Texas Clean Air Matters

West Texas Electricity Prices Skyrocket – Demand Response Is The Answer

This commentary, authored by John Finnigan, originally appeared on EDF’s Energy Exchange blog.

Source: ENR New York

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that electricity prices in West Texas skyrocketed over 20% this year.  West Texas is home to the Permian basin, one of the world’s largest oilfields, and energy producers use hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” here to unlock vast new oil and gas supplies.  The increased drilling, oil refining and natural gas processing uses large amounts of electricity.

Cheaper electricity supplies are available, but cannot be delivered to West Texas due to transmission bottlenecks, or “congestion.”  The only power that can be delivered is from older coal plants.  This leads to transmission “congestion” charges (i.e., higher energy supply costs caused by the transmission bottlenecks), which commercial and industrial consumers must pay as a surcharge on their monthly electricity bills.  Using these older coal plants leads to more pollution as well because these plants burn fuel less efficiently and have higher levels of toxic air emissions.

The typical solution is to build new transmission lines to access cheaper electricity supplies.  But a better and cheaper approach is to pay consumers for voluntarily reducing their electricity usage when energy supplies are tight.  Known as “demand response,” this solution:

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Where Is All Of The Water Going? A Look At Which Energy Resources Are Gulping Down Our Water

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

If you’re like so many conscientious consumers, you’ve experienced the disappointment that comes when you realize the lean turkey breast you bought has 300% of your daily value of sodium, negating the benefits of its high-protein and low-fat content.  Instantly, food choices feel more complex; you’ve learned the hard way that the pursuit of a low-fat diet is not the same as a healthy diet.

The Energy-Water Nexus shows us that our energy choices are much like our food choices: The environmental benefits of an energy diet low in carbon emissions might be diminished by increased water consumption (or waste), and the unforeseen tradeoffs between the two resources (i.e. more sodium in lieu of less fat, can hurt us in the long run).

Water Intensity

As we have mentioned before, roughly 90% of the energy we use today comes from nuclear or fossil fuel power plants, which require 190 billion gallons of water per day, or 39% of all U.S. freshwater withdrawals (water “withdrawal” indicates the water withdrawn from ground level water sources; not to be confused with “consumption,” which indicates the amount of water lost to evaporation.)

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Also posted in Drought, Energy Efficiency, Energy-Water Nexus, Environment, Renewable Energy, Solar / 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, Extreme Weather, Legislation / Comments are closed

Supreme Court To Revisit Cross-State Air Pollution Rule

Source: EPA

June was a big month for the climate, and I’m not just talking about President Obama’s landmark speech on climate change. In a decision that could affect the lives of 240 million people across the eastern half of the U.S., the Supreme Court announced that it would review a lower court decision that overturned the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. See our earlier post here. The Cross-State Rule was enacted by the EPA under the “good neighbor” provision of the Clean Air Act. In July of 2011, the EPA finalized the rule, requiring twenty-eight eastern states to reduce power plant emissions that contribute to pollution from ozone and fine particulate matter in other states. The rule is meant to ensure that the emissions from one state’s power plants do not cause harmful pollution levels in neighboring states in the form of ozone and particulate pollution —otherwise known as soot and smog.

The Supreme Court’s decision to review the lower court’s ruling is especially significant to Texas. Opponents of the clean air standards, including our own Attorney General Greg Abbott, sued to block them. Their chief concern: that the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule might affect Texas’ dirtiest coal-fired power plants. In August of last year, a deeply divided three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit vacated and remanded the Cross-State Rule to EPA. Read More »

Also posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Coal, Environment, Environmental Protection Agency / Comments are closed

Demand Response: Power For The Grid Starts With The People

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

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to speak on a panel entitled, Resource Adequacy & Demand Response: Ensuring Texas’ Future Reliability at the 7th Annual Platts Texas Energy Markets Conference in Houston, TX.  Following fellow panelists, “Trip” Doggett, CEO of ERCOT; Milton L. Holloway, President and COO of the Center for the Commercialization of Electric Technologies; and John W. Fainter, Jr. President and CEO of the Association of Electric Companies of Texas, I spoke about EDF’s work with the Pecan Street Research Institute  (Pecan Street) to test and deploy various smart grid consumer products.

One of the many cutting-edge research projects being conducted by Pecan Street is an examination of consumer behavior with regards to energy usage.  Trends in the data show that giving people the ability to control their energy use, and their energy generation, generally results in cost-effective, environmentally-conscious decisions. These shrewd decisions are becoming increasingly important as Texas faces a lack of energy resources to meet the state’s increasing need for more electricity.

With July just around the corner, the summer heat is ramping up in Texas, and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) is preparing for extreme temperatures to push the electric grid to its limits.  State regulators and ERCOT stakeholders are urgently seeking a solution to the looming Texas Energy Crunch.  The Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) has already raised the maximum price in the electricity market a number of times, but this is a band-aid for the problem, not a long-term solution. Read More »

Also posted in Demand Response, ERCOT, Pecan Street, Smart Grid, Utilities / Comments are closed

Texas Picks Up The Clean Energy PACE

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 »

Also posted in Energy Efficiency, Legislation, Renewable Energy / Tagged | Comments are closed