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Archive for the ‘wind’ Category

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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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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Wind has become a pillar of economic development

Dallas-based Tri Global Energy leads in wind energy projects under construction in Texas, developing nearly half of current projects, according to a fourth quarter 2015 market report from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

Tri Global Energy projects make up 2,100 megawatts (MW) out of a total 4,600 megawatts (MW) of wind power projects under construction statewide, the report shows. And Texas wind projects make up nearly half of the 9,400 MW of wind under construction nationwide.

“For many communities in Texas, especially those in the Panhandle where wind projects dominate the landscape, wind has become a key pillar of economic development – and I expect this to remain for some time to come,” Tri Global Chairman and CEO John Billingsley said in a statement highlighting the renewable energy company’s contribution.

Texas is the world’s sixth-largest producer of wind-powered electricity, just behind India and just ahead of the United Kingdom, according to Tri Global, which has also designed, constructed and operated more than 1,000 solar projects for utilities, corporations, schools, municipalities and residences.

By Polly Ross Hughes

 

Reprinted from the Texas Energy Report

Copyright January 29, 2016, Harvey Kronberg, www.texasenergyreport.com, All righs are reserved

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Check out this story by Clayton Handleman about the impact that the buildout of transmission lines from the Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZ) has had on wind power in the state.  Warning, this is a bit technical and wonky so if you looking for entertainment, this is probably not it.

http://cleantechnica.com/2015/08/20/upgrades-to-texas-transmission-lines-slashes-wind-curtailment/

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Why Georgetown Ditched Fossil Fuel

Georgetown Renewables and Time

The following was written by Dale Ross, the mayor of Georgetown, Texas and published in Time on March 27th.

A decision such as that made by Georgetown might not be possible for other Texas utilities if SB931 passes.  Read the Time article below to see why Georgetown made this move.

Georgetown is a city of 54,000 just north of Austin known for beautiful Victorian-era architecture around our historic courthouse square. Founded in 1848, we are home to Southwestern University, a small liberal arts college.

The City of Georgetown recently announced that our municipal electric utility will move to 100 percent renewable energy sources by 2017. That probably caught some folks by surprise. A town in the middle of a state that recently sported oil derricks on its license plates may not be where you’d expect to see leaders move to clean solar and wind generation.

No, environmental zealots have not taken over our city council, and we’re not trying to make a statement about fracking or climate change. Our move to wind and solar is chiefly a business decision based on cost and price stability. (more…)

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The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the operator of the electric distribution grid for most of Texas, announced six new generating units will be going online this year that should help meet Texans’ power needs this summer and fall.  Despite this, they also said consumers could still be asked to conserve during extremely hot weather or in case of outages to help avoid blackouts.

This year Texans were asked to conserve power and warned of rolling blackouts during peak use, most recently in January when freezing temperatures increased demand significantly across the state.

Peak demand, typically between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on a hot summer day, is expected to reach about 68,000 megawatts, ERCOT has estimated. ERCOT’s record peak usage was 68,305 megawatts on Aug. 3, 2011.

The new generating units expected online in 2014 are the

  1. Ferguson Replacement in Llano County – 540-megawatt (MW), combined-cycle power facility to replace the now-closed 420-MW plant, which was built in 1974
  2. Panda Sherman in Grayson County – 650 MW, combined cycle natural gas powered facility
  3. Panda Temple I in Bell County – 1,200 MW combined cycle natural gas powered facility
  4. Deer Park Energy Center in Harris County – 260 MW natural gas powered facility
  5. Rentech Project in Harris County – 15 MW generation project to power its nitrogen fertilizer plant
  6. Forney Power Upgrade in Kaufman County – 26 MW natural gas powered facility upgrade
During 2013, nearly 10 percent of the energy produced and used within ERCOT came from wind operations.  By 2017 Texas can expect to see about 8,600 megawatts more of wind power capacity added to the grid. Texas continues to be the leader in wind power generation for the entire country.
Solar installations, both photovoltaic panels on rooftops and utility scale solar are slowly increasing their presence on the grid.  With prices coming down, if the Texas legislature mandated a non-wind renewable portfolio standard, Texas could expect to see the same growth in solar energy as it did in wind after the initial renewable portfolio standard was set.

