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Energy And Water Are Running Out In Texas, But It’s Not Too Late

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

As we’ve highlighted in previous posts, water and energy regulators often make decisions in silos, despite the inherent connection between these two sectors. Texas is no exception.

Two very important and intertwined events are happening in Texas right now.

First, the state is in the midst of an energy crunch brought on by a dysfunctional electricity market, drought, population growth and extreme summer temperatures. An energy crunch signifies that the available supply of power barely exceeds the projected need (or demand) for electricity. Texas’ insufficient power supply makes the whole electricity system vulnerable to extreme weather events. An especially hot day (with thousands of air conditioning units running at full blast) could push the state over the edge and force the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the institution charged with ensuring grid reliability, to issue rolling blackouts.

Second, Texas is still in the midst of a severe, multi-year drought, forcing state agencies to impose strict water restrictions throughout the state. The drought has already had a devastating impact on surface water and many communities are facing critical water shortages.

Although Texas has always had to deal with extreme weather events, we can anticipate even more intense weather as climate change advances. The new climate ‘normal’ makes extreme heat waves, like the historic 2011 Texas summer, 20 times more likely to occur. These extreme weather events heighten the urgency of the energy-water nexus. Read More »

Also posted in Climate Change, Demand Response, Drought, Energy Efficiency, Energy-Water Nexus, Environment, ERCOT, Renewable Energy, TCEQ, Texas Energy Crunch, Utilities / Tagged , | Comments are closed

It’s Time Our Policies Reflect The Fact That Energy And Water Are Fundamentally Intertwined

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

When I tell people that the best way to conserve energy is to conserve water, I am often faced with a confused response.  I’m not surprised really.  Energy and water policies are rarely discussed in the same forum.  For a long time, we’ve overlooked the inextricable relationship between water and energy use.  Coal, nuclear and natural gas plants use enormous amounts of steam to create electricity.  Producing all of that steam requires 190,000 million gallons of water per day, or 39% of all freshwater withdrawals in the nation.

Connection between energy and water

The longstanding division between energy and water considerations is particularly evident in the case of energy and water management.  These resources are fundamentally intertwined: Energy is used to secure, deliver, treat and distribute water, while water is used (and often degraded) to develop, process and deliver energy.  Despite the inherent connection between the two sectors, energy and water planners routinely make decisions that impact one another without adequately understanding the scientific or policy complexities of the other sector.  This miscommunication often hides joint opportunities for conservation to the detriment of budgets, efficiency, the environment and public health, and inhibits both sectors from fully accounting for the financial, environmental or social effects they have on each other.

This lack of collaboration between energy and water planners is especially dire considering Texas is in midst of an energy shortage that is exacerbated by the multi-year drought.  Without adequate planning, we could someday have to choose between keeping our lights on and turning on the faucet. Read More »

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

Energy Capital Of The Nation Turns To Smart Power

Last week, the City of Houston announced that it would increase its purchase of renewable electricity to cover half of its energy use.  The city will use almost 623,000 megawatt-hours of electricity from renewable sources per year—equivalent to the energy used by 55,000 residential homes annually.  The purchase makes Houston the largest municipal buyer of renewable energy in the nation.  While Houston’s latest renewable energy purchase may seem at odds with its reputation as an oil and gas hub, it’s exactly the sort of common-sense decision we expect from a city that’s touted as the energy capital of the nation.

Houston is in good company among other Texas cities. The City of Austin already gets 100% of its electricity from renewable sources.  To make the switch, the city leveraged Austin Energy’s GreenChoice program, one of the nation’s most successful utility-sponsored and voluntary green-pricing programs.  The program is part of Austin’s Climate Protection Plan, which establishes a 35 % renewable portfolio goal for Austin Energy by 2020.  In San Antonio, the municipally owned CPS Energy has emerged as a leader in smart power. Through its New Energy Economy initiative, CPS Energy is growing its network of smart meters and expanding its installed solar capacity, among many other sustainable initiatives.  Today, CPS Energy uses more solar energy than any other Texas utility, while still having the lowest electric rates among the top 10 largest cities in the United States. Read More »

Also posted in Air Pollution, Climate Change, Energy Efficiency, Green Jobs, Houston, Renewable Energy, San Antonio, Solar, Wind / Comments are closed

Latinos In Texas Especially Vulnerable To Impacts Of Climate Change

Para leer este artículo en español, haga clic aquí

Source: Texas Vox

This week, President Obama shared his vision for how the U.S. can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for the effects of global warming.  This is the great challenge of our time and our moral responsibility compels us to take action now.  It is time to implement practical and sensible solutions to ensure that we leave a healthy planet for our kids and grandkids.

Climate change knows no boundaries; whether you live in an urban or rural area, close to the ocean or the mountains or somewhere in between, you are impacted by climate change.

The increased likelihood of extreme weather events may result in stronger, more intense hurricanes and the development of long-lasting droughts; both of which can increase food costs and decrease our government’s resources in the long term.

Public health is another concern, particularly for Hispanics, which account for 40% of Texas’ population.  Respiratory diseases, such as asthma, can be aggravated by changes in the weather. According to the National Institute of Health, Hispanics have an elevated rate of hospital admissions and emergency room visits due to these diseases.  Simply put, global warming puts our planet’s and family’s health at risk.

