Monthly Archives: September 2013

EDF Texas Environmental Experts To Speak At Texas Tribune Festival

Source: Texas Tribune

This weekend the Texas Tribune, a nonpartisan, nonprofit media publication that covers public policy, politics, environmental issues, and other statewide matters, will host a festival featuring EDF’s own Elena Craft, Ph.D. and Ramón Alvarez, Ph.D. The festival will take place at the University of Texas at Austin with a kickoff Friday night featuring a one-on-one discussion between U.S. Senator Ted Cruz and Evan Smith, the host publication’s co-founder and editor-in-chief. In true nonpartisan style, the festival appropriately closes Sunday with a one-on-one featuring a representative from the other side of the political spectrum, State Senator Wendy Davis.

The organizers promise to engage audiences with exciting panels covering the following topics: criminal justice, energy, the environment, health care, higher education, immigration, public education and transportation.

Elena’s panel, After West, is first on the schedule Saturday morning, and she will discuss the health and safety concerns that came to light following the West, Texas chemical plant explosion. As Elena has highlighted in previous posts, many questions have been left unanswered surrounding the events leading up to the explosion that took 15 lives and injured hundreds more. More importantly, Texas lawmakers still need to address and implement actions that will prevent future tragedies. Other panelists in this session include: Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Climate Change | Tagged , | Comments closed

Protecting The Environment and Public Health Through Strong Science

Last week’s announcement of the publication of a University of Texas (UT) study examining methane emissions from U.S. natural gas production sites marks a major milestone in EDF's efforts to better quantify the amount of methane leakage across the natural gas supply chain.  The UT study is the first installment of a major EDF initiative being conducted in partnership with leading research universities, scientists and natural gas companies.

About five years ago, EDF began looking into the emissions of air pollutants coming from natural gas operations in multiple geographic regions – including various parts of Texas.  This was a time when the industry was undergoing a dramatic growth spurt thanks to technologies such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (or ‘fracking’), which enable the commercial extraction of natural gas from deposits of shale rock located deep underground.  We quickly learned that available estimates of how much methane was emitted were fairly uncertain.

Small amounts of natural gas, which mainly consists of methane, a powerful global warming pollutant, are lost into the air as the gas coming out of the ground makes its way from the wells that produce it and through the processing and pipeline systems bringing it to consumers.   We have written elsewhere why these emissions matter for our climate, environment and public health.   Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Climate Change, Environment, Natural gas | Tagged , | Comments closed

Texas To Benefit From EPA’s New Power Plant Standards

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its first-ever standard on carbon pollution from fossil fuel power plants. The landmark standard will limit the amount of carbon dioxide that a power plant can emit into the atmosphere. The new rules will have the greatest impact on coal power plants, which release more carbon dioxide than any other power source. EPA’s announcement comes as welcome news in this era of prolonged inaction on climate change. Nevertheless, opponents are already lining up to fight EPA’s standards tooth and nail.

Attorneys General from 17 states, including Texas, have banded together and pledged to fight any limits on carbon pollution. They claim that individual states should have sole authority to regulate emissions from sources within their boundaries. Unfortunately, states like Texas have demonstrated in the past that they are unwilling to regulate carbon pollution, a big statement considering that Texas releases more carbon pollution than any other state in the nation.

EPA’s announcement today is a common sense approach to solving the climate crisis. The proposed standards would set the first uniform national limits on carbon pollution from new power plants. They do not apply to currently operating, existing power plants. As a result, the standards will hasten the transition toward cleaner electricity sources with fewer carbon emissions and help drive U.S. policy forward reflecting that these clean energy technologies are the best option for powering America. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Climate Change, Coal, Environmental Protection Agency | Comments closed

The Nuts And Bolts — Or Rather Watts and Volts — Of The Energy-Water Lingo

This commentary originally appeared on EDF's Energy Exchange blog

A glossary of energy and water terms

In recent posts I’ve discussed the need for energy and water planners to co-manage resources more comprehensively. But another significant barrier exists: language. Water and energy planners use different terminology and a lack of understanding for these distinctions hampers true coordination. Also, it prevents customers from understanding how to make sense of their own usage patterns and maximize energy and water efficiency.

Electricity measurements

Getting into the nuts and bolts — or watts and volts — of the issue can get very dry very quickly, so let’s go over some basic units of measurement to set the stage.

Electricity is measured in watts, usually represented as kilowatts (kW), megawatts (MW), but often discussed as megawatt-hours (MWh). One MW is roughly equivalent to ten running cars engines. A MWh is the total amount of electricity produced by a power plant in one hour, roughly the amount of energy used by 330 homes in one hour. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), in May 2013, Texas generated 12,261 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of electricity from coal-fired power plants (1 GWh = 1,000 MWh) and only 4,116 GWh from renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar.

