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Posts Tagged ‘solar’

IMG_4986This weekend, Governor Abbott signed a bill into law that establishes solar rights for a group of people who have sometimes been banned from installing solar on their homes.

Right now, any developer can chose to ban or severely restrict the installation of solar panels in communities that are still in the development phase.  In some cases, the development period stretches on for many years because the developments are large, and continually expanding.  This practice traps homeowners under developer control, and in some cases leaves them unable to invest in affordable solar power for their homes.

Senate Bill 1626 by Senator Rodriquez, sponsored in the House by Representative Dukes, states that only smaller developments with 50 homes or fewer can ban or restrict solar.

We would have liked to establish solar rights for all homeowners, but this bill is a great step forward and we appreciate the work put into it by Representative Dukes, Senator Rodriguez, their staffs, the Texas Association of Builders, and the Texas Solar Power Association.

The Texas Association of Builders supported SB 1626 and its House companion HB 3539 because most developers already allow solar installations. As solar has become more mainstream, developers have realized that solar not only doesn’t hurt home sales – it can help actually them.  That’s why some developers now offer solar as an option. It’s the outliers, who are unnecessarily restricting homeowners’ rights that this change in law will address.

There are people in Texas who purchased their homes over a decade ago and still haven’t been allowed to install solar systems because their developments are still being expanded.  Solar panels are silent, non-polluting and no less attractive than many other features of a home or people’s cars parked in their driveways. Everyone should have the right to take advantage of the free fuel from the sun.

The new law will take effect on September 1, 2015.

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Tell Obama to #PutSolarOnIt!

obama solar panelsBy Cameron Woolf

President Obama has made the promotion of renewable energy, particularly solar, one of the cornerstones of his energy policy. Just this April, the White House hosted a Solar Summit to announce new steps to expand the use of solar across US homes and businesses. The Department of Defense committed to installing 3 GW of renewables across its military bases, while the D.C area started engaging in the Capital Solar Challenge, which aims to facilitate adoption of solar on nearby federal buildings. Furthermore, the administration got over 300 private and public sector organizations to commit to installing solar.

These commitments totaled to over 800 MW.While the steps outlined in the Solar Summit are a step in the right direction, they are in reality fairly modest. The White House could be doing a lot more to promote solar with regards to direct deployment. In fact, the federal government manages more than 500,000 buildings. Each of these buildings adopting a 7 kW solar system would represent 35 GW of clean solar energy! An executive order mandating this type of solar deployment would cut countless tons of carbon emissions, provide an economic boost the industry, and send a very strong signal about the future of renewables. Send the White House a message and tell President Obama to #PutSolarOnIt!

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Most of us, when watching “the big game” do not really stop to think about the enormous amount of energy it takes to power such an event. This year, the Super Bowl, as well as the parties and events surrounding it, are going to use about 18 megawatts of energy, enough to power about 12,000 homes, according to the San Francisco Gate.

That article also points to efforts that the National Football League has been making efforts over the years to “green” the big game. The league has even gone as far as to hire an environmental communications firm to oversee the process of reducing the footprint of the game. This year they will be using several different innovative solutions to reduce the footprint of the game. A couple of the big efforts are biodiesel and composting. The biodiesel will be used to power the events around the game, and the composting will be for the food waste in the stadium.

Solar Panels on an NFL stadium (http://m.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Daily/Issues/2012/03/02/Facilities/Eagles.aspx)

Solar panels on an NFL stadium
(Sports Business Daily)

This is not the only step the NFL has taken towards becoming greener. There are at least five NFL stadiums that use solar power in some capacity. The San Francisco 49er’s new stadium will be the first net-zero professional sports arena in the United States. Net zero means that its power generation will offset its consumption over a year.

So, while watching the big game this year, keep in mind the efforts the NFL and its teams are making to reduce their carbon footprint and reduce waste.

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This article written by Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office, appeared on the editorial page of the San Antonio Express-News on Sept. 2

The newest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, leaked to media earlier this week, is frightening and conclusive.

The panel of several hundred scientists, which won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, says the odds are at least 95 percent that humans are the principal cause of climate change. The panel predicts an increase of 5 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century and warns that a rise of that magnitude would cause “extreme heat waves, difficulty growing food and massive changes in plant and animal life, probably including   a wave of extinction,” according to the New York Times.

Yet U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chair of the Committee on Science and Technology, claims the science is uncertain about how much of the warming is caused by humans.
(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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A local group of Solar advocates in Plano Texas has worked to put together a group purchase agreement to help reduce the costs of adding solar to your roof top if you live in Plano TX.

So far they have gotten 24 locals to commit to the project and hope that they can reach at least 50 by the time this round of purchases is made and the installations begin. With the current tax credit, and a local rebate, now is a great time to lock in a low rate for electricity for the next 30 years.

“In collaboration with Live Green in Plano, Plano Solar Advocates is pleased to announce a pilot program to help “Solarize Plano” homes. This program will connect residential homeowners that are ready to install solar, with local, qualified installers and will take advantage of generous local utility incentives that are available for a limited time.”

Give the folks at solarizeplano.org a call and get in while the time is right.

