Archive for the ‘Efficiency’ Category

Big Brown coal plant in Texas

Big Brown coal plant in Texas is one of the largest CO2 emitters

Yesterday, EPA administrator Gina McCarthy announced stage two of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the Clean Power Plan, which is designed to reduce power plant greenhouse gas pollution and increase energy efficiency. The plan is to create a flexible environment for each state by allowing cooperation between multiple states along with individual state plans to comply with the Clean Power Plan guidelines. The proposal aims to encourage states, companies and private individuals to get involved in the reduction of greenhouse gasses that come from domestic power plants that burn fossil fuels, especially coal. Its flexibility and benefits are what’s going to drive this environmental plan to its final goal.

The plan requires that states have their proposals submitted by June of 2016 and started by 2020, with the goal of reducing carbon emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. In addition to reducing our impact on climate change, the plan is projected have many other benefits as well.  It is projected to cut electric bills by 8%, cut particle pollution, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide by more than 25%, and have tremendous health benefits. This regulation has the potential to prevent 6,600 premature deaths and hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks in children who are all exposed to the toxins coal plants emit into the environment. According to the EPA, a projected increase of 104,000 jobs will be created in power production, fuel extraction and the demand side energy sector, and up to $93 billion in climate and public health benefits could be made by making the changes this plan guides us to do.

Texas is home to 18 coal plants

Texas is home to 18 coal plants

Coal plants alone count for one third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the US, with Texas being the largest producer from its 18 coal fired power plants located mostly in east Texas. Currently, there is no restriction on carbon pollution from existing power plants and a steady increase of carbon dioxide atmospheric concentration has gone from 387 parts per million in 2009, to a record 401 parts per million as of April 2014 which, according to ice core records, hasn’t been reached in over 800,000 years. With over 40% of US power generated from coal plants, adjustment of environmental regulations has been needed for a long while.

The goals of the Clean Power Plan are outlined with specific requirements of greenhouse gas emissions that will serve as another step forward towards low-carbon technologies and a cleaner planet. The Clean Power Plan will require a change in each state for the better of the environment, fueling new technologies and businesses that support low carbon economy. By requiring action from the states, the plan will hopefully encourage action from the citizens as well.

In addition to making changes here in the United States, the plan is also hoped to spur greater international action to address climate change. The announcement that the worlds largest carbon emitter, China, will place a cap on carbon emissions in 2016, seems to indicate that the strategy might already be working.

This announcement isn’t the end of the process.  EPA is now collecting feedback from the public on this proposal.  You can help ensure that this proposed regulation to address the urgent problem of climate change is adopted and put into action as quickly as possible by letting EPA know that you support limited carbon pollution from power plants.

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2014-03-21 Plastic Waste Graphic for Heathers Post VREarlier this week an article on Mother Jones highlighted a growing source of waste in American households – single serve coffee ‘cups’ used in coffee brewers like Keurig’s. According to the article, enough of these cups were sold in 2013 that they could have wrapped around the equator 10.5 times.

That’s a whole lotta trash. And specifically, a whole lotta plastic. And  most of those little cups are made of #7 plastic, which is nonrecyclable in most areas (it is recyclable, however, here in Austin).  In other words, most of those cups are going into landfills. What’s even worse is that a recent field testing of  so-called safe plastics (they’re all BPA-free) revealed that 100% of #7 plastics tested contained estrogenic activity, the very characteristic that has made BPA so controversial. From a broader perspective, virtually all plastic leaches out chemicals over time, especially in the high heat and pressure environments found in landfills. This can result in soil, water and air pollution, especially when these plastics end up in our waterways.

In other words, plastic, and specifically, the plastic waste that we individually produce, is a problem. For those of us who are not using single serve coffee cups, there are two other large culprits in our plastic waste – disposable water bottles and plastic bags.

Every year in the United States, 30 billion bottles of water are consumed. That’s almost 100 bottles of water per person living in the US. What’s more is that 80% of those completely recyclable water bottles don’t get recycled, but end up in landfills, wasting over $1 billion in plastic that could have been recycled. To cap it all off, studies have proven that bottled water is not any better for you than tap water.