Read More »

Posted in Energy Efficiency, Energy-Water Nexus | Tagged , , | Comments closed

A Future Of Hotter Summers Will Stress Energy And Water In Texas

With Labor Day behind us, Texans can look forward to a welcome respite from the hundred-degree days of August. The pending arrival of fall may signal milder temperatures for now, but the latest report from John Nielson-Gammon, Texas’ state climatologist, tells a different story about Texas’ long-term climate trend. The study released last month indicates that peak summer temperatures may increase by up to five degrees by 2060. What we once thought of as a unique heat wave (think back to 2011) are likely to become the new normal, and will eventually – according to Nielson-Gammon – be replaced by even hotter temperatures.

At the same time, increasing temperatures would place further severe stress on the state’s energy and water systems. Texas’ recent extreme summers have already plunged much of the state into drought. The latest data released by the U.S. Drought Monitor predict water emergencies could occur in at least nine U.S. cities—five of which are in Texas. And experts expect the drought will persist for years to come as climate change intensifies.

Texas lawmakers must take these grim projections into account as they plan the state’s energy and water futures. Some Texas decision makers are already calling for more fossil-fuel power plants to cover the need for more power (to run all those air conditioners) in light of 2011’s historic summer highs, which will emit more carbon pollution into the air and add to the warming. These same Texas lawmakers insist we should keep our heads in the sand, ignore the mounting evidence pointing to a new climate normal and do nothing to alleviate or adapt to the problem. Read More »

Posted in Climate Change, Demand Response, Drought, Energy Efficiency | Tagged | Comments closed

Houston’s Ozone Progress Commendable, But Still Inadequate To Protect Human Health

Source: Houston Air Quality

Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region VI, representing Texas and surrounding states, announced that Houston was on track to meet the 1997 federal health standard for ozone within the next five years. Of course, I am and have been supportive of the multitude of efforts deployed and enforced to reduce ozone levels in Houston over the years. At the same time, I am concerned that the recent announcement may create a public perception of Houston as out of the weeds.

The truth is that the 1997 standard has been found to be woefully inadequate to protect human health from the harms of ozone, which include, but are not limited to, asthma, bronchitis and cancer. The 1997 standard of 84 parts per billion (ppb) was revised in 2008 to a standard of 75ppb.  Even this standard of 75ppb, however, has been criticized for failing to provide adequate public health protection. In addition, a closer look at ozone Design Values (a wonky term for the three-year average of the four highest days of eight-hour ozone concentration in each year) in Houston over the last five years suggests that the region may have reached a plateau in terms of reducing ozone. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Environmental Protection Agency, Houston, Ozone | Comments closed

Texas Boasts Most Modern Power Grid In The Country

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

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 Change, Smart Grid, Solar, Utilities, Wind | Tagged , , , , , | Comments closed

Local Energy-Water Solutions Should Be A Model For The Nation

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

Over the past several weeks, I've written a lot about the intimate and inextricable connection between energy and water. The energy-water nexus involves a number of technologies, environmental factors and stakeholders. Thus, it’s no surprise that water and energy’s fundamental connection has eluded policymakers for so long. With this post, I review the lessons discussed so far, so that policymakers can understand the key issues surrounding the energy-water nexus and what’s at stake if we fail to act now.

The Bottom Line

Conventional electricity sources, like coal, natural gas and nuclear power plants, require an abundance of water — about 190 billion gallons per day. Because the majority of our electricity comes from these sources, high energy use strains the water system and contributes to Texas’ prolonged drought. Coincidentally, extreme drought could force power plants to shut down.

Climate change is having a profound effect on our weather patterns, making extreme heat and drought more common in Texas and throughout the Southwest. If we don’t set the energy-water system on a sustainable course, we risk a compounded problem.

Read More »

Posted in Drought, Energy-Water Nexus, Environment, Texas Energy Crunch | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Response, comments now closed

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

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

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 »

Posted in Demand Response, Energy Efficiency, Texas Energy Crunch | Tagged , , , , , | Comments closed

Regional Clean Air Coalitions Take The Next Step To Improve Air Quality

Last month, I highlighted some Texas cities working to educate their citizens on the importance of air quality. Because air pollution is a persistent problem throughout Texas, the state’s largest cities all maintain websites focusing on ways to mitigate emissions and take precautions when air pollution reaches concentrations considered to be unhealthy. While these informational campaigns promote voluntary reductions in emissions, they aren’t sufficient to keep air quality under control.

Regional coalitions all over the state are at the front line forging needed partnerships to achieve major emissions reductions and improve the quality of air across Texas. The following are a few organizing leading the effort: Read More »

Posted in Dallas Fort-Worth, Environment, Houston, Ozone, San Antonio | Comments closed
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