We have a lot to celebrate this Global Wind Day (June 15). Across the nation, wind energy accounted for almost one-third of new power capacity over the past five years and the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) estimates that wind energy has the potential to double over the next few years.
Nowhere is the growth in wind energy more evident than in Texas, the nation’s top wind producing state. Texas' wind energy generation grew by 13% in 2013 and more than 60% of all wind projects under construction in the first part of the year were in Texas.
This success has been aided by the Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit (PTC), a modest tax credit for new facilities good for ten years after the wind farm’s start date. Like those received by the oil, gas, and nuclear industries, tax incentives help ignite growth in the market. EDF has strongly advocated for this incentive over the past few years.
Unfortunately, the breaks that oil and gas have received over the last 100 years are often (conveniently) ignored by those wanting to maintain the status quo, making the PTC a point of debate among politicians. Read More
This post was co-authored by Elena Craft, Ph.D., Senior Health Scientist, and Kate Zerrenner, Clean Energy Project Manager.
Source: Austin American Statesman
Early this week, the White House released the third National Climate Assessment (NCA). What’s the main take away? That Americans are already feeling the effects of climate change.
The NCA, authored by 300 experts and guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee, analyzes the best available data in the U.S. on the observed and future impacts of climate change, and organizes its findings for specific sectors and regions. Texas falls under the Great Plains region and the state’s bustling economy includes many industries that will be affected by a changing climate, such as agriculture and energy. Our water, ecosystems, transportation, and more will also be affected. It is clear from this report that heat and drought will intensify in Texas, putting energy, agriculture, and human health at increased risk. State leaders need to enact policies now to protect us and our livelihoods. Read More
Source: Alternative Energies
The assault on successful renewable energy legislation continues, long after the facts have proven that state renewable policies deliver clean, affordable, and reliable energy solutions that the majority of Americans support. Apparently, the fossil fuel industry and its so-called “free market” allies didn’t get the memo.
There’s a great line in the opening scene of Ridley Scott’s 2000 blockbuster Gladiator where a soldier says to his general, as they are about to slaughter an overmatched foe, “People should know when they’re conquered.” The general replies, “Would you? Would I?”
So I can’t really blame the fossil fuel industry for fighting old battles in an effort to undo approaches that have increased investment in renewable energy in states around the country, created thousands of jobs, and continue to lower energy costs with each passing day. Read More
Elon Musk, Tesla CEO, speaking to Texas Legislature in 2013. Source: Texas Public Radio.
Disruptive technologies tend to follow a certain trajectory. First, they are outliers, often ignored, and typically on the cusp of never entering the market. But, for the successful ones, a tipping point is ultimately reached, after which the technology goes viral and changes the status quo it was designed to replace. In the new energy revolution, Tesla is one such company that has surpassed the tipping point and threatens to change the way we produce, distribute, and consume electricity.
It isn't just Tesla's sleek and beautiful electric vehicles that will be key to disrupting the status quo. At a current price point of around $80,000, most people en masse won’t be able to afford a Tesla, even though the company has plans to develop more affordable models. But what makes Tesla unique, besides the strange genius of CEO Elon Musk, is the potential diversification of its offerings, highlighted recently by the company's announcement to build the GigaFactory, a $5-billion battery factory that will employ 6,500 workers.
Set to open in about three years, the new GigaFactory will be large enough to manufacture more lithium-ion batteries than the entire industry produces now, and due to its sheer scale, is expected to reduce the cost of batteries by almost one-third. Read More
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
This commentary originally appeared on EDF's Energy Exchange blog.
Chairman John Carona’s Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) bill, Senate Bill 385 (SB 385), which was sponsored by Chairman Jim Keffer in the House, is headed to the Texas Governor’s desk! Building upon successful legislation passed in 2009 to authorize “PACE districts” in Texas, SB 385 clears some of the hurdles that prevent commercial and industrial properties from taking advantage of new financing for water and energy conservation efforts.
PACE is an innovative, market-based approach that helps alleviate the steep, upfront costs property that owners generally incur for water and energy improvements by using loans that are seamlessly repaid through an additional charge on their property tax bills. The loan is then attached to the property, rather than the owner, and can be transferred if the property is sold. PACE loans can be issued by city or county financing districts or financial institutions, such as banks. Property owners who participate will start saving money on their utility bills each month as a result of water conservation, energy efficiency and/or renewable energy improvements, while repaying the loan annually when they file their taxes. In other words, they will see net gains despite increased property taxes. The program is entirely voluntary.