2014-03-21 This may look like a Jellyfish, but it isn't. Photo Courtesy UC Davis

This may look like a Jellyfish, but it isn’t.
Photo Courtesy UC Davis

The other big culprit for plastic waste is plastic bags. Every year, over one trillion bags are used worldwide. 100 billion of those are used in the US, which ends up costing retailers around $4 billion. Less than 5% of these bags end up being recycled, and it can take anywhere from 20-1000 years for the bags to degrade completely. In the meantime, they break down into smaller pieces that readily absorb and leach toxins and are mistaken for food by animals. Plastic bag bans and taxes are already taking off across the country (including in Austin), and many stores offer small discounts for bringing your own bags.

The amount of waste created by water bottles, plastic bags, and even those little K-Cups is astronomical. Not only are plastics toxic and hard to degrade, fossil fuels are required to make them, making their environmental footprint large even when recycled.  While many of our environmental challenges are difficult to grasp and often times overwhelming, one thing that each person can do is try their best to reduce the plastic waste they produce. Drink tap or filtered water from home and use a reusable (preferably metal) water bottle to refill throughout the day. Keep reusable bags in your car so you remember to use them at the grocery store. And if you own a single serve coffee machine, try and find a reusable filter to put your own bulk-bought coffee grounds in.

It’s been reported that every square mile of the ocean has 46,000 pieces of plastic in it, but each of us can control how much of that we put in there!

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2014-03-17 EUC and RMC Hearing on Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection PlanAustin Energy customers turned out in force to support renewable energy last night.  Over 100 people packed the Shudde Fath Conference room at Austin Energy headquarters for a joint hearing in front of the Electric Utility and Resource Management commissions.  Not prepared for the enthusiastic turnout, Austin Energy staff provided additional chairs, but many attendees were left with standing room only.

Over 50 people signed up to speak at the hearing, which extended well past the scheduled ending time of 8:00 pm to about 9:30 pm, forcing some to leave before they had a chance to voice their concerns.

Citizens expressed passionate concern about climate change, water availability, water contamination, air quality, health, job creation and equity.  The common theme was overwhelming support for a rapid transition away from polluting fossil fuels to clean energy resources, including wind, solar, energy efficiency and energy storage.

Climate change was brought front and center as an issue that cannot be ignored and which demands immediate action.  The commissions heard from numerous citizens that Austin will be judged by future generations based on what we do to mitigate our impact on the climate.

One point of contention between Austin Energy and advocates has been whether or not goals, including the carbon reduction and renewable energy goals, will be expanded as part of this update of the Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan.  Austin Energy’s current goals were set as a starting point, but they aren’t nearly strong enough to protect our climate.  Last night, with climate change already impacting our communities, Austin Energy ratepayers spoke clearly in favor of substantially expanding those goals.

With the ongoing drought still weighing on many minds, the connection between water and energy was repeatedly brought up throughout the evening.  Citizens talked about water used in generating electricity at the Fayette coal plan and the billions of gallons used in Texas fracking jobs each year.

Austin Energy’s recent announcement of the 100-150 megawatt solar deal up for City Council approval this week added to the enthusiasm about renewable energy.  That project will provide Austin Energy with energy at around 5 cents per kilowatt-hour and is projected to slightly reduce customer bills.  Many ratepayers made the point that since wind and solar are already affordable, Austin Energy should support calls for increasing its renewable energy goals and should continue purchasing more wind and solar.

Click here if you want to watch the archived video recording of the meeting.

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A new report by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) has Texas ranked 33nd in the nation for programs to promote energy efficiency. This unimpressive ranking shows Texas has a wasteful reliance on fossil fuels which contribute to air pollution and global warming and cost Texas families and businesses more and more each year.

