Texas Clean Air Matters

Investing in a strong foundation for energy resilience in Texas

By Ronny Sandoval, Kate Zerrenner

Eight months after Hurricane Harvey, affected communities are still rebuilding their lives and businesses.

One area that hasn’t required as much attention to rebuild: Texas’ electricity grid. Shortly after the storm, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the state’s main grid operator, said, “The ERCOT grid has remained stable, and competitive electricity markets have continued to operate normally.” That said, nearly 300,000 consumers were without power during the storm’s peak. Therefore, the state’s electricity restoration after Harvey is a story of resilience – and an opportunity to do better the next time around.

Though the impact and $125 billion in damages that Harvey caused were catastrophic, some of the investments and decisions made in Texas well before the storm allowed for faster restoration of power than would have been the case just a few years prior. Plus, renewable energy resources like wind turbines and solar panels can play a role in strengthening grid resilience. Investments in modern technologies – like digital controls, microgrids, and distributed energy – hold the keys to protecting people in towns and cities most susceptible to future powerful storms, and they provide insights for how Texas can prepare for the next power disruption. Read More »

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How this 300-year-old city is leading on U.S. solar, energy-water, and climate action

By Kate Zerrenner, Jaclyn Rambarran

On May 5, 2018, the city of San Antonio will officially be 300 years old! On that day in 1718, the Presidio San Antonio de Béxar (a Spanish fort) was founded. The city’s tricentennial celebration will culminate in a weeklong celebration of history, art, and culture the first week of May.

San Antonio is a unique place that should be honored in Texas and beyond. In addition to its strong Hispanic heritage, the city boasts a large military population, straddles the border between eastern, western, and southern U.S., and claims to be the birthplace of breakfast tacos.

This growing city also has a powerful role to play in the future of Texas and the United States in terms of climate change and air quality, as evidenced by its initiatives around renewable energy, the energy-water nexus, and climate action. With all this in mind, let’s take a moment to celebrate not just San Antonio’s momentous birthday, but also its impressive efforts to ensure the sustainability of the city going forward. Read More »

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How a multifaceted approach could strengthen Texas’ coastal resilience before the next Harvey

By: Shannon Cunniff, Director, Coastal Resilience, with contributions from Kate Zerrenner

Hurricane Harvey provided a stark reminder to Houston, Port Aransas, and other Texas communities of the power of storms and the consequences of living on a flood-prone coast.

When hurricanes hit, coastal counties experience rain, wind, waves, and storm surge. Nearly 30 percent of Texas’ population lives in Gulf Coast or adjacent inland counties, where hurricanes are the most destructive weather phenomena. With a changing climate, we can expect more extreme weather.

Fortunately, we can decrease our vulnerability, lower the risk of damaging floodwaters, and reduce the impacts associated with these disasters. Such actions, called hazard mitigation, require a multifaceted approach, and implementing the strategy will require multiple levels of responsibility: It will need to be executed by individuals and businesses, and supported with a high level of intra-government cooperation. And it will need to be sustained over time.

Other coastal areas including Louisiana are already implementing these multi-pronged coastal protection plans. Texas also has the opportunity to be a leader in coastal resilience. Read More »

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Rooftop solar and EVs save water and cut pollution in Texas – and data can help us go further

By Beia Spiller, Senior Economist

Thanks to improvements in technology, it’s easier than ever to be green.

Solar panels and electric vehicles (EVs) are two prime examples of technologies that can help people minimize their environmental footprint, without sacrificing comfort or having to radically change their daily behavior. But the question still remains: How much of an environmental benefit do these technologies actually produce? And, are there actions that owners of these technologies can take to minimize their pollution footprint even more?

A new paper by my colleagues and me, recently published in Energy Economics, attempts to answer these two questions for households in Austin, Texas. These homes are part of Pecan Street Inc., a living smart-grid laboratory with the largest customer energy-use database on the planet. Using detailed household-level data from 2013-2015, we were able to track solar panel performance and EV use and charging patterns, and match these actions to two important environmental impacts: water use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Our paper confirms that, in Texas, residential solar panels uses less water and pollutes the air less than using the central-grid power (based on its electricity sources during those years), and driving an EV instead of a gasoline vehicle generally reduces the household’s water and emission footprint, even though EVs charge from the grid. Moreover, our analysis demonstrates how carefully examining energy-use data can help us make sure we’re maximizing clean energy’s benefits. Read More »

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How a tech startup and nimble non-profit exposed toxic releases during the Houston flood

Bakeyah Nelson with the Air Alliance Houston checks air measurements with Entanglement Technologies' chief science officer, Mike Armen.

By Matt Tresaugue, Manager, Houston Air Quality Media Initiative

As Hurricane Harvey bore down on the Texas coast, Tony Miller, chief executive of a Silicon Valley startup, wondered how he could help.

His company, Entanglement Technologies, can measure levels of air pollution in real time, important information for emergency responders and people living near storm-damaged refineries and chemical plants.

On Aug. 31, Miller called Elena Craft, Environmental Defense Fund’s Texas-based senior health scientist, and the two quickly came up with a plan to monitor neighborhoods near industrial facilities in and around Houston. Miller was on the road the next day. Read More »

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Trump has put Harvey relief funds at risk

By Jeremy Symons, Associate Vice President, Climate Political Affairs

Rain continues to fall on Houston and surrounding areas at tragic levels. When the rains stop and the flood waters begin to recede — I hope that is very soon — the cost to rebuild will be massive. Pressure on Congress to act quickly will be intense. President Trump, however, has already put relief funds at risk.

Only ten days prior to Hurricane Harvey’s landfall, Trump issued a reckless executive order that affects all federal agencies and contractors involved in Harvey’s relief effort. As part of his agenda of imposing climate denial throughout his administration, Trump rescinded a policy directing federal agencies to consider worsening future flood conditions when planning federally funded projects. The “Federal Flood Risk Management Standard” was aimed at improving America’s preparedness and resilience against flooding, and ensuring taxpayer funds are used wisely, by using the best information and building federally-funded infrastructure to withstand floods, as well as preserving natural floodplains that can minimize the threat to surrounding communities. Read More »

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