Texas Clean Air Matters

Debate Over a Changing Texas Energy Market Heats Up at Senate Natural Resources Committee Hearing

Marita Mirzatuny

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

Over the past two years, Texas’s changing energy landscape has been a focus of EDF’s work.  In our Texas’ Energy Crunch report from March 2013, we highlighted that Texas has a peak capacity constraint – meaning that the power grid becomes strained when, for example, everyone is using their air conditioning units on hot summer afternoons.  This challenge, coupled with increased climate change and drought, signal the need to prepare by adopting a smarter grid and cleaner resources.

The Public Utilities Commission of Texas (PUCT) and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) have been engaged in this conversation and various proposals have been laid on the table to determine what Texas’ energy future will look like.  EDF maintains the position that, whatever reforms are made, customer-facing, demand-side resources – defined here as demand response (DR), renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy storage – must play a key role to ensuring reliability, affordability, customer choice and environmental improvements.

Energy-Only Status Quo or Capacity Market or…?

Texas’ current energy-only market structure pays power plants only for the energy they produce.  This is beneficial in that generators are not overcompensated, but the downside is that energy companies aren’t incentivized to build in Texas and energy management providers (DR companies) are not viewed as equal players.  Energy prices are low due to an upsurge in cheap, abundant natural gas and wind – and without a guarantee for a high return on investment, companies will not take the risk of constructing costly new power plants. Read More »

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Local Energy-Water Solutions Should Be A Model For The Nation

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

Over the past several weeks, I’ve written a lot about the intimate and inextricable connection between energy and water. The energy-water nexus involves a number of technologies, environmental factors and stakeholders. Thus, it’s no surprise that water and energy’s fundamental connection has eluded policymakers for so long. With this post, I review the lessons discussed so far, so that policymakers can understand the key issues surrounding the energy-water nexus and what’s at stake if we fail to act now.

The Bottom Line

Conventional electricity sources, like coal, natural gas and nuclear power plants, require an abundance of water — about 190 billion gallons per day. Because the majority of our electricity comes from these sources, high energy use strains the water system and contributes to Texas’ prolonged drought. Coincidentally, extreme drought could force power plants to shut down.

Climate change is having a profound effect on our weather patterns, making extreme heat and drought more common in Texas and throughout the Southwest. If we don’t set the energy-water system on a sustainable course, we risk a compounded problem.

Read More »

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Austin Energy + Nest: Empowering Texans To Take Control Over Their Own Energy Use And Electric Bills

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

Source: Nest

If you have been following our Texas Energy Crunch campaign over the last year, you know that demand response (DR) can play a pivotal role in meeting Texas’ energy needs without relying on dirty, inefficient fossil fuels that pollute our air and consume much-needed water.  Simply put, demand response rewards those who reduce electricity use during peak (high energy demand) times, resulting in more money in peoples’ pockets, a more stable and reliable electric grid and less harmful pollution from fossil fuel-fired power plants.

That said, fully harnessing DR in Texas homes has been a bit of a challenge, despite the high electricity prices that result from the scorching summer temperatures.  To understand the issue, it’s important to look at the obstacles emerging technologies often face.  I highlight some of these obstacles in a recent EDF Voices blog and will be diving deeper in future posts.  Namely, the infrastructure to fully enable residential DR adoption isn’t in place, yet.

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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, Extreme Weather, Renewable Energy, TCEQ, Utilities / Tagged , | Comments are closed

What Does It Mean For Energy Efficiency To Be A Resource In Texas?

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

We’ve discussed the potentially grave impacts of the Texas Energy Crunch in a number of our previous blog posts. Time and time again, we repeat that the cheapest, cleanest and most reliable energy resource is the energy we save through energy efficiency. But our energy efficiency programs in Texas are still modest compared to other states. Beyond politics, there is another key issue limiting our state’s energy savings: Texas does not treat energy efficiency as a ‘resource.’

Traditionally, energy efficiency is left ‘invisible’ to utilities and grid planners—so they lose count of its many benefits. Treating energy efficiency as a resource, instead, puts it on a level playing field with other energy resources, such as power plants. This allows utilities to realize the unique benefits energy efficiency has over other energy sources.

Energy efficiency can reduce harmful greenhouse gases, save people money and create jobs – and it is extremely competitive with other energy resources. When the energy saved through efficiency is weighed against new energy resources, efficiency upgrades to buildings and homes generally weigh in at just one-third of the cost of building a new fossil-fuel power plant. On top of that, energy efficiency upgrades can eliminate the need to install or replace other expensive electric grid equipment. This cost-savings is one of the many benefits generally overlooked by utilities and electric grid planners.

Part of what prevents electric grid planners from counting efficiency as a resource in Texas is the way that the energy market is structured. When Texas deregulated its energy market in 1999, the aim was to increase options for customers and lower prices. Efficiency programs were not included in the new market structure. Instead, they were left for transmission and distribution utilities (TDUs), the “wires” companies that deliver electricity from power plants to customers, to manage. With efficiency left out of the restructured energy market, the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) and other state leaders tend to view efficiency programs as subsidies that exist outside of the market. Read More »

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New Commissioner Should Push For More Energy Efficiency In Texas

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

This week the Texas Legislature convened for its third Special Session in a row, yet the state’s electricity market still sits at a crossroads.  The Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC), Texas’ governing body for electricity, has been at a stalemate since Commissioner Rolando Pablos stepped down in February.  The two remaining commissioners, Chairman Donna Nelson and Ken Anderson, seem to be waiting on a third deciding member to step up and address the looming Texas Energy Crunch.  With the PUC divided and the legislature nearly adjourned, the state looks to Governor Perry to appoint a third commissioner to the PUC—breaking the longstanding stalemate on Texas’ power supply.

When appointed, the new commissioner will be in unique position to champion innovative, common-sense solutions to solve the Texas Energy Crunch.  One of the most expedient and cost-effective ways to bolster the state’s electricity supply is to reduce the amount of energy needed to fuel our commercial buildings and homes through energy efficiency upgrades.  In an upcoming post, I’ll discuss innovative ways to weigh the benefits of energy efficiency upgrades versus new fossil-fueled power plants.  For now, though, let’s review where energy efficiency stands in Texas today.

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