While Texas was an early leader in energy efficiency investments, other states have dramatically increased their energy savings programs, leading to Texas’ decline in the overall state rankings. In a December 2008 report, the PUC found vast potential for energy efficiency in the state which, if tapped, could save Texans as much $11.9 billion on their electric bills. As the PUC considers restructuring the electric market, we would urged the commission to develop a plan that incentivizes greater use of energy efficiency and demand response and avoids subsidizing some of the state’s dirtiest power plants.

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Austin Affordability Summit
Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, 1pm-4pm
St. David’s Episcopal Church, 301 E. 8th
Hosted By:  Liveable City, HousingWorks, Public Citizen Texas, Sustainable Food Center, Austin Creative Alliance
To Register – Email your name and telephone to: [email protected] 

Scott Bernstein

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There’s a lot to like in the president’s plan that he announced today, but there is a lot that falls short, too. Certainly on the most important measure, reducing coal-burning plant emissions, the president is a day late and a dollar short. The lack of specificity on the standard eventually to be issued makes it impossible to know how far reaching it will be.

But Texas shows how it can be done!  See below.

Associated Press/Charles Dharapak - President Barack Obama wipes perspiration from his face as he speaks about climate change

Associated Press/Charles Dharapak – President Barack Obama wipes perspiration from his face as he speaks about climate change

Catastrophic climate change poses a near-existential threat to humanity. We need a national mobilization — and indeed a worldwide mobilization – to transform rapidly from our fossil fuel-reliant past and present to a clean energy future. We need a sense of urgency – indeed, emergency – with massive investments, tough and specific standards and binding rules which are missing from the president’s plan.

The administration is finally using the authority ratified by a conservative Supreme Court to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. The Administration will re-write rules for new plants and develop rules for all existing power plants. This is the most important tool the Administration has, and if the rules are written the way they should be, it will go a long way towards protecting consumers and our climate. This initiative builds on the successful and strong automobile tailpipe standards that have already been successfully rolled out. The downside is that the late 2015 final rule date is far off in the future, and will likely see lengthy legal challenges.

The plan also, helpfully, builds on existing programs and plucks some low-hanging fruit to reduce carbon emissions: Increasing renewable targets and efficiency on federal land, in the federal government’s operations, in the Pentagon, and in federally-assisted housing.

The Administration set the table recently by increasing the estimated cost of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to society, from $23.80/ton to $38.

Targeting oil industry subsidies, as the Administration proposes here, is also commonsense, and much needed policy.

However, there is no mention in the plan of using a uniform, strong climate change impact assessment under the National Environmental Policy Act, which would require the costs and impacts of GHG in every federal environmental impact statement. The failure to utilize NEPA for GHG assessment is a huge oversight.

Reserving the troubled loan guarantee program for “clean coal” is a taxpayer boondoggle waiting to happen. A case in point is the Obama-backed Kemper IGCC coal plant owned by Southern Co, which has seen costs balloon from $2.4 billion to $4.2 billion, with costs still rising further.

In general, the President’s embrace of an “all of the above” strategy, including oil and gas expansion, is a disaster. His focus on fossil fuel exports — including the explicit promotion of LNG (liquefied natural gas) and his failure to curtail coal exports – threatens to undo any positive elements of the plan. By promoting LNG, the Administration is moving full-speed-ahead on fracking – with no mention of how to control fugitive emissions, water contamination and other environmental problems posed by the controversial process. And while the proposed EPA rules over existing and new coal power plants will result in significant GHG reductions here at home, all of that will be negated (and more) if we ramp up our coal exports to China. Using NEPA and other statutes to ensure that the emissions of coal exports – and the fugitive emissions of fracked gas – are included in the environmental impact study (EIS) for export projects is essential.

The same goes for Keystone XL. Awaiting approval by the State Dept, the Keystone XL pipeline’s EIS is fatally flawed. The Administration has a chance to re-write the EIS to take into account the true GHG impact of the tar sands, which would require this gas-price boosting project to be rejected.  And Obama’s welcome announcement on KXL won’t affect the southern segment of the line being built from Oklahoma to Houston, nor will it stop the conversion of existing pipelines to carry tar sands. These are the back door ways that tar sands and its carbon pollution will leak into the international markets

At the end of the day, it would be helpful if the Administration would lend its support to an existing climate bill – the Climate Protection Act of 2013. This legislation places a price on carbon, sending revenues back to families and into investments for a sustainable energy economy (not to mention regulating fracking and repealing oil industry subsidies).

