Texas Clean Air Matters

How farms can tend to the energy-water nexus, reduce costs and help their communities

By Kate Zerrenner, Senior Manager of Energy-Water Initiatives, Environmental Defense Fund, and Dylan Dupre, President and CEO, CalCom Energy

Across the country, farmers face unrelenting pressure to conserve both water and energy. From California to Texas, recent droughts and declining groundwater levels require more pumping to provide irrigation water for crops. Pumping water takes energy, as do many other precision agriculture tasks involved in running a successful farm today. This symbiotic relationship between water and energy use – often called the energy-water nexus – is taking its toll on America’s agricultural industry.

For most operations, the result is higher costs, tighter margins and, unfortunately for everyone, a less sustainable food supply.

Demand for food is expected to surge by more than 50 percent as the global population grows to 9 billion people by 2050. In light of this, how can farms adequately manage water and energy to ensure their survival and the security of our food supply?

The answer is not simple, but it is clear: integrated resource management. Farms must consider their use of water and energy together to ensure the optimal use of both. Doing so isn’t just good for the sustainability of our food systems, it’s good for the bottom line. Read More »

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A changing climate causes psychological harm. Here’s one way Texas can act.

“I’m sorry I’ve been so out of touch.” Months after Hurricane Harvey, my friend reached out to me to let me know that she has been suffering from depression and nightmares. She and her elderly relative were evacuated out of their flooded home in Houston during the storm, marking their door with a Sharpie the date and time that they had been rescued.

Texas recently passed the year anniversary of Harvey, and this is just one of the thousands and thousands of stories of people traumatized by living through the second costliest hurricane in U.S. history. That’s not to mention the trauma of those affected by the hurricanes, wildfires, and many other extreme weather disasters that have taken place over the past several years.

The psychological harm of surviving a natural disaster has been documented for decades. But with climate change, those natural disasters are no longer purely natural – they are getting more intense, frequent, and/or destructive depending on the event. Protecting Texans’ mental health and avoiding the costly effects of trauma is yet another reason Texas should invest in clean energy solutions, a low-hanging fruit for avoiding the worst of climate change. Read More »

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With hurricane season approaching, Texas should heed Harvey’s warning on climate change

The 2018 hurricane season is just around the corner – June 1st, in fact.

Initial predictions for this year’s season say we should expect it to be more active than average, which is unwelcome news to a state that is still reeling from Hurricane Harvey. And, while some areas are bracing for more hurricanes before they’ve even recovered from the last one, the majority of the state is already back in drought.

The weather rollercoaster that Texas has always ridden is getting more intense, thanks in large part to climate change. Not only is climate change real and happening, but Texas will be among the areas hardest hit economically by its effects. Put simply, our state can no longer afford not to act on climate change.

Over the past few months, we have been looking at issues related to Hurricane Harvey, like how the storm wreaked havoc on people’s health and how the state can better invest in coastal resilience.

With all of this in mind, the Texas Legislative Session is about six months away – and the Lone Star State should heed Harvey’s lessons. Read More »

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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 »

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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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