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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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In a recent blog post, I reported on the completion of a large amount of CREZ transmission lines – infrastructure that incentivizes the production of wind energy – here in Texas. While the discussion around wind energy is usually around environmental responsibility, it is important not to overlook some of the more salient effects of wind energy – namely, consumer savings.

Photo from Renewable Energy Magazine

Photo from Renewable Energy Magazine

A recent report by the American Wind Energy Association notes that states that get more than 7% of their energy from wind have seen electric rates go down by .37% over the last five years, whereas all other states have seen a 7.79% increase in electric rates. Luckily, Texas is one of these 11 states that get more than 7% of its energy from wind, along with Wyoming, Oregon, Oklahoma, Idaho, Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa.

There’s still more good news to come – as more wind develops in Texas, your electric bill could be lowered even more. Some reports show that when wind provides 14% of electricity, prices drop 10%, and when it reaches 24%, prices decline 15% .

Wind’s not just good for the environment, it’s good for your wallet, too.

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Updating the the Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan to 2020 to become the Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan to 2024 probably doesn’t sound super exciting, but there’s almost certainly some aspect of the choices that will soon be made on your behalf that you care about.

IMG_48691. Climate Change: I’m not going to try to convince anyone reading this that our planet’s climate is changing and that humans are largely responsible for that change.  Nor am I going to try to convince you that those changes are going to be largely detrimental to human prosperity.  But if you already recognize those two basic truths, then you will definitely want to listen up.  Austin Energy is proposing to not only run Austin’s portion of the Fayette coal plant until 2025, but also to dramatically increase its use of natural gas by adding a new 800 megawatt gas plant to its energy portfolio.  That’s bigger than Austin’s portion of Fayette.  And although natural gas emits less carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour of energy production than burning coal, once the substantial impact of the roughly 3% of gas that leaks into the atmosphere during extraction, processing and transportation is accounted for, natural gas is almost as harmful to the climate as coal.  That’s because the primary component of natural gas, methane, is 87 times more powerful of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over 20 years.  Although many people focus on the 100 year time frame when talking about climate change, we can’t afford to ignore our more immediate future.  Central Texas has already experienced its share of climate impacts over the past few years in the form of drought, wildfires and floods.  We must stop those impacts from worsening at a greater rate than they already will be.  Natural gas isn’t going to save us.  Even without the massive problem of leaking methane, burning gas instead of coal only decreases our climate impact by about half, so it’s not a long term solution anyway – the best it could have been was a stopgap.  Instead of investing in infrastructure that won’t get us where we need to be, we can make better decisions now.

Attend one of Austin Energy’s stakeholder meetings this week and ask the staff to consider the full climate impacts of energy sources.

2. Jobs: Developing renewable energy sources creates 3 times as many jobs as developing fossil fuel energy sources per dollar invested.  Whereas a large chunk of the cost connected to a coal plan or a gas plant is for the coal and gas, the wind and sun are free.  So, instead of paying for the privilege of burning a limited resource, we can pay people to harness the energy from free and unlimited resources.

Across the U.S., solar energy jobs grew 20% from 2012 to 2013, compared to average job growth across all industries of 1.9%.  A large percentage of that growth was in Texas, but Texas still ranks 44th in solar jobs per capita.  Increasing Austin Energy’s solar goal will bring more jobs to Texas, but it’s increasing the local solar goal that will have the most impact on local job creation.  The Austin Local Solar Advisory Commission unanimously recommended that Austin Energy’s solar goal for 2020 be increased from 200 megawatts (MW) to 400 MW.  It also recommended that at least half of that solar development be local and at least half of that local solar be customer controlled (that’s what you see on residential and business rooftops and yards).  According to the LSAC’s calculations done using the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Jobs and Economic Development Impact (JEDI) model, the $60 million it would take to develop that amount of local solar would bring the Austin area a net of $300 million in local economic benefits – wages, taxes, etc.  If Austin Energy adopts policies to give preference to local companies who hire local workers, our community can benefit even more.  On the other hand, we are currently sending $80 million to Montana each year for the coal we burn in the Fayette coal plant.