In Texas, we’ve seen our fair share of extreme weather and many of our industries and employment sources are being affected.  The ongoing drought that began three years ago continues to constrict water supplies around the state and is hindering the agricultural, recreational and energy sectors. The water crisis has reached critical limits in the Rio Grande Valley, where Hispanics account for 90% of the population. In some areas, economic losses could total $395 million.   Read More »

Also posted in Air Pollution, Climate Change, Drought, En Español, Houston / Tagged | Comments are closed

Texas Leads The Nation In Carbon Emissions. It’s Time To Mess With Texas.

Source: brionv/Flickr

This commentary originally appeared on the EDF Voices blog.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration recently released its annual report on carbon emissions from energy-related activities. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that Texas once again led the nation, emitting an estimated 652.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2010. That represents close to 10% of the carbon emissions from the entire country.

I love my state, but this isn’t a “#1” we should be proud of. Our emissions contribute to the global increase in carbon in the atmosphere and influence extreme weather patterns.

And yet, Texas continues to challenge protections to limit the amount of greenhouse gases, wasting valuable time and resources trying to thwart the efforts to handle a critical public health threat.

I know there are people in Texas who are concerned about the greatest environmental challenge of our time. And I am inspired by news of the 7% increase in renewable power generation in the state last year. And I am inspired by visionaries such as Elon Musk who is exploding into the market with zero emission technologies like Tesla. You’d see more of his cars in Texas if the state would let them.

Texas has tooted its horn as a pro-business state for years, which has led us down the smog-ridden road we are on now. It’s not too late to change the tune of our song to be pro- clean energy business.  Rather than constructing more fossil-fuel driven power plants, Texas can continue leading the nation with wind and solar development.  Renewable energy will not only continue to propel Texas’ economy, but also cut down on air pollution.  That’s a win-win for everyone, and a ranking for which Texas can be proud.

Also posted in Air Pollution, GHGs, Renewable Energy / Read 2 Responses

New Thinking Is Critical To Better Manage Water And Electricity Resources In Texas

Central Texas Workshop Discusses Opportunities For Resiliency During Extreme Weather Events

Last week, I attended a regional workshop that focused on adapting to extreme events, sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Water Environment Research Foundation, the Water Research Foundation, Concurrent Technologies Corporation, and NOBLIS. This workshop was the sixth in a series organized around the country to determine what is needed to increase the resilience of water utilities and communities in the face of extreme weather events. While the focus was on water, time and again, electricity was brought into the conversation—the two are closely linked, and in Texas, a state facing shortages of both water and power, this will require some creative thinking on our part.

This workshop focused on Central Texas, in particular our drought. But as the two-day workshop went on, it became clear to the organizers when local water utilities and other stakeholders spoke, that drought was only one extreme event that Texas has had to deal with…and continues to deal with. We are a state of extremes—weather, politics, personalities—and we not only have drought to handle, but also hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, wildfires, and just generally scorching heat. One of the first speakers was John Nielson-Gammon, the State Climatologist based out of Texas A&M University. He confirmed that while these natural phenomena are not new to Texas, we are experiencing more intense weather events. Last year was one of the hottest in Texas since we started recording temperatures, and we are heading into the third year of a pretty gruesome drought. Not being prepared for extreme events to get worse seems pretty foolhardy.

During the workshop, we heard from a variety of speakers from around the Central Texas region, including from the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, the Lower Colorado River Authority, rice growers, the University of Texas, the high tech industry, and individuals from Austin, San Antonio, and Bastrop. These people are dealing first hand with the impacts of the extreme events we’ve had in the past few years. They are simultaneously trying to manage the current situation while planning for what the changing climate means in the coming years. It’s a difficult balancing act.

As an outsider to the planning process, I was asked to report on the proceedings of a meeting at the end and to give an overview of my impressions of the workshop. My impressions were as follows:

It is crucial to balance short-term preparedness with long-term resiliency, and neither should be sacrificed at the expense of the other. Planners in Central Texas know how to handle floods, fires, and drought, but the intensity of these natural phenomena will likely increase with the effects of climate change. It’s also essential to ensure that we are protecting our water and electricity needs for the long-term.

There is tension between urban and rural needs. This is not a new concept, and it is particularly tense with regards to water needs. Often the decisions about water and electric needs are made in cities, and city dwellers may think of rural needs only in the abstract. But protecting the quantity of water available for farmers and ranchers is how we feed our urban populations. Some cities in Central Texas are, out of necessity, dealing with this issue. In the wake of the wildfires in Bastrop, planners in that area are taking a closer look at how homes are constructed and how the urban/rural interface affects the ability to provide water for its population and prevent future wildfires. Controlled burns are one way that wildfires are prevented, but you can’t do controlled burns in a subdivision built into a forest. Thinking about developing our communities in more thoughtful ways is critical.

Adapting to our changing climate necessarily includes water, but it also goes beyond water. Emergency preparedness must include ensuring adequate water supplies and electricity. We can envision extreme events in Austin because we’ve had them in the past: fatal flooding, tornadoes, wildfires, drought, and heat waves. These extreme events will likely intensify as climate change advances, and we need to be comprehensive in our planning. We know that we’re facing potential electricity shortages within the next three years, and water supplies are already stressed. We also have to take into consideration whether our current infrastructure can maintain our growing population, especially in the face of future extreme events, and what those events mean in terms of health impacts. Many evacuees from Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike were dehydrated and fell sick, and healthcare workers across the state responded heroically. We should anticipate more vulnerable populations in the wake of extreme events in the future. Read More »

Also posted in Climate Change, Drought, Environmental Protection Agency, Texas Energy Crunch / Comments are closed