org.