Posts Tagged ‘texas public utility commission’

Advocates fault PUC for turning a blind eye to industry as Texas falls behind

Solar energy backers rallied outside the Texas Public Utility Commission [last] week seeking enforcement of a seven-year-old law that would boost electric generation from geothermal, biomass and the state’s ample supply of sunshine.

Public comment [ended Friday]on proposed rulemaking at the PUC, which has been reluctant to embrace the non-wind portion of the so-called renewable portfolio standards passed by the Texas Legislature in 2005. With those standards calling for generation of about 500 megawatts of renewable power from non-wind sources by 2015 and 3,000 megawatts by 2025, the Clean Energy Works for Texas Campaign sent petitions to the PUC urging it to carry out the law’s provisions. The group estimates that more than 6,000 individuals across Texas and 50 businesses or organizations lent their signatures in support.

“Why aren’t we seeing the clean energy we’ve demanded from our legislators? Why aren’t we seeing the thousands of new green jobs, new energy businesses and new tax revenues for our underfunded schools?” asked activist Dave Cortez of the Texas BlueGreen Apollo Alliance. “Four words: The Texas Public Utility Commission – a government agency run by unelected commissioners who have the power to take state law and misinterpret it, sit on it, lambast it, everything but implement it and ultimately say, ‘No, sorry. We don’t like it.’”

The PUC’s stand, as articulated by Chairman Donna Nelson, stresses the fact that wind power’s success has eclipsed the minimum renewable standards set in the law many times over. And, she argues that the law’s instructions on non-wind energy are not mandatory, a point of contention with solar backers. Moreover, she has said propping up solar power would increase electric bills and that the commission is not in the business of favoring one type of energy generation over another.

Executives from two Austin-based solar companies who attended the rally said each had respectively grown from only two employees to at least 25. And, with the business climate unfriendly to solar in Texas, they said, both companies are making upcoming expansions in a state more hospitable to their interests.

“The bad news is we’re in the process of opening a second office, and the second office will be in California,” said Tim Padden, founder of Revolve Solar. “I would rather be in Dallas, San Antonio or Houston, but the reality is California has taken a stand to support the development of the solar industry seriously by setting statewide goals and local support for their solar companies. I want to see this happen here in my home state. These could be Texas jobs.”

Stan Pipkin of Lighthouse Solar, an Austin-based solar design integration firm said his own company has shown an almost identical job growth and will also be opening offices in California.

“I’m deeply concerned that Texas is not taking advantage of the energy resource we have in most abundance,” he said. “Texas is currently 10th in solar capacity. This is absolutely confounding given our solar resource, our electric demand and our shortage of reserve capacity. It just doesn’t make sense.”

By Polly Ross Hughes

Copyright September 14, 2012, Harvey Kronberg, www.texasenergyreport.com, All rights are reserved.  Reposted by TexasVox.org with permission of the Texas Energy Report.

The PUC has put the non-wind RPS on the agenda for its open meeting this Thursday.  We need you to be there to show your support for moving forward with the rulemaking process.  Please email [email protected] if you are interested in attending.  The meeting will be in the Commissioners’ Hearing Room on the 7th Floor of the William B. Travis building at 1701 N. Congress Ave, Austin.

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Orbach: $1 billion for energy storage research could launch state’s next energy era

Watch for the University of Texas at Austin to soon make a $1 billion pitch to lawmakers aimed at unleashing the state’s vast potential to lead the nation and even the world in renewable energy production.

Ray Orbach, director of UT’s Texas Energy Institute, has compiled what he considers a compelling case for a large public investment in battery storage research meaningful enough to launch Texas into a new energy economy that taps the state’s enormous potential capacity for solar, wind and geothermal power generation.

“I really would like to have a crash program. My thought is it could be comparable to the cancer initiative,” he told Texas Energy Report. “I would like to see it in the billion-dollar range. My point is the potential is there. I just think it’s crazy not to sit down and optimize it for Texas.”

Orbach said a new study found that Texas has the potential to lead the nation in nearly every form of renewable energy. In concentrating solar alone – which allows for fluctuations that make it more economical – tapping just one percent of Texas’ total capacity could generate electricity equivalent to the entire needs of the ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas) power grid, he said.

