Author Archives: Marita Mirzatuny

Renewable Energy to Thrive in 2014, Despite ALEC’s Aggressive Tactics

Marita MirzatunyNow that 2013 is behind us, it’s important to reflect on the progress of renewable energy last year and identify obstacles that may arise in 2014.

Over the last year, we kept a close eye on multiple clean energy attacks around the country, specifically on the Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) in the various states.  As we have highlighted before, the “man behind the curtain” in these attacks is none other than the infamous American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a front group and model bill factory for many corporate interests including oil, gas and coal.

The good news is that from Ohio to Kansas, EDF and other organizations have been successful in preventing ALEC’s aggressive tactics to hamper clean energy.  To date, ALEC has failed to repeal clean energy standards in any state, despite its “Electricity Freedom Act” propaganda and promise that 2013 would be "the most active year ever" for efforts to repeal renewable energy mandates.  Active?  Yes.  Effective?  No.   Read More »

Posted in Renewable Energy, Texas | Tagged , , , , | 1 Response, comments now closed

Google, Microsoft and BBVA Compass Commit to Texas Wind Because It Makes Good Business Sense

Source: Earth Techling

Source: Earth Techling

This commentary originally appeared on our Texas Clean Air Matters blog.  

As we highlighted a few weeks back, Texas is on a new path to accelerating its clean, renewable energy economy.  The opening of the Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZ) now enables more West and Panhandle wind turbines to fuel the state’s major metropolises, and the completion of the project couldn’t come soon enough.

A number of companies are looking to grow and invest in Texas, thanks to its plentiful, clean wind power.  Google, Microsoft and BBVA Compass are leading the charge and signing long-term agreements to purchase Texas wind energy.  These contracts lock in considerable revenue for the state and guarantee Texas’ ranking as the number one wind-producing state in the nation.  In fact, West Texas wind has outpaced the growth of coal, natural gas and all other fuel sources that supply the grid, according to a recent report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

In September, Google added to its growing stock of renewable energy by purchasing the entire output of a 240-megawatt wind farm (enough energy to power 84,000 homes) outside Amarillo to power its Oklahoma data center.  Late in November, Microsoft signed a 20-year contract to purchase all of the energy from a 110-megawatt wind farm outside Fort Worth to power its San Antonio data center.  And BBVA Compass recently signed a 10-year agreement with Choice! Energy Services, a Houston-based retail energy broker, to power its Texas branches exclusively with wind and solar energy. Read More »

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Debate Over a Changing Texas Energy Market Heats Up at Senate Natural Resources Committee Hearing

Marita MirzatunyOver the past two years, Texas’s changing energy landscape has been a focus of EDF’s work.  In our Texas’ Energy Crunch report from March 2013, we highlighted that Texas has a peak capacity constraint – meaning that the power grid becomes strained when, for example, everyone is using their air conditioning units on hot summer afternoons.  This challenge, coupled with increased climate change and drought, signal the need to prepare by adopting a smarter grid and cleaner resources.

The Public Utilities Commission of Texas (PUCT) and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) have been engaged in this conversation and various proposals have been laid on the table to determine what Texas’ energy future will look like.  EDF maintains the position that, whatever reforms are made, customer-facing, demand-side resources – defined here as demand response (DR), renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy storage – must play a key role to ensuring reliability, affordability, customer choice and environmental improvements.

Energy-Only Status Quo or Capacity Market or…?

Texas’ current energy-only market structure pays power plants only for the energy they produce.  This is beneficial in that generators are not overcompensated, but the downside is that energy companies aren’t incentivized to build in Texas and energy management providers (DR companies) are not viewed as equal players.  Energy prices are low due to an upsurge in cheap, abundant natural gas and wind – and without a guarantee for a high return on investment, companies will not take the risk of constructing costly new power plants. Read More »

Posted in Demand Response, Energy Efficiency, General, Renewable Energy, Smart Grid, Texas | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments closed

Fueling Cities with West Texas Wind as CREZ Comes Online

Marita MirzatunyAs we approach the end of 2013, Texas’ power grid is soon to embark on a new clean energy path.  While most people don’t get too excited about electrical transmission and distribution lines, the much awaited Competitive Renewable Energy Zone (CREZ) transmission project– set to come online in a few weeks and roll out through 2014 – could be the exception.

Approved by the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) in 2008, CREZ is a 3,600 mile transmission line that will connect remote West Texas wind energy to the eastern cities that need its power – 18,500 megawatts of power to be exact.  This is enough power to energize 3.7 million to 7.4 million homes and increase available wind power supply by a whopping 50 percent.

Much like some other wind-rich regions in the country, wind in the West and Panhandle regions of Texas was partially unused, or curtailed, because local communities could not use all of the available supply  and the state’s current, outmoded electric grid could not efficiently deliver the abundant energy to high-demand eastern cities.  This "congestion" bottleneck forced wind farms to lower prices and at times pay the utilities to take their electricity. Read More »

Posted in Renewable Energy, Texas, Utility Business Models | Tagged , | 2 Responses, comments now closed

Pecan Street’s Study Shows Electric Vehicles Won’t Overload the Electric Grid

Source: Pecan Street Inc.

Source: Pecan Street Inc.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen some of the world’s largest automakers release their first mass-market electric vehicles.  Models like the Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S are popular with consumers looking to reduce their carbon footprint and spend less at the pump.  But the vehicles’ rising popularity has raised concerns about the effect they might have on the electric grid, particularly during the hot summer months in Texas.

Electric vehicles are the largest new home electric load in decades.  Some suspected that drivers, upon returning home from work, would charge their vehicles during the evening hours (a ‘rush-hour’ time for the wires that carry our energy, which strains the electric grid).  They thought that the increased need for energy would overwhelm the electric system, possibly force utilities to fire up more dirty fossil fuel power plants and offset any potential environmental benefits of the gasoline-free car.  Thankfully, this line of thinking is now an idea of the past.