Rooftop solar installation

Rooftop solar installation

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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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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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Texas Capitol - north viewTwo bills have now been filed in the Texas House that would expand the state’s goals for renewable energy.  Representative Rafael Anchia‘s bill, HB 723, would establish goals for growing renewable energy installations other than large-scale wind through 2022.  Similarly, Representative Eddie Rodriquez‘s bill, HB 303, would establish a goal for solar installations and increase the existing goal (which was met 15 years ahead of schedule) for all renewable energy for 2020.

We applaud these efforts and the leadership that Rep. Anchia and Rep. Rodriquez are showing by filing these bills.  These proposals recognize that success is a good thing and something we want more of.  You wouldn’t think that would need saying, but when a state agency recommends tossing out a successful policy, I start to wonder.  Texas’s renewable energy goals have been extraordinarily successful.  Not only have the goals been met ahead of time, but they have spurred development of the wind industry in Texas, bringing economic benefits to rural parts of West Texas, as well as to manufacturing centers.  On top of that, wind energy is helping to keep electric bills lower.

A carpenter doesn’t throw away her hammer just because she finished building her first book shelf and Texas shouldn’t repeal it’s renewable energy policies, just because we’ve met some of our goals (remember, the non-wind goal was never enforced).  Wind energy does now makes a substantial contribution to meeting the state’s electrical needs – it contributed a record 26% this past Christmas day, but solar energy is still very underutilized (accounting for less than 1% of energy on the ERCOT grid, which serves 85% of the Texas population) and the geothermal energy industry is still getting off it’s feet.  As Rep. Anchia and Rep. Rodriquez’s bills show, this successful policy tool can be adjusted to keep moving Texas forward.

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Even Support from Businesses Like IKEA Is Not Enough for PUC

AUSTIN, TX – The Public Utility Commission delivered a slap in the face to the more than 6,000 Texans and 70 businesses and organizations  who have actively called on the Commission to implement and expand the non-wind renewable portfolio standard (RPS).  The non-wind RPS would establish a market for electricity from solar and other renewable energy resources in Texas, just as the State’s overall RPS did for wind energy.  The non-wind RPS was passed into law in 2005, but has yet to be implemented by the PUC.

Democracy and the rule of law may be important tenants of our society, but they are utterly lacking at the PUC, where Commissioners refused to engage in even a single minute of public discussion on the matter before striking it down today.

Instead of gathering current information on the price of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels and other renewable energy technologies, the PUC staff recommended denial based on data that is more than two years old.  This illustrates a shocking lack of due diligence, given that solar prices have plummeted over the past two years and are now competitive with traditional energy sources, especially when demand is high.  David Crane, CEO of NRG Energy, told participants at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance Summit, “Solar is so cheap today that unless you tell me that you did a solar analysis yesterday, not last year or last month, then your analysis is out of date.

The Commission appears to be committed to willful ignorance on this issue, but we’re not giving up.  This is too important to the future of our state. The solar industry is going to continue to grow regardless of what the PUC does; it’s just a matter of whether it will grow in Texas and bring good jobs to Texans or if we will let other states and other countries leave us behind.

While misconceptions about the cost of solar energy persist, businesses and individuals who look at current prices have found an opportunity for energy savings by investing in solar.  IKEA, a major international retailer, supports implementing and expanding the non-wind RPS in Texas.  “While utilizing renewable resources for generating energy allows us to reduce our carbon footprint, it[s] also is good business since it significantly reduces operational costs,” states the company in its comments that they filed with the PUC.

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Yesterday, Clean Energy Works for Texas – a coalition consisting of Public Citizen, Sierra Club, Texas BlueGreen Apollo Alliance, Progress Texas, Clean Water Action, Environment Texas, North Texas Renewable Energy Group, North Texas Renewable Energy Inc., SEED Coalition, Solar Austin, Solar San Antonio, Texas Campaign for the Environment and  Texas Pecan Alliance – filed a petition with the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) asking for a rule-making to implement the non-wind renewable portfolio standard (RPS).

A law passed by the Texas Legislature in 2005 established that at least 500 megawatts (MW) of the electricity used in Texas would come from renewable energy sources other than wind by 2015.  The PUC, however, has failed to establish rules to ensure that this goal is reached.  Clean Energy Works for Texas calls on the PUC to fulfill its statutory duty and create rules to ensure that the goal is reached.  The petition also proposes and expansion of that goal to 3,000 MW by 2025.

The non-wind RPS would provide a level of certainty for investors considering Texas for clean energy projects.  While the wind industry has thrived in Texas, thanks, at least in part, to the RPS, other renewable energy industries have lagged behind.  Implementation of the non-wind RPS would send a signal to investors that Texas is open for business.   At at time when nearly a million Texans are looking for work, developing 21st century industries here in Texas should be a priority.

Texas has immense solar resources, as well as substantial geothermal resources that, if developed, could be providing the State with additional electricity that it needs.  Electricity market regulators and policy-makers have had numerous discussions about electricity generation shortages over the past year.  The petition filed by Clean Energy Works for Texas offers a solution – and it’s one that can be expanded upon in the coming years.

Please visit www.CleanEnergyWorksForTexas.org to learn more and send an email to to the PUC in support of the non-wind RPS.

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Solar Austin held a debate between Austin City Council Place 3 candidates Randi Shade and Kathy Tovo. The focus was on energy issues. Here is a brief excerpt from the debates where each candidate addresses a question about how an increase of electricity rates should be handled.

[vimeo=25250426]

The election is this Saturday, June 18. You can view the entire debate here:

[vimeo=25244125]

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