Author Archives: Marita Mirzatuny

Point – Counterpoint: Heartland Institute Gets It Wrong on Wind

Source: AWEA

Source: AWEA

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 »

Posted in Clean Energy, Electricity Pricing, Renewable Energy, Texas| Tagged , | Leave a comment

Red River Rivalry: What Oklahoma Gas & Electric can Teach Texas Utilities

800px-Red_River_Shootout_2006Fall 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 »

Posted in Clean Energy, Demand Response, Renewable Energy, Texas| 2 Responses, comments now closed

Texas Comptroller’s New Report Should Not Play Favorites

lollie-pop flickrRecently, 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 »

Posted in Clean Energy, Renewable Energy, Texas| Comments closed

Solar in Texas: It's Really Happening this Time (Really)

iStock_Solar_InstallerEvery 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.

Austin

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 »

Posted in Clean Energy, Electricity Pricing, Renewable Energy| 2 Responses, comments now closed

Elon Musk's Love-Hate Relationship with Texas

 (Source: Governor Rick Perry)

Texas Governor Rick Perry meets with entrepeneur Elon Musk
Source: Governor Rick Perry

For months now there has been much secrecy and mystery surrounding the location of electric car revolutionary Tesla's new $5 billion Gigafactory. The factory will supply cheaper batteries for the company’s Model 3 electric car and will be large enough to manufacture more lithium-ion batteries than the entire industry produces now. Due to its sheer scale, the factory is expected to reduce the cost of batteries by almost one-third and create close to 7,000 jobs directly and thousands more indirectly.

Amidst all the rumors abounding, closed door meetings, and tax break wars, I wrote about Tesla’s search for the perfect factory location – of which Texas was in the running. Despite Tesla breaking ground near Reno, Nevada a few weeks ago, there was still speculation about where the Gigafactory might be located, and Texas' chances remained somewhat alive.

But no more. Tesla indeed confirmed that Reno will be the home of the Gigafactory. This is great for Nevada’s economy, but as a Texan, it still feels like a bit of a blow – though I’m not surprised.

While Texas Governor Rick Perry personally lobbied for the Gigafactory to make its home in Texas, it doesn’t help that he’s at the helm of a state hostile to clean energy, despite leading the nation in wind power. Although I’m hopeful that future clean tech endeavors will come to Texas, the existing status quo needs to change to combat this hostility.   Read More »

Posted in Energy Storage, Renewable Energy, Smart Grid, Texas| Tagged , , , | Comments closed

EPA’s Clean Power Plan: Texas’ Last Stand or Last Hope?

Source: North Texas Renewable Energy Group

Source: North Texas Renewable Energy Group

August has been an eventful month here in Texas. And, no, I’m not referring to news about Governor Rick Perry, rather some of his appointees. The Texas Public Utility Commission (PUC), Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), Railroad Commissioners (RRC) Barry Smitherman and Christy Craddick, and State Representative Jason Isaac held a joint session to discuss the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new Clean Power Plan (CPP).

The CPP will limit – for the first time ever – carbon emissions for existing power plants. Texas, the number one polluter in the country, needs to cut 195 billion pounds of carbon in the next 18 years, according to a Texas Tribune analysis. However, EPA suggests Texas could easily meet its goal through a combination of actions: making coal plants more efficient, using more natural gas plants, increasing the use of renewable resources, and expanding energy efficiency.

Texas has a choice: either roll up some sleeves and double down on the state’s clean energy leadership, creating jobs and wealth, or continue to play petty politics to buy the fossil fuel industry more time. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Clean Power Plan, Demand Response, Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy, Texas| Comments closed

Enough Drama, Texas has a Roadmap to Cut Pollution and Grow its Economy

Source: Nicholas Henderson Flickr

Paramount Theater in Austin, TX. Source: Nicholas Henderson Flickr

They say everything is bigger in Texas and often that's true, especially when it comes to big hair and the bravado of politicians. This amounts to a lot of drama and theatrics. I mean, as someone who grew up in Dallas, I can tell you that the soap opera by the same name wasn't too far off the mark.