Tell Austin Energy that you support growing local jobs by increasing our solar goals, including the local and customer owned solar goals.

3. Water: If you live in central Texas, I don’t need to tell you that water is a huge issue – in fact it’s just a big issue for Texas that the Legislature, with voter approval appropriated $2 billion dollars to fund water projects, with 20% of those funds to be used on water conservation efforts.  We can’t make it rain more, so we are going to have to make some choices about what we want to use water for.  The Fayette coal plant, which Austin Energy owns one third of, needs about 5 billion gallons of water per year to operate.  And lest you start thinking natural gas plants are the answer, know that over 39 billion gallons of water was used in fracking jobs in Texas between January 2011 and May 2013.  Producers in the Eagle Ford Shale play are especially wasteful, using an average of 4.4 million gallons of water per well.  That’s water that can’t be used for domestic, commercial, industrial, agricultural, or ecosystem uses.

Tell Austin Energy to focus investment on drought proof energy sources like wind and solar.

4. Health: Air pollution from burning coal and extracting natural gas are taking a real toll on human health in Texas.  The Fayette coal plant is responsible for over $55.5 million in health impacts from air pollution.  Those impacts include asthma attacks, chronic bronchitis, heart attacks and the associated hospital visits and deaths.  Even so, Austin Energy has proposed running its portion of Fayette until 2025.

Lack of regulation over the natural gas industry, which has operations strewn across vast areas has resulted in a tragic disregard for human well being.  If you haven’t already, read this excellent piece of investigative journalism about how your fellow Texans are being assaulted with toxic chemicals in the Eagle Ford Shale area.  Instead of building a large new gas plant to drive up demand for dangerous fracking, Austin Energy should focus on growing its renewable energy portofolio with more wind and solar and perhaps some geothermal energy.

Air pollution is much more than an environmental issue – it’s a public health issue.  That’s why you find medical professionals and health advocates supporting a transition to clean energy.

Sign up for one of Austin Energy’s stakeholder meetings and ask them to give up their plans for a giant new gas plant and to examine more options for retiring the Fayette coal plant in an affordable way.

5. Affordable Energy: Wind and solar energy are competitive with coal and natural gas already.  Meanwhile, electricity from coal plants is going to get more expensive because of various regulations to limit pollution.  Natural gas prices are low now, but have fluctuated greatly over time, making a big bet on natural gas risky.  When natural gas prices go up, Austin Energy raises our fuel charge to recover those costs.  Since affordable wind and solar are available now and can assure us a predictable price for 10-20 years, why would we not make those energy sources our priority?  Austin Energy has done a great job getting good wind contracts to keep customer rates low and is set to achieve its 35% renewable energy goal 4 years early in 2016.

Tell Austin Energy to keep up its momentum by expanding the renewable energy goal to 50% for 2020 and 60% by 2024.

Take Action:

Austin Energy is holding 3 stakeholder meetings to gather public input on the Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan update to 2024.

  • Tuesday, February 25: 10 am – 12 pm (noon)
  • Tuesday, February 25: 6 pm – 8 pm
  • Thursday, February 27: 1 pm – 3 pm

This is your chance to help determine how the money you pay for your electric bills is invested by our publicly owned utility.

Please sign up to attend one of the meetings.