“We have as much energy potential above ground as we do below ground,” Orbach said this week to an audience attending a symposium sponsored by the Texas Public Utility Commission called “Renewable Solutions for Energy Prosperity in Texas.”

Citing a just released July study called “U.S. Renewable Energy Technical Potentials: A GIS-Based Analysis,” Orbach laid out what’s in it for Texas if the state’s leading scientific minds solve the energy storage puzzle:

Urban utility-scale photovoltaics:  Texas has the highest estimated potential (13 percent of the U.S.)

Rural utility-scale photovoltaic: Texas has the highest estimated potential (14 percent of the U.S.

Rooftop photovoltaic’s: Texas has the second-highest estimated potential (9 percent of the U.S.)

Concentrating solar power: Texas has the highest estimated potential (20 percent of U.S.)

Onshore wind power: Texas has the highest estimated potential (17 percent of U.S.)

Offshore wind power: Hawaii has the highest estimated potential, while Texas has 6 percent of U.S.

Enhanced geothermal systems: Texas has the highest estimated potential (10 percent of U.S.)

“The opportunities are so enormous. I was stunned,” Orbach said of his reaction when he read the study that takes into account environmental and land-use constraints, and topographical limitations.

Because each of the renewable capacity calculations is based on the same total land, Orbach said Texas leaders need to determine how to best optimize the state’s renewable resources with decisions about which fuel mix to pursue and where. In an interview, he acknowledged that political and economic considerations would pose major challenges, but he suggested a planning commission appointed by the governor and legislators could help navigate those.

Think of the planning concept as akin to the Texas Railroad Commission’s early history in setting production limits to ensure that oil and gas resources would last longer with conservation measures such as adequate well spacing, he said.  And think of state’s commitment to building CREZ (Competitive Renewable Energy Zones) transmission lines to transport wind energy as a parallel to the research commitment needed to solve the problem of energy battery storage for wind and solar.

With its federal production tax credits, Orbach said wind has posed pricing issues for ERCOT’s wholesale competitive market. But he insisted he’s a free-market advocate who does not think wind or solar would need any subsidies to compete. As for kick-starting research to solve energy storage issues, he said Texans should think of that as an investment that would repay itself many times over.

“Our future will depend on our ability to store base load electricity from fluctuating sources. We are truly blessed with intellectual and energy sources. It’s time for a zoning, an optimization of how we use these wonderful resources for the benefit of citizens in this state,” Orbach said. “This is not just a Texas issue. The market for what we produce in Texas is global. You can think outside the boundaries of our state for these opportunities.”

In addition to the big picture, some of Texas’ energy opportunities have hardly been discussed, he said. The potential for enhanced geothermal energy alone, he said, is 384 gigawatts. That’s equivalent to five times the total ERCOT load.

Geothermal energy taps into underground heat, and fracturing underground rock is one way to release the heat. He points to natural gas wells hydraulically fractured in the Barnett Shale of North Texas and their future to be repurposed in 10 to 20 years for renewable energy production. The wells have already fractured rock at a depth of 8,000 to 10,000 feet where temperatures range from 200-300 degrees Fahrenheit, he noted.

“What happens when those wells are played out? Do we just cap them and walk away? They are a source of potential enhanced geothermal energy. We have the sources now that we’re using for liquids and gas and oil that in fact may well be available in the future for enhanced geothermal,” Orbach said.

Meanwhile, the price of solar panels is dropping sharply as China floods the market with panels at 80 cents a watt, he said. Consequently, solar installations in the first half of this year doubled to 1,254 megawatts over the 623 installed in the first six months of 2011. That’s the size of a nuclear reactor, he said, and this year it will amount to two.

“It’s a revolution,” he added. “It’s a sign for those of us interested in solar and wind and renewable energy that there’s an opportunity here for Texas to be mined.”

By Polly Ross Hughes

Copyright September 14, 2012, Harvey Kronberg, www.texasenergyreport.com, All rights are reserved.  Reposted by TexasVox.org with permission of the Texas Energy Report.

