Author Archives: Kate Zerrenner

El Paso Electric should protect the city’s water and let solar power shine

Resiliency is a hot button word right now. Ten years ago, advocates focused on “adaptation,” or the idea of adapting to the coming effects of climate change. Now the focus is on “resiliency,” the ability to bounce forward – not backward – when something disastrous happens.

For El Paso, a city on the border between the U.S. and Mexico, resilience is critical. A huge city in the middle of the desert with an average rainfall around 8 inches per year, El Paso needs to be hardy, especially when it comes to water.

El Paso Water Utility (EPWU) is on top of the problem, enacting programs and initiatives to ensure El Paso’s water resiliency. Unfortunately, El Paso Electric – the city’s electric utility – is not doing everything it can to use less water.

To protect the city’s water, the utility should fully embrace no-water solar PV energy and not discourage customers from using solar power at their homes and businesses.

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Just like social causes, environmentalism is about putting people first

The 85th Texas Regular Legislative Session has drawn to a close. Now that we've had some time to digest what went down (and get some sleep), we can reflect. There is no doubt: This was a very hard Session. Emotions were high and lives were at stake.

Each Session ends up having themes or issues that remain high on the priority list throughout the five months legislators are in Austin. This year, the focus was on social issues, like transgender bathroom access and reproductive rights. And although the connection may not always be obvious, social issues are environmental issues, too.

All of these matters are fundamentally about people. When I fight for clean energy or water or taking action on climate change, I'm not doing it in a vacuum. We cannot disconnect these issues with the social issues we face in Texas and on a national scale right now. Immigration, health care, and education are all about protecting the most vulnerable among us and ensuring we treat each other with respect – and so is fighting for the environment. Read More »

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3 energy-water nexus lessons from the state of Texas

With summer just around the corner, I – like many Texans – intend to spend as much time as possible in or near water when it’s scorching outside. But, even though we’ve had a wet winter, I can’t help but think of the terrible drought that plagued Texas for years. Just a few short years ago, my dad had to sell his motorboat because there was no water in nearby Lake Travis. Then floods pummeled many parts of Texas, and some of those same lakes are full for the first time in 15 years. And, it’s not just Texas watching the pendulum swing from historic drought to heavy rains.

Following a five-year drought, California’s winter was one of the snowiest and wettest on record. Plus, regions of the Southeast and Northeast have experienced unprecedented droughts recently.

Many fear these extremes are the new normal as climate models suggest drought and floods will be intensified under a changing climate. This data supports why it’s critical to ensure the stability of our future water supply. Fortunately, there is an inextricable link between energy and water that presents untapped opportunities to conserve water.

Known as the energy-water nexus, the link refers to the water embedded in energy and the energy embedded in water. Consider the amount of water it takes to produce and distribute electricity. As well, consider the amount of electricity used to treat, pump, and distribute water. And, while many clean energy resources are virtually water-free, traditional sources—such as coal, nuclear, and natural gas— require a significant amount of water to generate power. Read More »

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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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  • 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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