Being a mighty oil and gas (and wind!) state, this drama often translates into fights with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other environmental regulators over pollution reduction. Texas is the number one emitter of carbon emissions and second biggest water-polluter in the nation. Texas doesn't really have solid ground to stand on.

Yet as of 2012, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (current GOP and Koch-brothers backed candidate for Governor) has sued the federal government over environmental regulations sixteen times. And of the 25 total lawsuits pending against the federal government, Texas has only prevailed five times. Exemplified yet again in June when the Supreme Court ruled seven to two that yes, in fact, EPA is allowed to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from most large industrial facilities, like power plants and factories, despite Texas’ arguments. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Climate, Demand Response, Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy| 2 Responses, comments now closed

This Smart Energy Experiment in Texas will Benefit You, Too

Workers install solar panels on a home in Austin's Mueller neighborhood, a project of Pecan Street Inc.

Workers install solar panels on a home in Austin's Mueller neighborhood, a project of Pecan Street Inc.

As I stroll through the Mueller neighborhood in Austin, TX, I see parks, fountains, two-door garage homes – absolutely nothing out of the ordinary – just your average suburban neighborhood. But I know better.

Under the surface of this community lives the most “connected” network of energy customers in the country. Mueller is the launching site for Pecan Street Inc.’s living smart-grid research project and, according to a recent issue of Time Magazine, America’s Smartest City.

The Time article features homeowners who generate and make money on their solar panels, while enjoying access to minute-by-minute energy use data. It shows their sense of stewardship and empowerment.

The story does a good job summarizing the mission of Pecan Street, of which Environmental Defense Fund is a founding member and environmental partner. But the author misses one important point when he writes: “The rest of America may never realize Mueller’s vision for the future.”

The truth is, we have cause for a lot more optimism than that. We believe that the Mueller model is scalable and EDF is working hard to make sure the rest of the country can also enjoy the benefits of a smarter, cleaner home. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Electric Vehicles, Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy, Smart Grid, Texas| Comments closed

Is Residential Solar on the Rise in Texas?

iStock_Solar_InstallerLast week, I wrote about the continued success of Texas’ wind energy industry, but the growth in solar is also impressive. Nationally, solar energy accounted for 74 percent of all new electric generation in the first quarter of 2014. Plus, residential solar installations surpassed commercial projects for the first time in history earlier this year. This is significant, proving that more homeowners are making the switch and investing in a cleaner energy supply.

According to the Center for American Progress, “more than 60 percent of solar installations are occurring in zip codes with median incomes ranging from $40,000 to $90,000." This is an important revelation as the price of solar comes down quickly, projected to be cost-competitive with fossil fuels by 2020, more homes can and will add solar panels. In fact, experts expect more than half of all American homebuilders to offer rooftop solar as an option in new single-family homes by 2016. That’s a significant uptick from just 12 percent in 2013.

These findings make clear that people are taking their energy use into their own hands, highlighting the power of people in the new energy landscape, where customer-centric demand-side resources – rooftop solar, energy efficiency, demand response (which compensates electricity customers for conserving energy), electric vehicles, and energy storage- will play a key role. I discussed this trend in a radio interview with Voice of Russia a few weeks ago in a segment entitled Whole Home Automation: Promising for Consumers and Climate. Read More »

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Texas Wind Energy Continues to Blow Us Away

Source: katsrcool/Flickr

Source: katsrcool/Flickr

We have a lot to celebrate this Global Wind Day (June 15). Across the nation, wind energy accounted for almost one-third of new power capacity over the past five years and the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) estimates that wind energy has the potential to double over the next few years.

Nowhere is the growth in wind energy more evident than in Texas, the nation’s top wind producing state. Texas' wind energy generation grew by 13% in 2013 and more than 60% of all wind projects under construction in the first part of the year were in Texas.

This success has been aided by the Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit (PTC), a modest tax credit for new facilities good for ten years after the wind farm’s start date. Like those received by the oil, gas, and nuclear industries, tax incentives help ignite growth in the market. EDF has strongly advocated for this incentive over the past few years.

Unfortunately, the breaks that oil and gas have received over the last 100 years are often (conveniently) ignored by those wanting to maintain the status quo, making the PTC a point of debate among politicians. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Climate, General, Renewable Energy| Comments closed