A recent report from Pecan Street proves that electric vehicles have less of an impact on the electric grid than anticipated. Read More »

Posted in Electric Vehicles, Smart Grid, Texas | Tagged | 3 Responses, comments now closed

Texas Boasts Most Modern Power Grid In The Country

In an effort to gauge where America’s power grid stands, Washington D.C.-based group GridWise Alliance evaluated grid modernization in 41 states and the District of Columbia.  Texas and California tied for first place—standing far above the next runner up.

So what makes Texas’ grid so special?

Texas restructured its electricity market in 1999, introducing competition into the retail electric market.  The new competitive retail market gave most Texans a choice of electricity providers from dozens of companies, so these energy providers compete to offer the most advanced services.  For example, Texans can opt for 100% renewable electricity from Green Mountain Energy.

Additionally, in an effort to update Texas’ electric grid, the Public Utility Commission, Texas’ governing body for electricity, passed a resolution prompting “wires companies”(the firms that deliver energy from power plants to homes and businesses) to invest in millions of smart meters.  Smart meters can help eliminate huge waste in the energy system, reduce peak energy demand (rush hour on the electrical wires) and spur the adoption of clean, low-carbon energy resources, such as wind and solar power, by managing energy demand and generation more efficiently.

Read More »

Posted in Climate, Smart Grid, Texas | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Response, comments now closed

Austin Energy + Nest: Empowering Texans To Take Control Over Their Own Energy Use And Electric Bills

Source: Nest

If you have been following our Texas Energy Crunch campaign over the last year, you know that demand response (DR) can play a pivotal role in meeting Texas’ energy needs without relying on dirty, inefficient fossil fuels that pollute our air and consume much-needed water.  Simply put, demand response rewards those who reduce electricity use during peak (high energy demand) times, resulting in more money in peoples’ pockets, a more stable and reliable electric grid and less harmful pollution from fossil fuel-fired power plants.

That said, fully harnessing DR in Texas homes has been a bit of a challenge, despite the high electricity prices that result from the scorching summer temperatures.  To understand the issue, it’s important to look at the obstacles emerging technologies often face.  I highlight some of these obstacles in a recent EDF Voices blog and will be diving deeper in future posts.  Namely, the infrastructure to fully enable residential DR adoption isn’t in place, yet.

Read More »

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Technology for energy-smart homes is here. Why aren't more people using it?

This commentary originally appeared on EDF's Voices blog.

Source: Department of Energy Solar Decathlon/Flickr

These days, the future is often in the news. It’s not uncommon to come upon articles about cars that drive themselves, vacation trips to space, and automated smart houses a la the Jetsons.

I don’t know much about space tourism or self-driving cars, but I do know that smart homes and the associated technologies are already allowing for the possibility of environmental benefits and economic savings that are nothing short of futuristic.

Our utility grid is the largest machine in world. Unfortunately, however, this machine exacts human and environmental costs all the way down the line — from extraction to combustion. But we’re at the beginning of an energy revolution in home energy management systems that may make consumers key players in solving these problems.

Read More »

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States Stand Up To ALEC’s Assault On Renewable Energy: Clean Energy – 26 ALEC – O

Back in March, I wrote about the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC’s) state-by-state attack on renewable energy. The attacks contribute to ALEC’s growing reputation as a “shadowy right-wing front group,” funded by the likes of Koch Industries, ExxonMobil and Peabody Energy, the largest private-sector coal company in the world. ALEC’s legislative efforts were aided by the Heartland Institute, a “free-market think tank” and notorious climate change denier.

ALEC has a clear motive: to serve the interests of dirty fossil fuel power plants and block progress towards greater use of clean, homegrown energy.

I’m happy to announce that ALEC and the Heartland Institute’s efforts to roll-back individual state’s renewable energy goals decisively failed in legislatures spanning from West Virginia to Kansas. In total, 26 bills designed to remove renewable energy standards (RPS) for eight states were denied, according to a report from Colorado State University’s Center for the New Energy Economy.

Now, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, North Carolina, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin will continue on the path towards a clean energy future. Even better, some states increased their energy guidelines, namely Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland and Minnesota.

This news comes as a resounding victory for the climate, consumers, and Americans who care to see the U.S. progress into the global $ 2 billion clean energy economy. Read More »

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Austin’s Own Pecan Street Inc. Launches The Pike Powers Lab

Last month, while I was speaking at the 7th Annual Platts Texas Energy Markets Conference in Houston, I missed out on celebrating a very important milestone here in Austin: The grand opening of the Pike Powers Laboratory & Center for Commercialization! The ribbon cutting on June 11th brought over 150 people, including “leaders from major technology firms, like Dell, Intel Corporation, Schneider Electric and National Instruments, along with representatives from the U.S. Department of Energy.” Named after the godfather of Austin’s technology scene, Pike Powers is located in the Mueller community in the shadow of the former air traffic control tower. As the research arm of Pecan Street Inc., the lab will be the “nation’s first non-profit smart grid research laboratory, serving as an elite industry-caliber facility for members of the Pecan Street Research Consortium.”

Priorities

Pecan Street is inviting startup firms to take their questions and challenges and incorporate them into the mission of the lab, which is driven by three priorities: commercialization, research and education.

Commercialization: Pecan Street provides a pathway for companies and utilities to test and demonstrate innovative technologies in a controlled environment and bring advanced products to market, such as new electric vehicle chargers. The lab will also conduct field-testing on technologies, such as set-and-forget home energy management tools, to ensure that products are properly evaluated before hitting the shelves. Read More »

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