“Texas Shows How It Can Be Done”

The good news is that the solutions to global warming from the energy sector are within reach — and Texas shows how it can be done. We can power our state with renewable energy, energy efficiency demand side management and energy storage technologies and techniques that exist or are being developed right now.

“Here’s what Texas has shown in recent years:

  • In 1999 Texas adopted renewable energy goals – partially to reduce global warming. Now Texas leads the nation in production of wind energy, which is now so cheap that it is reducing consumers bills;
  • Renewable energy is now employing more people than coal plants and coal mines are  in Texas;
  • If we were to  develop more solar and geothermal, and employ energy  storage, we could meet our energy needs around the clock without relying on coal;
  • With the combination of those tools we could phase out and shut down our 22 climate killing coal plants;
  • Adopting building energy codes has reduced statewide carbon emissions by as much a coal plant would produce.”

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Texas Capitol - north viewWith the regular session behind us and energy and environmental issues not likely to find a place in the special session, it’s a good time to look at what we accomplished.

Our wins came in two forms – bills that passed that will actually improve policy in Texas and bills that didn’t pass that would have taken policy in the wrong direction.

We made progress by helping to get bills passed that:

  • Expand funding for the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) by about 40%;
  • Create a program within TERP to replace old diesel tractor trailer trucks used in and around ports and rail yards (these are some of the most polluting vehicles on the road);
  • Establish new incentives within TERP for purchasing plug-in electric cars; and
  • Assign authority to the Railroad Commission (RRC) to regulate small oil and gas lines (these lines, known as gathering lines, are prone to leaks); and
  • Allows commercial and industrial building owners to obtain low-cost, long-term private sector financing for water conservation and energy-efficiency improvements, including on-site renewable energy, such as solar.

We successfully helped to stop or improve bad legislation that would have:

  • Eliminated hearings on permits for new pollution sources (the contested case hearing process is crucial to limiting pollution increases);
  • Eliminated additional inspections for facilities with repeated pollution violations;
  • Weakened protections against utilities that violate market rules and safety guidelines;
  • Eliminated property tax breaks for wind farms, while continuing the policy for other industries;
  • Granted home owners associations (HOAs) authority to unreasonably restrict homeowners ability to install solar panels on their roofs; and
  • Permitted Austin City Council to turn control of Austin Energy over to an unelected board without a vote by the citizens of Austin.

We did lose ground on the issue of radioactive waste disposal.  Despite our considerable efforts, a bill passed that will allow more highly radioactive waste to be disposed of in the Waste Control Specialists (WCS) facility in west Texas.  Campaign contributions certainly played an important roll in getting the bill passed.

We were also disappointed by Governor Perry’s veto of the Ethics Commission sunset bill, which included several improvements, including a requirement that railroad commissioners resign before running for another office, as they are prone to do.  Read Carol’s post about this bill and the issue.

With the legislation over and Perry’s veto pen out of ink, we now shift our attention to organizing and advocating for a transition from polluting energy sources that send money out of our state to clean energy sources that can grow our economy.

We’re working to:

  • Promote solar energy at electric cooperatives and municipal electric utilities;
  • Speed up the retirement of old, inefficient, polluting coal-fired power plants in east Texas;
  • Protect our climate and our port communities throughout the Gulf states from health hazards from new and expanded coal export facilities;
  • Fight permitting of the Keystone XL and other tar sands pipelines in Texas;
  • Ensure full implementation of improvements made to TERP; and
  • Develop an environmental platform for the 2014 election cycle.

Our power comes from people like you getting involved – even in small ways, like writing an email or making a call.  If you want to help us work for a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable future, email me at [email protected]  And one of the best things you can do is to get your friends involved too.