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Did you know that your retail electric provider may be working behind the scenes to drive up energy prices? A review of filings at the PUC show that several Texas retail electric providers are pushing hard for the approval of super high wholesale energy price caps and for a very expensive capacity market that will trickle down to you, the ratepayer, in increased energy bills. These proposals, by their very design, will make energy more costly.

Check out the new blog post at the Recharge Ratepayer Report.

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Texas Coalition for Affordable Power’s (TCAP) report on electric deregulation in Texas says the industry has failed to deliver, while industry and agency critics find fault with the reports price and reliability comparisons.

Texans have paid higher prices for power that is less reliable – as evidenced by two rolling blackouts – during a decade of electric deregulation, the report, Deregulated Electricity in Texas: A History of Retail Competition – The First 10 Years,  asserts.

Commissioned by the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power, a non-profit including 163 municipalities and other political subdivisions, the report takes sharp aim at higher retail prices, increased consumer complaints and greater reliability problems.

Key findings of the report include:

  1. During 10 years of deregulation, typical electric customers paid $3,000 more than other Texans not subject to deregulation.
  2. Nationally, Texans paid average prices 6.4 percent below national averages before deregulation but 8.72 percent higher in the 10 years since deregulation.
  3. Customer complaints have risen because an increase in providers has also produced an increase in the complexity of contracts.
  4. Texaselectric reserve margins – which are key for electric reliability – have shifted from among the highest nationally before deregulation to among the lowest now.
  5. Under deregulation,Texashas seen two rolling blackouts in four years and nine reliability emergencies last year alone. Before deregulation,Texasendured only one rolling blackout in more than 30 years.
  6. Electric generators are seeking market changes “that abandon competitive principles” and rely upon “artificial price supports.” At the same time, generators are making no promises that they’ll add new electric supplies if they get their wish for market adjustments.
  7. The power grid, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), has “suffered persistent management problems.”

The report acknowledges that electric prices have recently dropped but also notes that customers have endured $7 billion in “stranded costs” under deregulation that were shifted from electric generators to electric customers.

TCAP Board President Jay Dogey said recent drops in both prices and complaints are not “sufficient to offset the billions of dollars in excess costs to consumers. All this points to a market that is deregulated but still not fully competitive.”

John Fainter, president and chief executive officer of the Association of Electric Companies of Texas, said TCAP’s report fails to consider several key factors that undermine its comparisons, but that still cannot counter the fact that Texas has some of the highest electric bills in the country.

Texas Public Utility Commission Chairman Donna Nelson responded to the report’s price comparisons by re-issuing a letter she sent to Senate Business and Commerce Committee Chairman John Carona (R-Dallas) more than a year ago.

A copy of Nelson’s letter is here.

TCAP’s report is here.

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As interim legislative hearings and ERCOT workshops grapple with the drought’s anticipated stresses for Texas electric generation and reliability, Sen.Kirk Watson (D-Austin), is calling on the Texas Public Utility Commission to give solar energy a push.

“You stated that your highest priority as chair of the PUC is to prevent rolling outages,”Watson wrote in a Jan. 13 letter to PUC Chair Donna Nelson, mentioning her testimony last week before the Senate Business and Commerce Committee.

“Drought-proof solar power that can be available at the times of peak demand is one way to avoid rolling outages,” his letter continued. It noted that Nelson mentioned the importance of wind energy and the state’s CREZ (Competitive Renewable Energy Zones) lines in reducing the state’s reliance on water.

Nelson has opposed rulemaking to promote solar energy generation as directed in a bill passed by the Texas Legislature in 2005 directing the PUC to establish a non-wind renewable energy target of 500 megawatts. Nelson, however, has said that Senate Bill 20 by Sen.Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay) during that special session was not mandatory.

During a PUC meeting in December 2010, Nelson said she believed the PUC needed more direct guidance from the legislature during the spring 2011 session before moving forward.

“It’s called a target,” she said, “and everyone knows a target is not mandatory. It would be my preference if we waited – forever.” When a proposed rule on the matter surfaced again last summer, the commission tabled it.

