Author Archives: Kate Zerrenner

Rounding up the Water, Clean Energy, and Climate Bills in the 85th Texas Legislative Session

We’re entering the home stretch of the 85th Session of the Texas Legislature.

Now past the Session’s midway point, legislators and advocates are working hard to ensure their bills cross the finish line. Here’s a look at which water, clean energy, and climate bills have been filed, including those we hope will rise to the top.

Water bills

In the 1930s, Texas meteorologist Isaac Klein reportedly said Texas is a land of eternal drought, interrupted occasionally by biblical floods. Luckily the state is in a relatively wet period: The majority of Texas is drought-free and just under half the state is in the lowest bracket of drought.

But Texans understand water should always be on our minds, so it’s no surprise there are dozens of water bills this Session. Read More »

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International Women’s Day: Spotlight on a Texas Clean Energy Leader

Center: Debbie Kimberly, Vice President for Customer Energy Solutions at Austin Energy.

In honor of this year’s International Women’s Day we wanted to highlight a clean energy leader in Texas, and we didn’t have to go far from Environmental Defense Fund’s Austin office.

Debbie Kimberly is the Vice President for Customer Energy Solutions at Austin Energy (AE), the municipally-owned electric utility for the City of Austin. Her division is responsible for some of the utility’s clean energy portfolio, including energy efficiency, demand response (a tool that rewards people and businesses for using less electricity when the grid is stressed), and solar initiatives.

Debbie came to AE just over four years ago from an illustrious run at Arizona’s Salt River Project – the electric utility that serves the Phoenix area. I recently interviewed her about her leadership in Texas’ clean energy space. Read More »

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Texas Should Get Its Head in the New Solar Market Game

What would a world powered by clean, low-water energy look like? If you visit Israel’s southern region, you don’t have to imagine.

In 2011, Arava Power in the southern Israeli desert launched a 4.9 MW solar field (enough to power more than 3,000 U.S. homes). Since then nearly 200 times as much capacity – both fields and rooftops – has been installed in the region. By 2025, it’s likely solar will provide 100 percent of daytime electricity, plus excess, along the border with Jordan.

With solar technology more advanced and cheaper than ever, solar power can take off quickly in Texas, as it has in Israel.

The Arava Desert, where many of Israel’s solar fields are located, averages about 360 days of sunshine per year. Austin, where I live, averages about 300 days per year, and it’s not even as sunny as West Texas. But in January 2017, solar provided just 0.4 percent of power across the vast majority of the state. There is huge opportunity for solar growth in Texas. Read More »

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Saving Energy and Doubling Worldwide Water Supplies – One Drip at a Time

Netafim HQOn a warm December day, I stood in a jojoba field in the Negev Desert in southern Israel and watched water slowly seep up from the ground around the trees. First a tiny spot, then spreading, watering the plants from deep below. This highly efficient system is known as drip irrigation, and I was there to meet with the world’s leading drip irrigation company, Israel-based Netafim.

Naty Barak, the Netafim director who I met on the visit, notes that if the world’s farmers increased their use of drip irrigation to 15 percent (up from just under 5 percent now), the amount of water available for use worldwide could double.

Drip irrigation saves more than water. Whereas traditional irrigation typically uses quite a bit of energy, drip reduces the pressure (and power) needed to get the water to the crops while reducing the need for energy-hungry fertilizers. Plus, due to the inextricable link between water and power, saving water results in further saved energy.

Texas has already enhanced its water efficiency, but it could go further and take a page out of Israel’s book. By investing in thoughtful drip irrigation now, Texas could lead the nation on expanding this innovative technology and significantly reduce the energy footprint of its irrigation sector, while protecting water supplies for our growing cities and creating more sustainable farming practices. Read More »

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Lowering Desalination’s Energy Footprint: Lessons from Israel

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Kate Zerrenner and Leon Kaye of Triple Pundit standing in a desalination pipe at Sorek.

There’s an old expression that whisky is for drinking and water is for fighting over. The Legislative Session is upon us again in Texas, and count on water being an issue, as it always is in this drought and flood-prone state.

To start, this Session will see the approval of the 2017 State Water Plan (SWP), which is done in five-year cycles. In the five years since the last plan, Texas has gone from the throes of a devastating drought to historic flooding, which resulted in some reservoirs being full for the first time in 15 years.

Moreover, as more people move to Texas and climate change advances, there will be greater strain on the state’s water supplies. According to the SWP, Texas is already in a tighter situation than it was just five years ago: Surface water and groundwater availability will be 5 percent lower in 2060 compared to predictions in the 2012 plan, and existing water supplies are expected to drop by 11 percent between 2020 and 2070. Where are we supposed to get the water we need? Read More »

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If Israel Can Find Common Ground around the Environment, Why Can’t Texas?

A solar array at the Arava Institute.

A solar array at the Arava Institute.

Deep in the Israeli desert is an academic institute that is building peace in the region by putting nature at its center. The Arava Institute, in partnership with Ben Gurion University, brings students from Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and around the world to find common ground around environmental problems and build trust – and peace – from there.

On a recent trip to Israel, including to the Arava Institute, I was told many times by many people, “Everything is political here.” Water and energy are no exception. In a region where water can be scarce and oil has long reigned as king, the politics of environmental issues are even more extreme than what people in many parts of the world can wrap their heads around.

Of course, environmental issues in Texas – and across the country – can be highly divisive. But polls consistently show Americans want to protect and defend the health of our children and the well-being of our communities. And clean energy can play a critical role: Our nation’s power sector accounts for nearly 40% of U.S carbon emissions – causing health problems such as asthma attacks, heart attacks, and a staggering number of premature deaths every year.

Today, Texas opens its 85th Legislative Session. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if, instead of fighting over taking action on climate change, leaders sat down with a common starting point: to ensure clean, available water and clean air through renewable energy, while maintaining a robust economy? Perhaps we can learn from the Arava Institute and start with our commonalities, like the desire for clean air and clean water, to build cooperation and achieve clean energy progress. Read More »

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  • About the author

    Project manager
    Kate Zerrenner develops and implements strategies to promote energy and water efficiency and climate change solutions in Texas, as well as leads EDF’s multi-year campaign to influence and enact state and national energy and water efficiency policy, including breaking down financial, regulatory and behavioral barriers.

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    Confluence of SJR, Old, and Middle rivers

    Advocating for healthier air and cleaner energy in Texas through public education and policy influence.

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