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While Austin City Council continues to move forward with an ordinance to transfer governing authority of Austin Energy from our elected City Council to an unelected board, Austin democracy is being attacked at in the state legislature as well.  Senate bill 410, sponsored by Senator Kirk Watson and Representative Paul Workman, would allow the city to establish an unelected board without a charter election, as our city charter calls for.

The issue of who should govern Austin Energy is important, but it’s also local in nature.  There is no need for state to amend Austin’s charter.  That is a right reserved for the citizens of Austin.  If the changes proposed by City Council are truly in the best interest of our city, that case should be made to the voters and decided upon at the ballot box. 

To have a state representative who doesn’t even live in Austin carrying a bill to change our charter is unacceptable.

The Austin City Charter was adopted by the people of Austin and the people of Austin approved a governance structure for Austin Energy that is accountable to the people through elections.

An unelected board won’t be directly accountable to the ratepayers and wouldn’t necessarily represent our values.  As we debate this issue in Austin the unelected board at San Antonio’s CPS Energy is slashing the rate customers with solar installations will receive for their energy in half without first consulting the public or the solar industry.  Austin Energy customers could be facing similar changes if we don’t act now to protect our rights.

SB 410 has passed the Senate and will be heard by the House Committee on State Affairs tomorrow.

Please consider attending the hearing and speaking against SB 410.

What: Hearing on SB 410 to change Austin’s charter to move Austin Energy governance to an undemocratic board without a vote by the citizens of Austin, as our charter requires.

When: 1:00pm on Wednesday, May 1

Where: John H. Reagan (JHR) building, room 140 – 105 W. 15th St., Austin, TX, 78701

Why: Because Austin Energy’s governance structure will impact decisions going forward, including on renewable energy and energy efficiency programs and rates.  This is the decision that will determine how other decisions are made.

You can register against the bill at the kiosks outside of room 140.  Even if you don’t wish to speak, registering against the bill would be helpful.  We hope you’ll consider saying a few words about the value of local democracy though.  Speakers will be limited to 3 minutes each.

SB 410 is anti-democratic and is one more example of the state government trying to interfere with Austin’s internal policies and governance.

We need your help to stop this bill.

Public opposition to SB 410 at Wednesday’s hearing may be the only thing that can ensure that our Austin representatives don’t let this bad bill move forward.

Please email Kaiba White at kwhite (at) citizen.org if you can attend the hearing at 1:00pm on Wednesday.

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You may have never heard of Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE), but it has the potential to make a huge difference in adoption of distributed renewable energy systems, such as rooftop solar installations. PACE allows businesses to borrow money from local governments to work on energy efficiency and renewable energy projects in the buildings they occupy.

Since PACE is funding is loans, there is no real expense to the taxpayer.  On the other side of the coin, it allows businesses to spread out the costs of becoming more environmentally friendly over time, all while lowering their monthly utility costs.  This strategy is a win-win-win for Texans.  Business save money, the environment benefits, and it cost Texans nothing.

The Texas Legislature is currently considering legislation that would move PACE forward for our state.  Senate bill 385 has already cleared the hurdle of the Texas Senate, and now is pending in our House of Representatives. House bill 1094 is still waiting be voted out of the House Committee on Energy Resources.  The House should move forward to adopt this common sense measure.

As of 2013, 27 states and the District of Columbia have PACE legislation on the books to help combat harmful emissions from electric generation.  States from California to Wyoming have enacted PACE programs.  Generally, in these states, the financing terms are 15-20 years.  It works very much like taking out a home loan, or perhaps a better example would be a home improvement loan, but for commercial properties. Disbursing the payments over a longer period of time makes these efficiency upgrades affordable for a wider variety of business.  It also makes upgrades attainable for smaller businesses.

I urge fellow Texans to get in touch with their State Representative and tell him or her to support the PACE bills (HB 1094 and SB 385).  This is common sense legislation that benefits everyone.

Click here to find out who represents you. 