In 2009, Governor Perry signed House Bill 1937 (HB 1937) by Mike Villarreal, which established PACE districts in Texas for the first time. Although cities and counties across the state began the process of setting up PACE districts, the entire process was derailed when the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) created an obstacle for residential PACE programs. FHFA expressed concerns about the senior lien—that is, if a homeowner with a PACE loan defaults, the repayment of the PACE obligation would take priority over settling the mortgage. There were also some structural concerns which would have “required the Texas legislature to amend or replace the existing statute.” This new bill, SB 385, addresses the structural problems and applies to commercial and industrial (rather than residential) property owners, thus removing the senior lien concern from the equation. Read More
This commentary originally appeared on EDF's Energy Exchange blog.
This past month, we experienced refreshing, cool and somewhat wet weather in Texas. However, those working on energy issues know all too well that this weather change doesn't mean we have escaped the worst of the “energy crunch.” As the farmers say: “If you don’t like the weather in Texas, wait ten minutes and it will change.” Despite cooler temperatures, an unplanned power plant outage during a warm day late last month forced the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) to issue an advisory, demonstrating just how quickly things can change.
At the same time, recent ERCOT reports indicate that reserves will be tight this summer due to an anticipated record level of high energy demand and stunted growth in new electricity resources – thus making conservation notices likely and rolling outages probable. All of this points to the important role conservation programs, like demand response, can play for ERCOT. Some ERCOT staff and stakeholders have recognized the importance of demand response, which allow customers to voluntarily reduce electricity use in response to a signal from utilities. Others have called explicitly for programs that pay customers for reducing energy the same way generators are paid for producing energy, an approach EDF has advocated for several years.
ERCOT and a few retail electric providers already have conservation programs, albeit limited, in pilot phases that compensate customers for their participation. But in comparison to other regions, Texas lags far behind other states – despite having the highest potential for conservation and clean energy resources in the U.S. That’s why the three remaining weeks of the legislative session are so important: two critical pieces of legislation that would open up demand response in Texas to meet our electricity reliability goals and drive further market competition are under review.
Senate Bill (SB) 1351 from Senate Business & Commerce Chairman John Carona would require ERCOT to allow customers to participate in all competitive energy markets; the bill passed the Senate earlier this week and is now on its way to the House of Representatives. SB 1351 is an excellent piece of legislation to propel demand response in Texas, but alone it is not enough to ensure Texas can keep the lights on during the hottest summer days. A separate bill from Senator Kirk Watson, Senate Bill (SB) 1280, would accomplish just that by requiring ERCOT to secure enough demand response to meet its reliability needs if existing resources fall short; the bill passed unanimously out of the Senate Business & Commerce committee.
These bills will make all the difference this summer and for many summers to come. The Texas Legislature has the opportunity to ensure that ERCOT and the Public Utility Commission (PUC) have all the necessary tools to avoid rolling blackouts over the next several years as we wait for new energy resources to come online. Read More
I recently spoke at "A Conversation About the Environment," hosted by the Texas Tribune, with fellow speakers Bryan Shaw, chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), Texas’ environmental protection agency; Laura Huffman, State Director of the Nature Conservancy of Texas; and Kate Galbraith, Texas Tribune’s leading energy reporter. At the event, Kate kicked off the discussion with a quote from my colleague Elena Craft’s blog post regarding the West, Texas fertilizer explosion. I made note of an important fact from Elena’s post that Texas leads the nation in total fatal industrial accidents, with over 400 deaths in 2011. For comparison, California came in second (and has a population larger than Texas), with 260 total deaths.
Soon after, PolitiFact Texas reached out to me to inspect my claim. While my statement that Texas leads the nation in industrial accidents is accurate, they questioned why I did not qualify the statistics of deaths caused by industrial accidents on a per-worker basis. One reason that I chose not to use a per-worker comparison is that even though the rates compare per 100,000 people, there can be a significant difference in variability in the rates between high population states like Texas and low population states like New Hampshire or West Virginia. That is because there is an order of magnitude difference in the workforce population between Texas and these smaller population states. One would need to characterize that variability over multiple years to determine whether variability had a significant impact on the rate. The point of my comment during the Texas Tribune event was to highlight the fact that far too many workers die unnecessarily in Texas every year in workplace accidents that can and should be prevented.