In his letter, Watson took issue with Nelson’s argument that the PUC lacks legislative authority.

“Moving forward on the 500 megawatt non-wind renewable energy rule is an act that lies fully within your authority and that requires no further action or direction from the legislature,” Watson wrote. “It would boost investment in solar power right away, at a time when any potential cost to consumers can be mitigated by federal investment tax incentives in place through 2016. Not only would this action be seen as a wise and prudent step for ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas) grid reliability, but it would be a simple and bold display of the leadership that our state desperately needs.”

See Sen. Watson’s letter below.

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So far, there are nine candidates for the PUC Commission position that was vacated by PUC Chair, Barry Smitherman, when he resigned after being appointed by Governor Perry to the Texas Railroad Commission.   Included in the slate of candidates are attorneys, elected officials, and civil engineer.

The Public Utility Commission of Texas regulates the state’s electric and telecommunication utilities, implements respective legislation, and offers customer assistance in resolving consumer complaints.

Since the introduction of competition in both the local and long distance telecommunications markets and the wholesale and retail electric markets, the PUC has also played an important role in overseeing the transition to competition and ensuring that customers receive the intended benefits of competition.

The most recent person to throw their hat into the ring is Douglas Carter Davis, a senior policy adviser on redistricting to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and a former employee of Gov. Rick Perry.“I believe that my familiarity with the Governor’s philosophy makes me a unique candidate for appointment,” Davis wrote in expressing his interest in either being named a commissioner at the PUC or the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.  His references include Dewhurst, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, and Sens. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) and Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands)

Douglas Carter Davis

Attorney John Mark McWatters serves on the U.S. Senate’s congressional oversight panel for the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program.  His wife is a vice president and general counsel at Holly Corp. and Holly Energy Partners LP.  His references include U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling and former Securities and Exchange Commissioner Paul Atkins.
Evin Lee Caraway III, is president and CEO of Worth Casualty Co., holds a law degree from Texas Tech University and has been named a “Super Lawyer” by Texas Monthlysix times.  His references include Todd Staples and former PUC Chair, Barry Smitherman.

E.L. Caraway

Candidate, attorney Kenneth Bruce Florence Jr. of Center lists among his accomplishments that he a member of the genius society called MENSA, has a pilot’s license and has practiced law in Kenai, Alaska.
Nelson Humberto Balido, president of the tri-national Border Trade Alliance, says he’s happy to fill a post “anywhere the Governor needs me!” Anywhere the Governor might need him included Secretary of State, Transportation Commission and Texas Tech Board of Regents.

Nelson Humberto Balido

Leander Mayor John D. Cowman, a  real estate broker, confessed to being delinquent on his federal taxes in 2006 but also noted that he began mowing yards at age 10 and grew up in California where he enjoyed surfing and playing baseball. His references include U.S. Rep. John Carter and state Rep. John Schwertner, both Republicans from Georgetown.According to the Leander Ledger, the Mayor is is currently under an investigation by Texas Rangers following a complaint filed with the district attorney for allegations of misconduct and corruption of a city official.

John D. Cowman

Sugar Land City Councilwoman Jacqueline Baly Chaumette, who previously was appointed a director of the Brazos River Authority by Perry.

Jacqueline Baly Chaumette

Comal County Commissioner Gregory Parker who authored a book entitled “Global Warming. . . Really?” (obviously a climate change denier, a trait Governor Perry has rewarded handsomely in the past) and speaks frequently about energy issues to Republican and Tea Party organizations.

Gregory Parker

And finally, J. Paul Oxer, a civil engineer and managing director of McDaniel, Hunter & Price, Inc., said he once participated in class action lawsuits against his former employer, Enron, seeking benefits and severance pay. He was also a high school valedictorian who pleaded no contest in 1973 in DeKalb, Ga., to a misdemeanor charge of theft by taking. He noted that his probation included no fine and no reporting requirement.He wrote about this charge on his application that, “Even though it occurred more than 37 years ago, I’m including this information in the interests of completeness and integrity in answering all questions,”

J. Paul Oxer

The information here was gleaned by the Texas Energy Report from 91 pages of records released to them by Perry’s office under the Texas Public Information Act.