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It wouldn’t be a Texas legislative session without some truly backwards bills.  Today we have House Bill 2026 by freshman Representative Sanford of Collin county that would eliminate our state renewable energy goals.

BeachWindIn 1999, the state of Texas made a commitment to renewable energy in the form of the renewable portfolio standard (RPS).  That decision played a major role in spurring the development of the wind industry in Texas.

We have now exceeded the renewable energy goals established in the 2005 update to the RPS and Texas has more wind energy capacity than any other state.[1]  On the surface that may seem to indicate that the RPS has been 100% successful and is no longer needed, but that isn’t the case.

One of the major reasons for establishing the RPS was to encourage diversification of our energy sources, which ultimately makes us more resilient to physical and economic forces that can impact the availability and price of energy sources.  While wind energy has increased from zero percent when the RPS was first established to around ten percent today, other renewable energy sources are still largely absent from our energy portfolio.

With more solar energy potential than any other state, Texas should be the center point of the solar industry as well.[2]  Instead we are lagging behind states with far less solar resources, such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania,[3] and are paying the price in missed opportunities for job growth and new generation capacity that can produce during peak demand.

Solar companies invest in California and other states, because smart policies created attractive markets in those places.  California has 1,505 solar companies compared to Texas’ 260. Even New Jersey has more, with 382.[4] Texas should be doing more, not less to attract solar businesses to our state.

SolarInstallProjections showing that we won’t have enough electricity to meet demand by 2020.[5]  The maximum wholesale price of electricity has been set to triple by 2015, without even determining what the cost to consumers will be.  There have been workshops and meetings to consider the prospect of implementing a capacity market in Texas, which would raise costs even more.  But little time has been spent considering simpler, cheaper solutions such as expanding efficiency and demand response (where customers get paid to reduce there energy usage for short periods of time when demand is high) and getting more solar capacity built in Texas.  Solar is most productive when we need it the most – on hot, sunny afternoons.

The RPS should be retooled to focus on solar and other renewable energy resources that are most capable of producing during peak demand.  Millions of dollars could be saved in the wholesale electric market if we had more solar panels installed.[6]

Solar, like wind, also has the benefit of needing very little water to operate.  Solar photovoltaic (PV) installations need an occasional cleaning to keep performance high, but the amount of water need is minimal in comparison to fossil fuel options.  Coal-fired generators need billions of gallons of water to operate each year[7] and while natural gas-fired generations consume less water than coal-fired generators, they still use more than solar, even without accounting for the millions of gallons of water used to extract the gas with hydraulic fracturing.[8]  Including more renewable energy in our portfolio will make our electric grid less vulnerable to drought[9] and will free up water supplies that are desperately needed for human consumption and agriculture.

Abandoning the RPS now would send a terrible signal to renewable energy companies that are deciding where to establish their businesses.  Our state made a commitment that isn’t set to expire until 2025 at the earliest.  There is no good reason to abandon the policy now.  We should be moving in the opposite direction of what is proposed in HB 2026.  Instead of giving up on a policy that has been successful, we should be looking at ways to build on that success and benefit our state.

[1] AWEA. “Wind Energy Facts: Texas.” Oct 2012. http://www.awea.org/learnabout/publications/factsheets/upload/3Q-12-Texas.pdf.

[2] NREL. “U.S. Renewable Energy Technical Potentials: A GIS Based Analysis.” July, 2012. Pg. 10-13. http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy12osti/51946.pdf.

[3] SEIA. Solar Industry Data. http://www.seia.org/research-resources/solar-industry-data#state_rankings.

[4] SEIA. State Solar Policy. http://www.seia.org/policy/state-solar-policy.

[5] “Report on the Capacity, Demand, and Reserves in the ERCOT Region.” Dec 2012. Pg 8. http://www.ercot.com/content/news/presentations/2012/CapacityDemandandReservesReport_Winter_2012_Final.pdf.

