Monthly Archives: July 2013

West Texas Electricity Prices Skyrocket – Demand Response Is The Answer

This commentary, authored by John Finnigan, originally appeared on EDF's Energy Exchange blog.

Source: ENR New York

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that electricity prices in West Texas skyrocketed over 20% this year.  West Texas is home to the Permian basin, one of the world’s largest oilfields, and energy producers use hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” here to unlock vast new oil and gas supplies.  The increased drilling, oil refining and natural gas processing uses large amounts of electricity.

Cheaper electricity supplies are available, but cannot be delivered to West Texas due to transmission bottlenecks, or “congestion.”  The only power that can be delivered is from older coal plants.  This leads to transmission “congestion” charges (i.e., higher energy supply costs caused by the transmission bottlenecks), which commercial and industrial consumers must pay as a surcharge on their monthly electricity bills.  Using these older coal plants leads to more pollution as well because these plants burn fuel less efficiently and have higher levels of toxic air emissions.

The typical solution is to build new transmission lines to access cheaper electricity supplies.  But a better and cheaper approach is to pay consumers for voluntarily reducing their electricity usage when energy supplies are tight.  Known as “demand response,” this solution:

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Posted in Demand Response, ERCOT, Smart Grid, Texas Energy Crunch | Tagged , , , , , | Comments closed

Transportation Research Board Leads The Way In New Research To Inform Freight and Marine Decision Making

Recent years have seen significant changes in the global freight and supply chain system. An expanded Panama Canal, significant population growth in the South and Southeast, and new infrastructure and system resiliency demands pose a challenge to our aging freight transportation system. It is crucial for researchers, policy makers and practitioners to work together and prioritize research to overcome these new challenges. Fortunately, the National Research Council’s Transportation Research Board (TRB) is working with stakeholders, including EDF, to advance critical research efforts that will help modernize the global transportation system.

Earlier this month, TRB reviewed ongoing research for marine and freight transportation. In doing so, TRB also established priorities for future studies, with an overarching goal to “promote innovation and progress in transportation.” EDF will partner with TRB to champion innovative research and facilitate a transition to cleaner and more efficient marine and freight transportation choices going forward.

Texas faces many pressing transportation issues of its own. Record traffic growth, rapid expansion at the Port of Houston, booming population growth across the state, and a flurry of oil and gas drilling activity all pose unique infrastructure and air quality challenges to the Lone Star State.

A key transportation challenge faced by Texas is congestion at its U.S.-Mexico border crossings. Emissions from idling trucks at crowded border crossings have brought air pollution concerns in border cities such as El Paso and Laredo.  The Texas Department of Transportation is collaborating with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute to develop a tool to help streamline border crossings. The Border Crossing Information System provides drivers, carriers and other stakeholders with real-time and historical information about border crossing wait-times and delays. The data make it easy for truck drivers to understand congestion patterns, thereby reducing vehicle idling and harmful air emissions. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Environment, Goods Movement, Houston, Ports, Transportation | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments closed

Abbott Fails In Fight Against Clean Air Protections

On Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit dismissed lawsuits filed by Attorney General Greg Abbott and a group of power companies that could have undermined the Clean Air Act and hurt efforts to reduce climate pollution.

The Clean Air Act requires that large sources of pollution, including greenhouse gases (GHGs), obtain permits when they are constructing or making a major change to their facility.  These permits require facilities to use modern emission control technologies to cost-effectively reduce their pollution.

Some states, including Texas, didn’t have the authority to issue these clean air permits for greenhouse gases under their state laws, so the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took the limited actions challenged here to ensure that sources in these states could get the permits they needed to begin construction.  Every state – except Texas – worked with EPA to make sure sources could get the permits they needed (either under state or federal authority).

