Texas Clean Air Matters

Hurricane Harvey: Climate change, staggering costs, and people at the heart of it all

Texans are no stranger to the devastation of hurricanes. I still vividly remember, as a young child in Austin, being scared of Alicia in 1983 – and thankful that we lived at the top of the hill. Alicia caused nearly $2 billion in damages, a record at the time, and the category 3 storm was so destructive that its name was retired. But only a few years later, that record was broken in Texas by Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 ($5 billion), Hurricane Rita in 2005 ($24 billion), and Hurricane Ike in 2008 ($35 billion).

In fact, of the top ten costliest hurricanes of all time in the U.S., nine have been since 2004, and half have been in the past five years. Houston alone has endured three 500-year floods in the past three years. Each of these storms was devastating in its own right, but Harvey brought destruction to a new level.

As a native Texan, this is not the normal I knew. And for those outside Texas, think of the magnitude: You could fit the cities of Boston, Chicago, Manhattan, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, and Washington, D.C. into the geographical area of Houston. So how does Hurricane Harvey fit into the new normal? Here are three things we know for certain. Read More »

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3 things my climate-skeptic dad taught me about clean energy advocacy

Kate Zerrenner and her dad.

As an advocate for the air, water, and economic benefits that clean energy provides, I find some of my most challenging – and maybe most rewarding – work is trying to engage climate-skeptic lawmakers at the Texas Capitol in Austin.

To facilitate that work, I use lessons I’ve learned from my dad, who lives in San Antonio and with whom I don’t often agree when it comes to our approach on the environment. In the spirit of the holidays, I want to thank him for all those conversations in which we didn’t see eye to eye. Little did I know then, he was teaching me the tools of my trade.

Here are three lessons my dad taught me that I use daily in my work as a clean energy advocate. Read More »

Posted in Legislation / Comments are closed

Historic buildings or energy efficiency? Texas gets both, with innovative financing.

When it comes to the history and DNA of a city, new buildings have nothing on century-old ones. Yet the reverse can be said in regard to water and energy efficiency. Older buildings reflect the culture and history of a community, but typically are highly inefficient.

Such was the case with the Butler Brothers Building in Dallas, a previously-abandoned 1910 structure that was often referred to as an eyesore. So when the real estate developer Alterra International decided to turn the building into a mixed-use complex with apartments, hotel rooms, and retail space, a lot of work was needed to improve its water and energy efficiency – work that required up-front capital investments.

Through the Texas PACE Authority’s “PACE in a Box” model, Alterra International was able to secure $23.9 million in PACE financing for upgrades that will slash carbon pollution, cutting energy use by about 40 percent and annual water use by almost 700,000 gallons.

Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) is a financing model that helps local governments and the private sector back energy efficiency and renewable energy upgrades for homes and businesses. Texas is the only state that includes water in its PACE programs and could serve as a model for other water-strapped states. Read More »

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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.

Read More »

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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 »

Posted in Legislation / Comments are closed

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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