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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.

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.

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.

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.

 

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.

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. Continue Reading »

 

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
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.

Continue Reading »

This week marks the six month anniversary of Hurricane Harvey, a catastrophic storm that killed 88 people and caused about $125 billion in damages. Scientists have shown that Harvey’s strength was fueled in part by climate change.

Houston Mayor Turner has voiced concerns about climate change and pollution, recently through an op-ed published in the Huffington Post entitled “Cities Must Get Creative In The Fight Against Air Pollution.” In this piece, Turner says that cities must address the poor air quality that too often disproportionately impacts low-income communities. Specifically, he states that he will protest permits for new concrete batch plants. Turner also plans to address climate change through using renewable energy to power city operations and through electric vehicle adoption.

Yet, the city of Houston can do more. The Houston Climate Movement came together last year before Harvey because we know that Houston is at risk for the impacts of climate change. The Houston Climate Movement advocates for a community-wide climate action and adaptation plan.

In response to Turner’s op-ed, we penned this letter to him:

Continue Reading »

New research by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis details how nine major power markets around the world have achieved an outsized share of wind and solar generation while assuring the security of supply, and are providing compelling examples of the fast-moving evolution of electricity generation. 

 

California, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, South Australia, Spain, Tamil Nadu, Texas, and Uruguay are markets where they are embracing renewables.  The following was reprinted from IEEFA’s press materials on the new report.

 

The report, “Power-Industry Transition, Here and Now,” includes case studies of markets—ranked by relative share of reliance on variable renewables—that include Denmark, South Australia, Uruguay, Germany, Ireland, Spain, Texas, California, and the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

“The report shows that on the ground now and in a variety of markets these renewable-energy leaders have raced ahead of much of the rest of the world in proving how power grids can be readily sourced with up to 50 percent of their energy from wind and solar,” said Gerard Wynn, a London-based IEEFA energy finance consultant and lead author of the report.

“As we speak, renewables are being integrated into these states and nations at levels in excess of 10 times global averages by using a menu of options and actions to integrate these clean, low-carbon power sources into electricity markets,” Wynn said. “The tools exist now to spectacularly grow the global generation of wind and solar power worldwide.”

“We draw attention to actions that system operators can consider immediately, all of which can help ease the integration process and assure the security of supply,” Wynn said. “Other states and countries can follow the lead of these policymakers, investors, and regulators, according to their circumstances, and so avoid radical redesigns of their power markets,” he said.

Power outage data indicates that major cities in the national case studies have not suffered grid problems and that, to the contrary, suggests that they have among the world’s most robust electric grids and are performing better than peers.

The report details integration of wind and solar power equivalent to 14 to 53 percent of total net generation, depending on the market studied and describes a reality that stands in stark contrast to recent energy policies put forth by the U.S. government.

“The case studies in our report make clear that the Trump administration’s rhetoric on electricity generation is not grounded in market reality,” Wynn said. “Our research shows that the growing uptake of variable renewables can preserve energy security.”

Continue Reading »

Reprinted from a blog post by Andrew deLaski, Executive Director, Appliance Standards Awareness Project (ASAP)

With a little more than a year elapsed since President Trump’s inauguration, progress on federal appliance standards has slowed to a crawl, while state efforts are picking up steam. Although the administration affirmed or completed several important Obama-era standards during its first months, others remain in limbo. The US Department of Energy (DOE) has now missed multiple legal deadlines and, in December, released a regulatory plan that puts the government on track to miss many more in 2018 and beyond. State policy makers have not wasted any time stepping into the breach; this year is already shaping up as a big one for state standards.

Status of standards at risk

With President Trump and Congress both focused on cutting regulations, 2017 opened with all eleven standards finalized during the last year of the Obama administration on the chopping block. Some good news: seven of these standards are now safe from rollbacks and efforts to protect the other four are underway. Here’s the rundown:

  • Manufacturers, consumer groups, and environmental advocates all urged preservation of four major standards developed through the negotiated rulemaking process. In spring 2017, after reviewing public input, the administration affirmed new standards for central air conditioners and heat pumps, beverage coolers, swimming pool pumps, and walk-in coolers.
  • Three standards developed through the more common, non-negotiated rulemaking process were on some target lists for repeal by Congress. But deadlines for Congressional repeal passed with no action to remove the new standards for ceiling fans, battery chargers, and dehumidifiers.
  • Four other standards remain in limbo. Although signed and issued in late 2016, final standards must wait 45 days for publication in the Federal Register to allow stakeholders to identify errors, and this error-correction period spanned the change in administrations. The only error correction request filed was non-substantive, yet a year later the Trump administration has still not officially published standards for portable air conditioners, air compressors, commercial boilers, and uninterruptible power supplies.

