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Showtime Brings Realities of Texas Drought Home to Millions

Source: Jack Newton

Source: Jack Newton

It may seem like only yesterday that Texans were asked to conserve water after another scorching summer, but in reality it was four, dry years ago. The drought, which began in 2010 after La Niña altered sea level temperatures in the Pacific, continues to persist in the Lone Star State and promises to surpass the state’s record-setting multi-year drought from the 1950s. Ranchers have been forced to sell off cattle, town water supplies continue to go dry, and power plants struggle to provide a reliable supply of electricity due to water scarcity and long stretches of hot weather. Given these bleak conditions, it should not come as a surprise that 70 percent of Texans believe global warming is happening—and 52 percent said they have personally experienced the effects of global warming.

An all-star team of producers, including James Cameron, Jerry Weintraub and Arnold Schwarzenegger, intends to bring the Texas drought home to millions of televisions across the nation in the Years of Living Dangerously series premiering Sunday. Through this series, a host of celebrities, activists and journalists share the stories of those impacted most by our changing climate and what’s being done to save our planet. What is clear right now, in Texas and beyond, is that as climate change intensifies, we must adapt to more extreme weather conditions and make resilient changes that mitigate further stress. Read More »

Also posted in Climate Change, Drought, Energy-Water Nexus, Environment, Texas Energy Crunch / Comments are closed

Freezing, Scorching, or Not, Texas Needs More Demand Response

MaritaHeadshotAs we thaw out this week from our most recent arctic blast, Texas’ inexperience with ice and snow has been met with Internet memes and jokes. But dealing with extreme temperatures causes serious strain on our current energy system and exacerbates our “energy crunch,” signifying that the available supply of electricity barely meets the demand for that power.

However, as is typical of Texas, last week our weather was quite pleasant – in the 70s – and strains on the system due to weather events weren’t too much of a concern. Yet the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the state agency charged with managing the flow of electricity for most of Texas, alerted an emergency situation despite mild temperatures. To avert disaster, ERCOT initiated demand response, “ask[ing] customers to raise thermostat settings to 78 degrees, typically a summer response intended to reduce demand from air conditioners.” A single malfunctioning power plant caused the problem. ERCOT declined to identify the plant involved. Read More »

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Demand Response Helps Texas Avoid Rolling Blackouts in the Face of Polar Vortex

MaritaHeadshotAs we begin a new year, the outlook for 2014 looks bright.  But as the Polar Vortex has descended upon the U.S. over the last few days, we have been reminded of the past, specifically the winter of 2011 when Texas’ electricity grid stuttered under the extreme cold.

Monday, as a record-breaking cold snap whisked over the U.S., the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the state’s grid operator, warned of possible blackouts, just as they did in 2011.  We were lucky this time, but in February of 2011 we were not, and blackouts occurred throughout the state.

ERCOT’s warning meant that the grid’s power reserves “dropped below a comfortable threshold,” and the “system was just one step away from rolling blackouts” as the need for energy outpaced supply.  As these blackout threats loomed, two power plants succumbed to the cold and went down.  The loss in capacity amounted to about 3700 megawatts (MW), with 1800 MW lost due to the cold.  According to Dan Woodfin, ERCOT’s Director of System Operations, “if we had lost another unit it would have put us into an Energy Emergency Alert Three” – the stage that prompts rolling blackouts.  This is unnecessary and unacceptable. Read More »

Also posted in Demand Response, ERCOT, Renewable Energy, Texas Energy Crunch, Wind / Tagged , , | Comments are closed

Texas Congressman Denies Climate Change While Texans Seek More Action On Global Warming

Sunflower solar panels, Austin TX

Last week, San Antonio Congressman Lamar Smith took a break from Washington’s budget battles to weigh in on the latest assessment report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In his Texas Weekly guest column, Congressman Smith cast doubt on the link between global warming and extreme weather and criticized efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), cherry-picking passages of the report to support his own arguments.

Let’s look at what the report really says. Based on mountains of evidence and an unprecedented scientific consensus from hundreds of the world’s best climate scientists, the IPCC finds that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal,” and “human influence on the climate system is clear.” Furthermore, the report settles that human influence has very likely affected frequency and intensity of daily temperature extremes and likely doubled the probability of heat waves. The report further predicts that extreme heat will only get worse from here, concluding it is very likely that heat waves will occur with a higher frequency and duration in the future. Sounds like extreme weather to me.

When you contrast these findings with Texas’ recent streak of scorching summers, it’s easy to understand why a majority of Texans say they have personally experienced the effects of global warming. Extreme temperatures, since 2010, have helped plunge the state into a historic, multi-year drought, which is expected to be the new norm. Both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and independent climate scientists, including Texas A&M’s atmospheric sciences department, have attributed Texas’ historic 2011 heat wave and drought primarily to climate change. Read More »

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NOAA Reports On Climate; Texas Politicians Stick Heads In Sand

This post originally appeared on EDF’s Voices blog.

Last week, a coalition of environmental groups presented U.S. Senator Ted Cruz and other Texas politicians with “awards” for their persistent denial of basic climate science. In fact, climate change denial is all too common among Texas lawmakers. Governor Rick Perry, for example, calls climate change “a theory that has not been proven.”

In contrast, the international scientific community almost unanimously agrees that greenhouse gases associated with human activity are responsible for the global warming pattern we’ve seen since the mid-20 century. Earlier this month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its annual State of the Climate report. The report brings together leading scientists and academics to assess the state of the Earth’s climate. The 2012 report, which included contributions from 384 authors from 52 countries, is the most authoritative analysis of climate change and its global effects. Read More »

Also posted in Air Pollution, Climate Change, Coal, Drought / Tagged , | Comments are closed

Energy-Water Nexus Spans Across Western United States

This commentary originally appeared on EDF’s Energy Exchange blog.

Source: feww.wordpress.com

Over the past few weeks, I’ve written a number of posts to help shed light on the fundamental connection between energy and water. Because many of our energy sources gulp down huge volumes of water, it’s imperative that we break down the long-standing division between energy and water planning — especially in drought-prone states like Texas. I’d like to take a step back and look at how Texas’ neighbors are addressing energy and water co-management. While Texas may be an extreme example, looking toward its immediate neighbors could provide ideas and best practices to improve the state’s situation.

A number of western states are facing many of the same challenges as Texas. Electricity production is a major drain on the region’s water supply. A study co-authored by Western Resource Advocates and EDF showed that thermoelectric power plants, such as coal, natural gas and nuclear, in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah consumed an estimated 292 million gallons of water each day in 2005 — roughly equal to the amount of water consumed by Denver, Phoenix and Albuquerque combined (and we’re talking water consumption, not just withdrawals). Like Texas, the western states face a future of prolonged drought. Scientific models predict climate change will increase drought throughout the Southwest, placing greater stress on the region’s delicate water supply.

Additionally, electricity production, numerous thirsty cities and widespread agricultural activity all strain the water system, too. Because so many flock to western states for fishing, kayaking, rafting and other recreational water activities, setting the region’s water system on a sustainable path is a critical economic issue. The exceptional challenges facing western states have already prompted some states to consider the energy-water nexus when planning to meet future water and electricity needs. Read More »

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