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
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
Last 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
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
With the recent release of the National Climate Assessment, the threat of climate change has never been clearer. Addressing this will require a fundamental transition away from fossil-fuel sources of energy in favor of renewable energy technologies like wind and solar power. Electric utilities vary in their progress towards delivering a future powered by clean energy. Notably, Central Texas, with its combination of energy know-how, creative thinking, and technology entrepreneurship, is home to many utilities leading the way in clean energy resources and smart grid technology.
Austin & San Antonio are leading the pack
Although Texas has a deregulated, competitive electricity market where most energy companies compete for customers, the San Antonio-Austin-Hill Country corridor is mainly comprised of public electric utilities, like municipals and cooperatives that are community-owned. For years, Austin and San Antonio’s municipal utilities have benefited from an engaged customer base that cares about the transition to a clean energy economy. Read More
On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of participating on a panel hosted by the Texas Tribune that centered on the future of Texas’ power grid and electric reliability. Joining me was John Fainter, president and CEO of Association of Electric Companies of Texas, Inc; Trip Doggett, president and CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas; and Doyle Beneby, president and CEO of CPS Energy, San Antonio's municipal utility. The panel, entitled Keeping the Lights on in Texas, took place at and was broadcasted from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. It's a worthwhile watch and I'm encouraged that Texas Tribune is dedicated to investigating Texas' energy issues.
For about an hour, we discussed a variety of aspects in the current and future energy landscape of the Lone Star State. In particular, I focused on the exciting shift to give people power over their electricity use, save money, and help the environment with every flip of the switch.