In mid-2017, state attorneys general and consumer and environmental groups sued DOE to compel publication of the four standards in limbo. In addition several states are considering their own standards for some of these products. More on that below.

Continue Reading »

The following is from a story at the Texas Emergy Report (www.texasenergyreport.com)  For all the energy news in Texas, consider subscribing.

Like the Sierra Club. Public Citizen is pleased about this announcement and has long advocated that these old highly polluting plants be retired completely.  See the story below.

Big Brown is shutting down.

The two-unit coal-fired electricity generation plant in Freestone County between Palestine and Corsicana began phasing out operations on Monday.

It’s the third of three Texas coal-power plants being shut down by Luminant, dropping more than 4,600 MW of power capacity in Texas, and the effects are being felt around the nation.

Because of related pollution, the Sierra Club estimates that the closing of Big Brown alone will save “an estimated 163 lives every year, prevent nearly 6,000 asthma attacks, prevent tens of thousands of lost work and school days, and save $1.6 billion in in annual public health costs, according to analysis conducted with EPA-approved air modeling.”

The other two plants, the Monticello about 130 miles east of Dallas and the Sandow Steam Electric Station in Milam County east of Round Rock, are already phasing out and ceased operations last month.

Coal-fired plants can no longer compete with cheap natural gas, and as Vistra Energy subsidiary Luminant put it when announcing the shutdowns, “sustained low wholesale power prices, an oversupplied renewable generation market” and other factors joined in making poor investments of the plants.

Mine operations are also affected.

Continue Reading »

an example of battery storage for a wind farm.

Texas Waves consists of two 9.9 megawatt (MW) short duration energy storage projects using lithium-ion battery technology and are an integral part of the wind farm facilities near Roscoe, Texas.  The storage project was designed to provide support to the primary operation of the wind farms by responding to shifts in power demand more quickly, improving grid system reliability and efficiency.

The company that developed Texas Waves, E.ON, has developed, built, and operates more than 3,600 MW of solar and wind renewable energy generation across the U.S., with more on the way.

Storage combined with renewable energy generation projects, like wind and solar, is the next step in making renewables more reliable and better able to replace polluting fossil fuel generation like coal as older plants are retired.

This year, Public Citizen was proud to be a sponsor of Air Alliance Houston’s State of the Air Gala.

A partner in Public Citizen’s Healthy Ports Community Coalition, Air Alliance Houston (AAH) focuses on creating a healthier Houston by preventing pollution before it happens. Right now, Houston currently has 24,000 lane-miles of roadways which carry more than 465 million tons of goods each year. With the expansion of the Panama Canal, freight traffic is expected to increase by 56% over the next 20 years. And if we don’t do anything about it now, pollution is going to get a whole lot worse. Despite improvements over the past few decades, Harris County still receives an “F”  from the American Lung Association for ozone pollution!  We thank all of you who joined us in celebrating the work of Air Alliance Houston at the State of the Air Gala.

Funds raised through this event will support AAH’s programs, allowing them to continue their research, education, and advocacy work to advance the public health of Houston area communities by improving air quality.

The Texas House Committee on County Affairs will meet at 9:15 AM on Tuesday, February 06, 2018 at The University of Houston – Downtown Campus, Welcome Center Building, Milam and Travis Rooms, 201 Girard Street, Houston, TX 77002 to consider the following interim charges:

  1. Examine how emergency response activities are organized, funded, and coordinated. Review the impact of natural disasters on county finances. Identify any deficiencies in authority for the most populous counties related to infrastructure planning, emergency response, and recovery. Explore ways to improve efficiencies and manage costs while protecting public safety. Additionally, study the relationship between the state, counties, non-governmental organizations, and churches in preparing for and responding to Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath, and determine if preparedness plans are adequate.
  2. Evaluate whether counties have the necessary ordinance-making and enforcement authority to deal with flood risk in unincorporated rural and suburban areas of Texas. Additionally, examine whether counties have adequate resources and authority to ensure that new development in unincorporated areas is not susceptible to flooding.
  3. The Committee will also discuss the implementation of SB 1849 otherwise known as the “Sandra Bland Act” (relating to interactions between law enforcement and individuals detained or arrested on suspicion of the commission of criminal offenses, to the confinement, conviction, or release of those individuals, and to grants supporting populations that are more likely to interact frequently with law enforcement).

Prior to the hearing, Committee Members will take a tour of the areas affected by Hurricane Harvey at the University of Houston- Downtown.

The hearing will be live-streamed.  To view the hearing, please copy and paste the following link into your web browser: uhdhml.uhd.edu/Player/Live/4.

The Committee will hear invited and public testimony.  Public testimony is generally limited to 3 minutes so prepare accordingly.