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has been quoted as saying, “What I really do for fun is I go into the office, [and] I sue the Obama administration,” took the EPA to court over the agency’s efforts to ensure sources in Texas could get the permits they needed to construct.  All of this despite the fact that most facilities in Texas were already working to reduce their emissions and comply with the new federal standards.  On Friday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirmed that the Clean Air Act unambiguously requires large GHG sources, like coal-fired power plants, to obtain permits.  As a result, the court dismissed Texas’ lawsuit, finding that EPA’s actions didn’t cause Texas any injury.  Much to the contrary, they were necessary to ensure GHG sources could obtain permits that they otherwise could not obtain at all. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Climate Change, Coal, Environment, Environmental Protection Agency, GHGs, Renewable Energy, Texas Permitting | Tagged , , , | 1 Response, comments now closed

Where Is All Of The Water Going? A Look At Which Energy Resources Are Gulping Down Our Water

This commentary originally appeared on EDF's Energy Exchange blog.

If you’re like so many conscientious consumers, you’ve experienced the disappointment that comes when you realize the lean turkey breast you bought has 300% of your daily value of sodium, negating the benefits of its high-protein and low-fat content.  Instantly, food choices feel more complex; you’ve learned the hard way that the pursuit of a low-fat diet is not the same as a healthy diet.

The Energy-Water Nexus shows us that our energy choices are much like our food choices: The environmental benefits of an energy diet low in carbon emissions might be diminished by increased water consumption (or waste), and the unforeseen tradeoffs between the two resources (i.e. more sodium in lieu of less fat, can hurt us in the long run).

Water Intensity

As we have mentioned before, roughly 90% of the energy we use today comes from nuclear or fossil fuel power plants, which require 190 billion gallons of water per day, or 39% of all U.S. freshwater withdrawals (water “withdrawal” indicates the water withdrawn from ground level water sources; not to be confused with “consumption,” which indicates the amount of water lost to evaporation.)

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Posted in Drought, Energy Efficiency, Energy-Water Nexus, Environment, Renewable Energy, Solar, Texas Energy Crunch | Comments closed

Air Quality Websites: A Starting Place For Texas Public Outreach

Given that it’s July and we’re nearing the annual peak of ozone or “smog” season, our team wondered what public education and outreach efforts cities in Texas might be undertaking to raise air pollution awareness.

We started by looking at Texas cities’ websites. Overall, we were pleased to see the depth of information readily available for all citizens. Here’s a summary of what we found:

City of Arlington: Undoubtedly the largest city in North Texas, with a population of more than 350,000, Arlington provides its citizens with a “Cleaning Up Our Air” site, which includes facts on ground-level ozone, health implications and major air pollution sources, namely vehicles, industrial facilities, refineries and household products. The site lists 12 tips for how everyone can improve air quality.  It also outlines the steps the city has taken to reduce emissions, such as maintaining city vehicle tune-ups and routinely updating emission control equipment.

City of Austin: Texas’ capital, with more than 800,000 people, boasts an air quality page that includes a two-day ozone forecast and insight into how population growth is a major factor in increased ozone levels. The site provides a tutorial on the creation of ozone and tips on how to reduce emissions. These tips include less use of cars and trucks, limited engine idling, regular car tune-ups and more use of public transit.

City of Dallas: With more than 1.2 million people, the people of Dallas make up a sizeable portion of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, which ranked eighth among the U.S. cities with the worst ozone levels. Dallas’ page offers basic information on ozone with links to the American Lung Association and to the state’s Air Pollution Watch.  What’s particularly helpful is the option to subscribe to ozone email alerts. Green Dallas, another city page dedicated to Dallas air quality offers tips on controlling air pollution, anti-idling ordinances, climate change, regional initiatives and more. It also cites ozone as the only air pollutant for which Dallas does not meet national air quality standards. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Dallas Fort-Worth, Houston, Ozone, San Antonio | Tagged , | Comments closed

Texas Electric Co-op At Forefront Of Customer Engagement

Source: Bluebonnet Electric Co-op

Everywhere you turn these days, you hear someone mention the emergence of big data and how our lives will be more and more reliant on numbers.  Well the world of electric cooperatives (co-ops) is no exception.  Originally emerging out of the establishment of the Rural Electrification Administration, co-ops enabled rural farmers and ranchers to create customer-owned electric utilities in areas that are not serviced by traditional utilities.