[6] Weiss, Jurgen, Judy Chang and Onur Aydin. “The Potential Impact of Solar PV on Electricity Markets in Texas.” The Brattle Group.  June 19, 2012. http://www.seia.org/sites/default/files/brattlegrouptexasstudy6-19-12-120619081828-phpapp01.pdf.

[7] “Environmental impacts of coal power: water use” Union of Concerned Scientists http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/coalvswind/c02b.html

[8] http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/our-energy-choices/energy-and-water-use/water-energy-electricity-natural-gas.html

[9] Wu, M. and M. J. Peng.  “Developing a Tool to Estimate Water Use in Electric Power Generation in the United States.” Argonne National Laboratory – U.S. Department of Energy. http://greet.es.anl.gov/publication-watertool.

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The South-central Partnership for Energy Efficiency as a Resource (SPEER) enters its second year with an exciting Summit, designed to explore, further develop, and prioritize policies and strategies needed to push energy efficiency forward in new buildings, existing buildings, and electric markets in Texas and Oklahoma.

Ed Mazria, founder and CEO of Architecture 2030, will deliver the keynote address to kick off the Summit in Austin on February 25. Mr. Mazria is an international leader on efforts to make buildings dramatically more energy and water efficient, leading the movement to establish 2030 districts in cities with goals to reach carbon neutrality by 2030. These districts have been established so far in Los Angeles, Seattle, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh.

Public Citizen members can receive a $50 discount off the registration. On the registration page, select “Early Registration- Supporting Organization” and then select “Public Citizen” from the drop down menu.

Sponsors of the SPEER Summit include Dow Chemical, CCRD Partners, Mitsubishi, Environments for Living, TexEnergy Solutions, BASF, the Texas Home Energy Raters Organization, and the CleanTX Foundation.

To learn more about the Energy Efficiency Summit, please visit: www.eepartnership.org/summit


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The Texas electric grid operator (ERCOT) has introduced an app for smartphones intended to alert Texas users about emergencies to the electric grid that could trigger rolling blackouts.  This alert system would urge consumers to conserve energy during those times.

In the midst of last summer’s record breaking heat, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas called on Texans to conserve when power generators weren’t able to keep up with extreme demand on several days. That conservation helped ERCOT avoid rolling outages. ERCOT has said it will probably have to call for conservation again this summer.  The new app will notify users of Apple and Android devices when the grid operator needs people to cut back usage to avoid blackouts.

iPhone, iPad and Android users can find the free ERCOT Energy Saver app by searching for ERCOT in the Apple and Google app stores, or you can link to the app below.

ERCOT will also use traditional methods of alerting the public about grid emergencies, but for the tech obsessed – this is a new option.  As for me, armed with my new smart thermostat, its smartphone app and the new ERCOT app, I stand ready to do my part.

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The International Energy Agency warned Thursday that the world is hurtling toward irreversible climate change in its annual World Energy Outlook.  They stated that we will lose the chance to limit warming if we don’t take bold action in the next five years, spelling out the consequences if those steps aren’t taken and what needs to be done to cap global temperature increases at 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels. That’s the threshold beyond which some scientists have said catastrophic changes could be triggered.

At the moment, the world is going in the wrong direction in terms of climate change.  Governments around the world have put increasing energy efficiency at the top of their to-do lists, but efficiency has worsened for two years in a row now in spite of the fact that the world has the technology to tackle the problem — just not the political will.

Rather than providing incentives to reduce consumptions, incentives to consume more have risen: The report said subsidies for fossil fuels have risen past $400 billion.  Only when “dirty” fuels become more expensive, will governments follow through on their commitments to increase energy efficiency.

Energy efficiency is generally considered the easiest way to reduce consumption since it has a price-incentive built in. It has become even more important since Japan’s nuclear accident sparked a rethinking of the use of atomic technology previously seen as key to cutting emissions.  In Texas, which is still in the grip of a record setting drought, efficiency may be the difference between rolling blackouts and keeping the lights and air conditioners on next summer.

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The worst drought in more than 50 years in Texas is expected to continue as a weak La Nina weather pattern is predicted to strengthen this winter.  Drought has already reduced cooling water needed by coal-fired power plants and may limit electric output from power plants next summer, an official from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT – the grid operator)  reported.