Furthermore, people are not statistics. Fifteen people lost their lives in the West tragedy, many of them first responders who entered the facility without having knowledge of the true risks or that they would lose their lives that day. Joseph Stalin infamously remarked that, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” The individuals that lost their lives in the West explosion deserve better than to be called a statistic. People don't die or hold funerals on a per-worker basis.
The tragedy in West, Texas could and should have been prevented. Texas public officials have cut funding to key agencies responsible for ensuring strong public health and safety protections. And right now, several bills are working their way through the legislature to further weaken public health protections, even as tragedies like the explosion in West continue to occur. This is the reason that our team at Environmental Defense Fund is committed to advocating for strict oversight of environmental compliance in Texas.
Texas can and should be a safer place to work. One preventable death is one too many.
Over the last week, media outlets around the country have highlighted lack of regulation and enforcement as contributing to the tragedy in West, where 15 people lost their lives, many of them first responders.
State officials have commented many times that there is adequate state oversight under the existing laws. And yesterday, eight state agencies testified about the tragedy at a special hearing held by the Texas House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety. As you might imagine, the overall tone of the speakers was defensive, and ultimately, none of the state agencies testified that they would have done anything differently because they were all doing their jobs.
What about the laws of common sense?
The attitudes presented yesterday are frustrating and disappointing for communities. Texas is a great state and we can do better. We can start by taking a critical look at some of the bills working their way through the legislature right now designed to weaken public health protections. Consider the following bills that are in various stages of the legislative process:
- House Bill (HB) 824 (Calligari) – Spill Reporting
HB 824 aims to create a volume-based exemption for reporting accidental spills and discharges from wastewater facilities. Unfortunately, this one cleared the House Natural Resource Committee and is on its way to House Calendars.
- Senate Bill (SB) 957 (Fraser) and HB 2082 (Ritter) – Contested Case Hearings
These two bills would dramatically alter the way the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) handles certain permits and the judicial and administrative review process. The bills would shift the burden of proof on permits to the public, limit public input, and restrict evidentiary hearings.
- HB 1496 (Van Taylor) – Hydraulic Fracturing
HB 1496 would restrict a municipality’s ability to impose restrictions on hydraulic fracturing to protect public safety by adding any interest in an oil or natural gas well to the definition of private real property.
More information on current bills under consideration can be found here.
At the hearing, Progress Texas PAC Director Glenn Smith made comments that should make us all take notice:
Even this preliminary inquiry shows how dangerously wrong Rick Perry was when he said we had adequate regulations. State Chemists says security requirements are fence and door locks. The insurance commissioner says there is no requirement that the plant be insured, and that West Fertilizer's insurance was woefully inadequate to the risk. The TCEQ testified that the plant operated without a permit from 2004 to 2006, and that was only caught because someone filed an odor complaint in 2006.” Read More
There’s been a lot of debate following the West tragedy as to whether a lack of safety protections, lack of coordination and oversight among enforcement agencies, or some combination of both contributed to a system wide failure and 14 deaths with hundreds injured. As we have mentioned before, Texas leads the nation in total fatal occupational injuries, with more than 400 deaths in 2011. And while not every accident can be prevented, it does seem that Texas gets more than its fair share.
In recent reports, some state officials have indicated that the state’s level of oversight for facilities like the one in West is adequate. It is difficult to understand how one could make such bold statements when the cause of the explosion has yet to be determined. Furthermore, some legislators have recommended this legislative session that state environmental laws be weakened. This is in addition to recent budget cuts at the state environmental agency; the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s (TCEQ) budget was recently cut by $305 million, which reduced the agency by 235 full-time employees. Perhaps what some of our officials really mean is that it is not a lack of oversight, but rather a lack of due diligence in enforcing the laws already on the books, laws designed to protect citizens from events like this one.
The Governor of Texas was quoted recently claiming that the state upholds the standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But frankly that is not quite true. Acting alone, Texas recently refused to abide by laws on permitting regulations for greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, the state sent an aggressive letter to EPA stating that “On behalf of the state of Texas, we write to inform you that Texas has neither the authority nor the intention of interpreting, ignoring, or amending its laws in order to compel the permitting of greenhouse gas emissions.” EPA actually had to devise a federal implementation plan for greenhouse gas emissions, so that any new facilities built in the state of Texas could in fact work with a legal permit. Currently, facilities that need a greenhouse gas permit must apply to EPA rather than to TCEQ, even though it is Texas’ responsibility. Read More