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“CREZ will turn out to be the most visionary thing this state has ever done electricity-wise,” predicts Jeff Clark, executive director at the Wind Coalition, a regional partner of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

201-02-06  - Wikipedia

Wind turbines in west Texas

Only a few days ago, the final segment of Texas’s $6.8 billion, 3,600 mile Competitive Renewable Energy Zone (CREZ) transmission build-out was completed. The project, which has been in the works for over eight years, could signal the beginning of another era of wind power development in Texas.

In 2008, the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) identified five competitive renewable energy zones (CREZs) – geographic areas ideal for wind farms – in the Lonestar State . However, in order to get the energy generated in these CREZs to the areas that need energy most (Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, Houston and San Antonio), transmission lines needed to be built. Instead of waiting for wind developers to come to Texas, and then begin the multi-year, multi-billion dollar project, the PUCT decided to put in the lines beforehand to entice developers to take advantage of the already existing infrastructure.

The new transmission lines, which will be able to transmit up to 18,500 megawatts of power across the state, will increase the wind capacity in Texas by over 50%, which will be three times as much as any other state in the nation. The large amount of potential wind energy in Texas, along with the new infrastructure, has already resulted in more wind developers coming to Texas, including a project in the panhandle by Pattern Energy Group that broke ground back in October.

All in all, the completion of the Texas CREZ Project is a huge step forward to moving our state towards absolutely clean, renewable energy. Instead of waiting for developers, PUCT has been proactive in creating a better future for our state.
(more…)

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Solar Excellent Resource for Meeting High Demand for Energy

You’ve probably heard how solar and wind are intermittent energy sources that aren’t always available, but that’s not the whole story, or necessarily the most important part.

DoD Energy

DoD Energy

When an energy source is available is a critical piece of the puzzle.  We don’t need nearly as much electricity in the middle of the night as we do at 5 pm on a week day when people get home from work and turn down their air conditioning and start cooking dinner, watching TV and doing laundry – often all at the same time.

And now the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) – the entity responsible for keeping the lights on in most of Texas –  is officially recognizing that solar energy is available right when we need it the most – on sunny afternoons – and that wind resources are able to contribute far more than was once believed to meeting our energy needs at those times as well.

ERCOT has no special love for renewable energy – protecting public health and the environment isn’t a factor in its decisions – but it has studied the issue and decided to give solar and wind generators the credit they actually deserve.  Solar facilities up to 200 MW (that’s like a gas plant) will be given a 100% capacity value, although larger solar facilities will have a somewhat lower rating.  Coastal wind will have a 32.9% capacity value.  Coastal wind blows more during the day than West Texas wind, which blows mostly at night, but even non-coastal wind will now get a 14.2% capacity value.  Capacity value corresponds to how likely it is for an energy source to be available during peak energy demand – typically a hot, summer afternoon.

Wind has become a real contributor to the Texas energy portfolio and we can look for solar to make an even larger contribution in the years to come.  This policy change at ERCOT will help us move in that direction.

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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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wind_turbine_aalborgProbably not overall, but the City of Houston has made a historic commitment – to buy half its power from renewable sources.

Houston was built around the oil and gas industries and has long suffered the consequences of being home to many of the nation’s most polluting refining and chemical manufacturing facilities.  Purchasing clean energy for the City’s facilities won’t change all that, but it does represent a significant change in mindset.

In the absence of federal legislation to address the increasingly pressing problem of climate change, local action has become essential.  At the very least, the energy used in public buildings – that taxpayers pay for – should be clean energy.  Houston is taking a huge step in that direction.

Wind energy is already one of the cheaper energy sources in Texas and solar energy is becoming competitive, especially as prices increase with higher energy demand.  These trends will be helped by large-scale investments like the one Houston is making.

Moving away from energy from coal-fired power plants will also help keep jobs growing in Texas.  Luckily, this isn’t an issue of jobs vs. the environment.  It’s an easy choice of supporting both.  Kudos to Houston to for recognizing an opportunity to take a leadership role.

Talk to your local elected officials about using clean energy to power your public buildings.

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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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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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