Texas Clean Air Matters

How farms can tend to the energy-water nexus, reduce costs and help their communities

By Kate Zerrenner, Senior Manager of Energy-Water Initiatives, Environmental Defense Fund, and Dylan Dupre, President and CEO, CalCom Energy

Across the country, farmers face unrelenting pressure to conserve both water and energy. From California to Texas, recent droughts and declining groundwater levels require more pumping to provide irrigation water for crops. Pumping water takes energy, as do many other precision agriculture tasks involved in running a successful farm today. This symbiotic relationship between water and energy use – often called the energy-water nexus – is taking its toll on America’s agricultural industry.

For most operations, the result is higher costs, tighter margins and, unfortunately for everyone, a less sustainable food supply.

Demand for food is expected to surge by more than 50 percent as the global population grows to 9 billion people by 2050. In light of this, how can farms adequately manage water and energy to ensure their survival and the security of our food supply?

The answer is not simple, but it is clear: integrated resource management. Farms must consider their use of water and energy together to ensure the optimal use of both. Doing so isn’t just good for the sustainability of our food systems, it’s good for the bottom line. Read More »

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Taking shortcuts won't protect our families from air pollution

We know that air pollution is bad for our families. Science makes that abundantly clear. Studies, for example, show that mercury can damage the nervous system of children and fetuses, while ground-level ozone, or smog, can trigger asthma attacks.

Even pollution levels below those generally considered safe increase the risk for premature death, according to a study of more than 60 million Medicare recipients published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2017.

Remarkably, when faced with evidence that pollution kills, the Trump administration has attacked science rather than do the necessary work to protect public health and save lives. This excising of science deeply concerns me, as a mother and scientist. Read More »

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Houston neighborhood maps decades-old pollution problem, paving way for communities nationwide

A teenage girl walks around the track of a Houston park across the street from a refinery. (Associated Press)

Bridgette Murray, a retired nurse, lives in a predominantly black neighborhood on Houston’s east side, where small houses grace tree-shaded streets, all built around two schools and a city park.

Its name is Pleasantville, a postwar version of the American dream. But the reality is something different.

Warehouses, metal recyclers, salvage yards, Anheuser-Busch’s Houston brewery and an interstate push hard against the neighborhood, proof and product of the city’s light-on-regulations approach to land use. Trains and trucks rumble through the area day and night. It can be difficult to breathe.

“Playing victim has never been one of my personality traits,” said Murray, whose family moved to Pleasantville in 1957, years before industry’s arrival. “I am here to work with the residents for solutions.”

As founder of the nonprofit Achieving Community Tasks Successfully, or ACTS, Murray is working with Environmental Defense Fund to fully understand Pleasantville’s air pollution and its associated harmful health effects. She wants to map a fair, just and sustainable path forward for her community. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Environmental Justice, Houston, Particulate Matter, Ports / Comments are closed

A little flexibility can go a long way to maximize renewables

By Jamie Fine, Director, Energy Research & Sr. Economist, Clean Energy

Greentech Media’s Power & Renewables Summit takes place November 13-14, 2018 in Austin, Texas. The conference will gather industry views on how renewable integration, decarbonization and sector electrification are impacting electricity systems.

In the last month, a new report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change heightened the urgency of climate threats and the need for decisive actions to avoid them. The report “describes a world of worsening food shortages and wildfires and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040.”

As I and other renewable energy insiders plan our talking points for Greentech Media’s “Power & Renewables Summit” in Austin next month, this report should serve as inspiration. The need for a clean, resilient energy economy just got a lot more salient. Read More »

Posted in clean energy, Solar, Wind / Comments are closed

3 reasons Texas’ electric grid survived a summer that pushed its limits

As the hot summer approached, state leaders expressed concern about potential blackouts and brownouts. Yet, thoughtful planning, a functional electricity market, and clean energy helped ensure the lights stayed on.

Power outage concerns­­

Hotter temperatures and continued population and commercial growth drove record electricity demand this past summer. Additionally, in early 2018, Luminant (now Vistra) shut down three large coal plants – all inefficient and highly-polluting – with a combined capacity of 4,200 megawatts (MW).

The shutdown of these power plants and other changes in the electricity market initially led the state’s electric grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), to forecast a reserve margin of 9.3 percent for summer 2018. The reserve margin is a measure of whether the Texas grid has extra energy capacity to satisfy periods of strong customer demand, and ERCOT traditionally had targeted a 13.75 percent margin. Potential outages remained a concern even after ERCOT updated its final projections and the reserve margin rose to 11 percent.

As it turned out, even when ERCOT set a new system-wide demand record (73,308 MW) in July, no electricity shortages occurred. ERCOT didn’t initiate any Energy Emergency Alerts, and it didn’t issue any appeals for customers to conserve electricity. Read More »

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These 3 trends could enable cities across America to reduce air pollution

In recent years – and especially in recent months, cities have emerged as leaders in global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect public health. One of the most effective ways to accomplish both of these goals is to focus on reducing air pollution – and there’s an unexpected frontrunner doing just that, while also providing a roadmap for other city leaders on how to get started: Houston.

The city has a lot working against it when it comes to air quality: as a petrochemical hub, it’s home to more than 450 industrial facilities, and emissions from the marine and transportation sector in this sprawling port city are also major contributors to poor air quality. But Houston is also taking significant steps in the right direction: its mayor, Sylvester Turner, has publicly supported action on climate and clean air, and it’s using innovative mobile sensing technologies to collect unprecedented levels of air pollution data. Mayor Turner has also championed clean transportation policies that cities can implement today to reduce climate emissions from cars and trucks and improve air quality.

As these efforts expand across Houston and beyond, here are three emerging trends that could help other city leaders get started in measuring – and then addressing – pollution in their own backyards. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Electric Vehicles, Houston, Transportation / Comments are closed