I overheard a colleague last week say she was impressed a group of elementary school students were learning about the tragedy of the commons, and it reminded me of what's been going on at the Texas Legislature this session. The "tragedy of the commons" is a term coined in the late 60's by ecologist Garret Hardin, described as "a situation where individuals acting independently and rationally according to each's self-interest behave contrary to the best interests of the whole group by depleting some common resource." It’s an unfortunate allegory for Texas politics and specifically the passage of Senate Bill (SB) 709, which is on its way to the governor’s desk as I write this.
In this case, a few individuals (polluting corporations and the lawmakers they fund) are acting in their self-interest, creating legislation that will get more money in their pockets faster. Unfortunately, the best interests of the whole group (all Texans) are virtually forgotten, and common resources like healthy air and water will suffer. The final bill, SB 709 sponsored by Senator Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay), shows Texas' leadership cares more about protecting big polluters at the expense of its citizens.
And while Sen. Fraser’s bill was the one that ultimately passed, the companion measure in the House, House Bill 1865, by Representative Genie Morrison (R-Victoria) included the same agenda and language. Rep. Morrison is from Victoria, Texas. As someone who is supposed to be fighting for the best interests of her constituents, many in Victoria are questioning just whom Morrison and other Texas lawmakers represent. Read More
There is enough solar energy potential in Texas to power the world twice over. Yet currently we rank 10th in the nation (behind New Jersey) with 330 megawatts (MW), which is enough to power about 57,000 homes. Texas is a state of almost nine million households. That's a lot of rooftops, and when you add the number of commercial and industrial rooftops, parking lots, and garages, we are talking about a significant amount of surface area.
Meanwhile, the cost of solar panels has dropped 80 percent since 2008 and prices for rooftop photovoltaic (PV) systems have declined markedly in recent years, dropping 29 percent from 2010 to 2013. Moreover, jobs in the solar industry are booming –SolarCity is hiring significantly more people than leading tech companies like Twitter.
So, what will it take to energize rooftop solar growth in Texas? Well, a recent announcement from one of Texas' “frenemies” may be part of the solution. Read More
The story of Texas wind energy is a success, but it's an odd history.
In 1999, when Texas deregulated the energy market, a deal was struck to include a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), a requirement that power companies source a certain amount of their electricity from renewable energy by certain dates. Texas surpassed the original targets, as well as subsequently increased targets, eventually making Texas the U.S. wind leader. In fact, the wind industry’s success has been an integral part of the "Texas Miracle" of job creation, especially in West Texas, which hasn't seen an economic boom like this since before the Great Depression.
However, state Senator Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay) and other legislators think that, because Texas blew past its wind goals, we can call it a "mission accomplished" and repeal the RPS. Repealing Texas’ wind goals at this time, though, could undermine Texas’ wind industry, potentially eliminating thousands of jobs and halting millions of investment dollars Texas receives every year.
The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) recently released its annual U.S. Wind Industry Market Report for 2014. The report puts Texas on a pedestal, highlighting how the Lone Star State is home to 37 percent of newly installed wind capacity in 2014. Of the 12,700 megawatts (MW) under construction across the country, approximately 7,000 MW are in Texas. Unsurprisingly, Texas leads the country with over 17,000 wind industry jobs. In the list of the Top 10 Public Utilities and Public Utility Districts with Wind Capacity on System across the U.S., Texas’ own CPS Energy in San Antonio and Austin Energy rank first and third, respectively. Read More
Today, I stand at the precipice of SXSW, the annual music, film, and interactive festival that descends upon Austin, Texas every March. In a few weeks, we locals will be on the other side of SXSW, recovering from the three-week burst of good-timin' madness and getting ready for the next event that's always right around the corner.
Lucky for me, what comes next is the Energy Thought Summit! From March 24-26th, thought leaders and innovators from around the world will once again come to town, this time to discuss one of humanity's most complex issues: energy.
Hosted by Zpryme, the Energy Thought Summit (ETS) seeks to be a different kind of conference: less stuffy, more collaborative. ETS "stands for more than thought leadership through energy — it’s about combining industry expertise, radical ideas, and the insatiably creative from all walks of the energy ecosystem and exploring how we connect." Read More
The holidays are upon us. As we prepare to gather with our friends and family, eat too much, and lounge around watching football, many people use this time to reflect on what they are grateful for. Being able to pay one’s electricity bill probably doesn’t make most people’s list, but for many Americans, it might.
The average household spends $1,945 annually on electricity, and homes with the lowest 20 percent of income spent nearly six percent of their income on energy bills. For many households, the cost of energy remains unaffordable. To put it in perspective, compared to middle- or upper-class homes, low-income households spend about twice the percentage of their income on energy. Yet, as Greentech Media points out, “many [energy management] solutions are tailored to the biggest homes, those awash in thousands of square feet of central air with a pool pump. Other solutions are tailored for middle-class homes, such as aggressive rebates for more efficient appliances. Many apartment-dwellers, however, do not own their major appliances."
The future of smart home, energy-saving technologies is often more focused on affluent, early-adopters who benefit from innovative ways to save energy because they can afford the newest gadgets. Thankfully, these people are using their buying power to lead the way, as more demand will bring prices down for everyone. While it is important for all of us to conserve and better manage energy use, low-income individuals have the most to gain. Yet the technologies that can enable savings are often out of financial reach. Read More
On the heels of a recent Forbes blog post where I call out Texas' Comptroller for playing favorites in her biased scrutiny of Texas' wind industry, comes another Forbes piece by James Taylor from the Heartland Institute. Confusing correlation with causation, Taylor claims wind energy causes higher energy prices. However, an increase in electricity prices cannot automatically be accounted for by pointing the finger at wind energy. That’s simply playing fast and loose with the facts.
This is the same tired slant we have heard from Heartland Institute time and time again. Not surprising – when pundits want to cherry pick data to make their argument strong, it doesn’t always work.
First there are many, many factors that determine energy rates, not just one type of resource. In an analysis of utility rates, economists Ernst Berndt, Roy Epstein, and Michael Doane identified 13 reasons why an electric utility’s rates may be higher or lower than the average. They include things like the average use per customer, age of the electricity distribution system, generation resource mix, local taxes, and rate of increases prior to any implemented renewable portfolio standard (RPS). So faulting renewables for high energy prices is a bogus claim. Furthermore, there is no data showing a nationwide pattern of renewable energy standards leading to rate increases for consumers. The report states: “American consumers in the top wind energy-producing states have seen their electricity prices actually decrease by 0.37 percent over the last 5 years, while all other states have seen their electricity prices increase by 7.79 percent over that time period." Further, 15 studies from various grid operators, state governments, and academic experts have examined the impact of wind energy on wholesale electricity prices and confirmed that wind energy reduces electricity prices. Read More