Obviously we don’t have the entire file on these folks, but given the important mission the PUC plays in Texas and the little bit of information provided by the Texas Energy Report’s review of the candidate records, we are interested in who you might choose for PUC Commissioner if you were Governor.

[polldaddy poll=5434660]

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According to the Austin Business Journal, Donna Nelson has been appointed by Gov. Rick Perry to be chairman of the Public Utility Commission of Texas.

Ms. Nelson will replace Barry Smitherman in that position.  Smitherman resigned earlier this month and Gov. Rick Perry quickly appointed him to the Texas Railroad Commission.

Nelson is a former special assistant and advisor on energy, telecommunications and cable budget and policy issues in the governor’s office, and has served on the PUC as a Commissioner since 2008.

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Today was the last day for the Texas Public Utility Commission (PUC) to pass the 500 Mw non-wind RPS rule.  After 6 years they failed to implement a provision by passed by the legislature setting aside a portion of the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard for renewable technologies other than wind (like solar, geothermal, or storage).  Citing cost concerns, the PUC once again failed to provide guidance and support for a group of emerging industries that needs strong government policy to get them kicked off, much like the wind energy received back in 2005, during a time when Texas currently is experiencing some of the lowest price electricity in decades.

The PUC has consistently dragged its feet, sided with the large corporate interests, offered overly complicated rules and then fail to act.   So while our leadership is yelling foul at new EPA rules that will help clean up our air, and may force us to finally shut down dirty polluting 50-year old power plants that were grand fathered in under the clean air act and expected to close decades ago, the state has failed to encourage cleaner, renewable sources of power for Texans.  Other concerns that have been expressed were whether the industry would be able to supply the needed capacity to meet this tiny goal.  This concern was being aired at the same time municipal utilities like San Antonio and Austin and electric co-ops like the PEC were committing to build projects that combined exceed the states still unleashed goal.

Traditional Generators and other vested interests are trying to keep their antiquated highly polluting fleets running and are fighting new clean energy resources.  In this instance they appear to have gained an upper hand with this commission. With Chairman Smitherman’s resignation from the PUC to take a position at the Railroad Commission (which oversees the oil and gas industry) there is an opportunity for new leadership.  Will the new commissioner be able to get anything done, only time will tell?

In the meantime, the new energy economy is finding homes in China and India (and not because they are concerned about the environment, but because it makes economic sense, while Texas rides into the 21st century on the back of a fracking gold rush that continues to feed the same industries with billion dollar tax breaks.

The price of solar is sliding down at a rapid pace and annual job growth in all sectors of this emerging industry are being reported at over 26% per year.  So where is the leadership when we need it?  Where are those whose mantra has been “Jobs, baby jobs?”  Down in San Antonio  they are making things happen while the rest of the state goes on playing the same old song of “drill, baby, drill” as we listen to our children “wheeze, baby,wheeze” and our Governor whines “Why’s the EPA always Pickin’ on me“.

As I was reminded today by one of our coworkers it was here in Texas that JFK spoke the words,  “we do these not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win…”

In a state that made a name in energy as big as Texas through its intrepid vision,  we should be leaders.  This new era brought us the largest wind industry in the country, but its potential to disrupt the status quo is sending Texas sliding back from being in the energy “bidness” to going back to being in the oil and gas “bidness”.

So we start the dance all over again and hope that the PUC opens a new rule making – while time, the world and the opportunities for jobs and new industries pass us by us by.  We now look to our cities and co-ops for leadership and innovation.   PUC Project # 35792, I bid you adieu.  May we we meet again, somewhere, sometime.  And now the sun slowly sets on our bright Texas sky.

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The Public Utility Commission (PUC) approved a controversial project to construct new power lines in the counties in the area around Hillsboro over the objections of numerous landowners from the area and several local elected officials.

The 3-0 vote came late yesterday afternoon after testimony from people likely to be affected by the $170 million project and a lengthy discussion among the three commissioners.