At this time, only one small generating unit is currently curtailed due to a lack of adequate cooling water, however a continuation of the severe drought in Texas could result in as much as 3,000 MW being unavailable next summer, Kent Saathoff, vice president of ERCOT grid operations told the board last week.

The drought has lowered the water level at nearly every reservoir in the state, according to the Texas Water Development Board. A lack of cooling water limits the ability of a power plant to operate at full capacity.

Texas’ hottest summer on record pushed power consumption to record levels, straining the state’s electric resources on many days in August.

Grid officials and lawmakers are worried that the drought will compound existing issues that impact the state’s power supply: looming environmental regulations that will curtail output from coal-fired power plants and a lack of new power-plant investment.

ERCOT predicts about 434 megawatts would be unavailable next summer if Texas gets about half its normal rainfall over the winter and spring months and if there is no significant rainfall, as much as 3,000 MW could be unavailable by May.

Power plant owners are taking steps to increase access to cooling water by increasing pumping capacity, adding pipelines to alternate water sources and securing additional water rights.  Some water authorities have already curtailed new “firm” water contracts, so it may be harder for plants to secure additional water.

Right now, the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) is working to implement new energy efficiency legislation.  If we just used our energy more efficiently, we wouldn’t have come so close to a grid crisis even under the extreme circumstances of this past summer.  Other states have used energy efficiency to keep the lights on for their families and businesses when they were having problems by cutting energy demand by 20% or more on the hottest days of the summer.
Studies have shown that Texas could cut 23% of our peak energy use on the hottest days and it would be cheaper than generating electricity.
To prevent rolling blackouts next summer, the governor and the PUC could improve the energy efficiency and market-based conservation programs that will keep our air conditioning running on hot summer days and keep our local  businesses operating . 

The Texas Public Utility Commission should:

  • Reward utilities that exceed their energy efficiency goals.
  • Use the money from a program set up to provide utility assistance for eligible Texans that is funded by fee Texans pay on their electric bills every month for the weatherization of low-income homes.

And the governor can issue an executive order that requires all state agencies, schools, municipal and county governments to reduce energy use by 5% next summer and report their savings to the state.

You can email the governor and express your opinion by clicking here.

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The States Attorney general is leaping into the environmental fray once again with a filing with the federal appeals court to review the new EPA regulations while the Texas house state affairs hold hearings today, but Governors Perry’s attorney and chief is taking it one step farther filing against  four different rules according to the AGs web site:

“Specifically, Texas petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to stay the EPA’s greenhouse gas Endangerment Finding, the Light-Duty Vehicle Rule, the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) Interpretive Rule, and the Tailoring Rule.”

After a record-breaking heat wave it seems that its turning out to be better to litigate than try to find a solution (problem what problem), with all the state agencies now following lock step on message. It was back in Pres Bush’s administration that some of the rules were proposed and many of Texas’s and the rest of the countries industries have been gearing up and cleaning up to meet the new rules. After the White House caved on the ozone rules one can guess that they are expecting to get away with anything they want.

Reported shortages of different inhalers for the treatment of breathing difficulties by pharmacies,along with studies showing that Texas can meet the new cross state pollution rule and clean up the air don’t seem to carry any weight with this administration. Recent press releases on the loss of 500 jobs by Luminant (take a look at their stock market filings if you think this is just about federal intervention) and our previous post ,after the state just got done axing over 6000 jobs with its heavy-handed budget process, are making headlines. “Jobs for coal, but not for kids” might be a more appropriate  tag-line.

Its time to turn on the scrubbers, have the PUC come out with a strong energy efficiency rule to cut the load (a proven and cost-effective method) get a move on with the 500Mw non-wind renewable rule  that keeps getting tabled (and not paying companies to try to un-mothball old generation units). Just maybe we can get a little more fresh air and some non polluting peaking energy when we need it.

Leadership not lawyership is more of what we need.


By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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