Today, I stand at the precipice of SXSW, the annual music, film, and interactive festival that descends upon Austin, Texas every March. In a few weeks, we locals will be on the other side of SXSW, recovering from the three-week burst of good-timin' madness and getting ready for the next event that's always right around the corner.
Lucky for me, what comes next is the Energy Thought Summit! From March 24-26th, thought leaders and innovators from around the world will once again come to town, this time to discuss one of humanity's most complex issues: energy.
Hosted by Zpryme, the Energy Thought Summit (ETS) seeks to be a different kind of conference: less stuffy, more collaborative. ETS "stands for more than thought leadership through energy — it’s about combining industry expertise, radical ideas, and the insatiably creative from all walks of the energy ecosystem and exploring how we connect." Read More
The holidays are upon us. As we prepare to gather with our friends and family, eat too much, and lounge around watching football, many people use this time to reflect on what they are grateful for. Being able to pay one’s electricity bill probably doesn’t make most people’s list, but for many Americans, it might.
The average household spends $1,945 annually on electricity, and homes with the lowest 20 percent of income spent nearly six percent of their income on energy bills. For many households, the cost of energy remains unaffordable. To put it in perspective, compared to middle- or upper-class homes, low-income households spend about twice the percentage of their income on energy. Yet, as Greentech Media points out, “many [energy management] solutions are tailored to the biggest homes, those awash in thousands of square feet of central air with a pool pump. Other solutions are tailored for middle-class homes, such as aggressive rebates for more efficient appliances. Many apartment-dwellers, however, do not own their major appliances."
The future of smart home, energy-saving technologies is often more focused on affluent, early-adopters who benefit from innovative ways to save energy because they can afford the newest gadgets. Thankfully, these people are using their buying power to lead the way, as more demand will bring prices down for everyone. While it is important for all of us to conserve and better manage energy use, low-income individuals have the most to gain. Yet the technologies that can enable savings are often out of financial reach. Read More
On the heels of a recent Forbes blog post where I call out Texas' Comptroller for playing favorites in her biased scrutiny of Texas' wind industry, comes another Forbes piece by James Taylor from the Heartland Institute. Confusing correlation with causation, Taylor claims wind energy causes higher energy prices. However, an increase in electricity prices cannot automatically be accounted for by pointing the finger at wind energy. That’s simply playing fast and loose with the facts.
This is the same tired slant we have heard from Heartland Institute time and time again. Not surprising – when pundits want to cherry pick data to make their argument strong, it doesn’t always work.
First there are many, many factors that determine energy rates, not just one type of resource. In an analysis of utility rates, economists Ernst Berndt, Roy Epstein, and Michael Doane identified 13 reasons why an electric utility’s rates may be higher or lower than the average. They include things like the average use per customer, age of the electricity distribution system, generation resource mix, local taxes, and rate of increases prior to any implemented renewable portfolio standard (RPS). So faulting renewables for high energy prices is a bogus claim. Furthermore, there is no data showing a nationwide pattern of renewable energy standards leading to rate increases for consumers. The report states: “American consumers in the top wind energy-producing states have seen their electricity prices actually decrease by 0.37 percent over the last 5 years, while all other states have seen their electricity prices increase by 7.79 percent over that time period." Further, 15 studies from various grid operators, state governments, and academic experts have examined the impact of wind energy on wholesale electricity prices and confirmed that wind energy reduces electricity prices. Read More
Fall is in the air, the State Fair of Texas is in full swing, and the annual meeting of the University of Texas (UT) and the University of Oklahoma (OU) will occur at Dallas' Cotton Bowl this weekend. One of the greatest football rivalries in the Big 12, UT and OU have been battling it out since 1900. Even the governors of both states frequently place bets on the game, like the losing governor having to present a side of beef to the winning governor.
And, while Sooners and Longhorns may not easily take advice from each other, Texas utilities should take a few lessons from Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OG&E). OG&E is Oklahoma's regulated utility serving over 800,000 customers in Oklahoma and western Arkansas.
Here in Texas, we are proud of many things from our "don't fence me in" ethos and wide-open landscapes to our self-reliance and abundant natural resources. Not too many states have the type of pride that Texas possesses (kitschy or otherwise). That pride extends to our innovative energy utilities as well, like Green Mountain Energy, Austin Energy, and CPS Energy in San Antonio, all of which are helping lead the state into the new energy sphere. Read More
Recently, the Texas Comptroller, Susan Combs, decided to come out swinging against renewable energy, specifically wind, in a report entitled Texas Power Challenge: Getting the Most From Your Energy Dollars. It would be easier to take this report seriously if it applied the same pressure and scrutiny to the oil, gas, and coal industries, which have received subsidies and incentives hand over fist. But, no, the attacks seem to focus only on renewables.
What’s worse is the Comptroller’s report is not based in fact. One of the main points of contention is the CREZ transmission lines that were built to ease the bottle-necked energy congestion in West Texas. Yes, this congestion was partly due to more wind energy on the power grid needing to make its way to cities in the East, but natural gas very much benefited from the added transmission lines as well. Even Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman, a Republican ally of Combs', took her to task for this in a statement to the Texas Energy Report: Read More
Every year, it seems, is predicted to be the “year for solar,” and for certain states this may ring true.
But in Texas, despite having a close relationship with the sun and its heat (2011 gave us 100 days over 100 degrees and no rain), we have yet to realize our potential for solar energy development, the highest potential of any state in the nation. Texas currently only has about 213 megawatts (MW) of solar energy installed (compared to over 237 MW in little ol’ Massachusetts). Recent developments, however, make me encouraged that the next few years will be the catalyst for finally fulfilling that potential.
A few weeks ago, the Austin City Council voted on an ambitious solar step forward, directing a “utility-scale solar target of 600 megawatts by 2017, a rooftop solar target of 200 megawatts by 2020, explicit language enabling third-party solar ownership, a floor price for the value-of-solar tariff…and a mandatory strategy to procure 200 megawatts of fast-response storage.” The resolution will require the municipal utility, Austin Energy, to obtain 60 percent of its electricity generation from renewables over the next decade, and to be completely carbon-free by 2030. Read More