PUC Chairman Barry Smitherman announced to the room that he knew, “this is going to disappoint a lot of you, but I’m going to follow the ALJ’s (administrative law judge’s) recommendations.”

Most of the testimony revolved around the recommendations of the judges who presided over the detailed hearing on various possible routes for the segment of the Competitive Renewable Energy Zones, or CREZ, that would extend to several counties, including Hill, Bosque, Navarro, Shackelford and Scurry.

Commissioner Donna Nelson explained that the panel is tasked with balancing a wide range of competing interests to ensure that the state has the power it needs to keep up with ever-growing demand. and went on to note that everybody wants electricity, but nobody wants transmission lines.

The hearing room, along with two overflow rooms, was packed with people who came to Austin from the area where the power lines are planned.  To view the archived video of the hearing, click here.

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Statement of David Power, Deputy Director, Public Citizen’s Texas Office

Seemingly out of concern that competitive renewable energy will damage Big Oil’s bottom line, the Texas Railroad Commission wants to block renewable energy transmission lines that would put affordable energy from west Texas wind farms on an even playing field with the historical titans of Texas energy – oil and gas companies.

A new investment in these transmission lines would save ratepayers $2 billion a year, reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 16 percent and create more than $5 billion in economic development benefits for Texas. Ratepayers, companies and organizations with an interest in seeing the further development of renewable energy and green jobs should contact the Texas Public Utility Commission (PUC) and tell them to deny the Railroad Commission’s request to intervene.

The Texas Legislature authorized these transmission lines in 2008 to address the lack of available transmission lines to deliver wind energy from the panhandle and west Texas to the major metropolitan areas in central Texas where demand is higher. This renewable energy helps reduce costs for ratepayers by providing abundant and inexpensive clean energy that helps offset the volatile price of natural gas.

In its filing with the PUC, the Railroad Commission inappropriately expressed concern for current and future oil and gas development in Texas. In doing so, the commission stepped outside of its regulatory role to promote the interests of Big Oil. While the commission’s stated task is “primary regulatory jurisdiction over (the) oil and natural gas industry,” in this case, it is attempting to pick winners and losers in regards to Texas’ energy future. It is also questionable whether Michael Williams, who sits on the Railroad Commission and who is currently in the running for Kay Bailey Hutchison’s U.S. Senate seat, is acting in the best interest of the public or doing favors for potential campaign contributors.

This is another example of outrageous overreaching by the Railroad Commission on behalf of the same industries it is supposed to regulate. The commission is charged with regulating the oil and gas industries, not with protecting their interests with taxpayer dollars. The Railroad Commission and Mr. Williams need to stick to their own jurisdiction, rather than making an inappropriate power play to earn favors with Big Oil.


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

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EDITORIAL: Seeing the light and all its power

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Dismiss talk of global warming and environmentalism if you must. But times are changing fast and, along with them, the very way we heat and cool our homes and businesses.

The Texas Senate signaled as much this week, approving a bill encouraging development of solar energy plants to generate electricity, much as the state has done in making wind an energy player in Texas and beyond.

Now it’s up to the House and Gov. Rick Perry to show similar vision for Texas.

We hope it isn’t much of a stretch. Sunshine is something we have plenty of in Texas — and we’re unlikely to run out of it anytime soon.

Passage of state Sen. Kirk Watson’s legislation, with help from Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, is remarkable for a couple of reasons. For one thing, the Senate is dominated by Republicans. Watson is a Democrat.

Yet many lawmakers on both sides want to encourage the solar, geothermal and biomass energy aims in this bill. Some see the writing on the wall.

A Texas Public Utility Commission report issued Tuesday concludes that electricity prices could jump as much as $10 billion a year — $27 a month in the average electric bill — if Texans don’t anticipate looming federal greenhouse regulations aimed at cutting carbon-based fuels like natural gas and coal.

Environmentalists and lawmakers see Watson’s bill as neatly bolstering our state’s energy arsenal, especially as Texas continues to grow. Solar could help ensure energy offerings at peak times of the day, while wind will prove of greatest impact during the night hours. (more…)

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