I recently visited the Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative (Bluebonnet), one of the Texas’ largest co-ops providing energy to 14 counties, spanning the outskirts of Austin to Houston and boasting an impressive 11,000 miles of electric lines, 83,000 electric meters and 63,000 members.  Who would have thought so much big data is coming out of rural Texas?

What makes this co-op particularly unique is its smart grid, which is attracting some serious attention.

Unlike other traditional utilities, Bluebonnet does not generate any of its own electricity.  Instead, it buys electricity from the Lower Colorado River Authority and CPS Energy, both pioneers for clean, renewable energy.  Because of this, Bluebonnet is able to concentrate its energy (pun intended) on using new technologies to provide reliable power and enhance customer satisfaction. Read More »

Posted in Demand Response, Smart Grid, Utilities | Tagged , , , , | 1 Response, comments now closed

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

This commentary originally appeared on EDF's Energy Exchange blog.

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 »

Posted in Climate Change, Renewable Energy | Tagged , , , , | Comments closed

Environmental Defense Fund Requests Proposals For Marine Port Environmental Recognition Program

At EDF, we are constantly ‘finding the ways that work’, and today’s announcement embodies that effort. EDF is requesting proposals to develop a Marine Port Environmental Recognition Program. This effort will enable port stakeholders to develop a program that uses best management practices with regard to environmental initiatives, specifically air pollution reduction at ports. The idea for the program was developed from a series of discussions with environmental leaders within the port industry, other port stakeholders, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and trade organizations, such as the Coalition of Responsible Transportation (CRT).

The aim of the program is to highlight motivated terminals and ports that are striving to reduce air pollution, help them identify more opportunities for improvement and measure the environmental gains from their efforts. The program will establish a robust mechanism for assessing environmental metrics– initially focusing on air pollution from port activities. A complementary effort will include the release of a toolkit with ideas and strategies to lessen the impact of emissions on air quality.

This program is critical to protecting our air quality. Ports are often identified as pollution hotspots and communities living close to ports are at a heightened risk for respiratory diseases, such as asthma and lung cancer. By reducing emissions from port operations, we will help save lives. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Environment, Environmental Protection Agency, Houston, Ports, SmartWay | Comments closed

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

This commentary originally appeared on EDF's Energy Exchange blog.

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 »

Posted in Pecan Street, Renewable Energy, Smart Grid | Comments closed

San Antonio Launches Clean Air Awareness Efforts

Dr. Joseph Dungan and his team from James Madison high school attended the forum and showed off their solar powered car.

If you haven’t heard already, San Antonio hosted its inaugural air quality forum this past week at the “Castle” headquarters of the socially conscious, innovative company Rackspace, and I felt fortunate to be an invited panelist at this groundbreaking event.

Mike Burke, chair and founder of the San Antonio Clean Technology Forum, and Scott Storment, executive director of Mission Verde Alliance, were leaders in developing the program, “Keeping It Clean: Our Air, Our Health,” to highlight San Antonio’s pressing need to focus on air pollution solutions and engage the local community on ways it can help.

In August 2012, San Antonio fell into “monitored non-attainment”, meaning the region failed to meet both federal ozone standards and the city’s own air quality goals established in the SA2020 plan. Known as a leader in taking proactive measures to address air quality challenges, the seventh largest U.S. city now faces rising levels of ground-level ozone. This increase has much to do with the rapid growth in population (a 16 percent increase in population between 2000 and 2010 according to U.S. census data) and the shift within the state’s energy landscape, with emissions from Eagle Ford oil and gas activities expected to contribute several parts per billion worth of ozone to the region’s airshed. Because city-dwellers have a heightened exposure to pollution, ground-level ozone is particularly dangerous in dense metropolitan areas. Research shows that urban residents are more at risk of respiratory health problems, such as asthma, heart attacks and lung cancer. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Coal, Environment, Natural gas, San Antonio | Comments closed
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