By: John Hall, Texas state director, clean energy, and Colin Leyden, senior manager, state regulatory & legislative affairs – natural gas
When it comes to clean air and clean energy, Texas cities – and their encompassing counties – know what’s good for them.
San Antonio’s Bexar County Commissioners, for example, recently approved a resolution supporting the nation’s first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants, the Clean Power Plan.
Bexar County includes the City of San Antonio and adjoining areas. By endorsing the plan, the broader San Antonio community joins Texas’ largest cities Houston and Dallas, whose mayors are also supporting the sensible, cost-effective clean air measure. (In fact, Houston and Dallas filed an amicus brief together with a large coalition of cities to support the Clean Power Plan in court).
All of this comes in the face of staunch opposition from Texas state leaders, who have used taxpayers’ money to sue the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over these safeguards. Meanwhile, Bexar County Judge Nelson W. Wolff and commissioners passed the resolution unanimously, meaning members from both sides of the aisle put politics aside and voted for healthier air for our communities and families. Read More
Last year solar power saw unprecedented growth and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. So where is much of this growth happening? In one word: cities.
In a new report from Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group, Shining Cities 2016 identifies the urban centers fostering growth in solar energy, and the policies and programs that can maximize solar potential. The cities that topped the list were, not surprisingly, primarily from the sunshine-abundant Pacific region, followed by an equal amount of cities from the Mountain, South Central and South Atlantic regions. These centers of connectivity and growth are major electricity consumers, and therefore important movers in the transition to a clean energy economy.
But there are still vast amounts of untapped solar potential in the U.S. – specifically 1,118 GW, which equates to 39 percent of total national electricity sales (enough to power over 782 million homes a year) – according to a study on “rooftop solar power generating capacity potential” by National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The same study stated that Los Angeles, the city currently with the most solar capacity, could host up to 42 times its current solar capacity, providing up to 60 percent of the city’s electricity. This staggering amount of renewable energy is possible in other cities across the U.S. as well – even in unlikely states, such as Texas. Read More
San Antonio and Austin just called a cease-fire on a taco war over which city invented the breakfast taco. Both make excellent tacos: from the traditional chorizo and egg taco in San Antonio to a free-range egg and organic spinach taco in Austin. But this debate was about more than just tacos – it was about the history and culture of these two neighboring cities.
Only 80 miles apart, San Antonio and Austin have some significant differences. San Antonio is known as “Military City USA” largely due to its huge military bases, but it’s also known for other industries like biotech, military medical centers, and a dynamic business relationship with Mexico. The capital city’s economy, on the other hand, is based on high-tech, entertainment, state government, and the behemoth University of Texas at Austin. San Antonio is one of the largest Hispanic-majority cities in the country (at 63 percent in 2010), while Austin’s diversity comes in large part from people flocking to the Capitol from all over the state and country. As someone with roots in both San Antonio and Austin, I appreciate both – I’m an equal opportunity taco lover.
But both cities share an important commonality: exploding population growth. The population of the 13 counties that make up the Austin-San Antonio corridor is estimated to increase by 77 percent by 2050, to 6.8 million people. Extreme growth brings intense pressure on resources and services, particularly water in this drought-prone region. Both cities are standing up to that challenge through careful water conservation measures and by advancing clean energy. Read More
Early morning on the square, Georgetown, Texas
Over the next four years, Texas’ energy landscape will change dramatically. For example, throughout the 630-mile, nine-hour drive from Denton, Texas to El Paso, rolling hills will dominate the horizon and aromas from pastures and barbeque pits will waft through windows, as they have for the past hundred years. What will have a far less prominent role, however, are coal-fired power plants.
That’s because there seems to be a domino effect occurring in Texas: more and more cities are turning to affordable, renewable energy to power their needs.
Denton, Georgetown, and other Texas clean energy pioneer cities
Earlier this month, the municipal electric utility that serves Denton, a North Texas city of 130,000 people, announced plans to get an impressive 70 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2019. That’s well above the 10 percent Texas currently receives from renewables (on average). Read More
Each year, the nation wastes an estimated two trillion gallons, or about 14 to 18 percent, of its treated water through leaks alone. That’s a lot of water – enough to fill over three million Olympic-size swimming pools.
We know smart water meters are a critical component to better understanding our water use, but smart meters are only one part of the equation. What we really need is a smart water system.
A more intelligent system could not only help water providers and people better understand their use and how to adjust their behavior accordingly, but it could make the entire treatment and delivery of water more efficient. Plus, system-wide data could make daily water use and associated cost accessible – not an end-of-the-month billing surprise – enabling residents to make more informed decisions and utilities to waste less water.
Energy and water are connected, but they may need different solutions
The energy sector has learned a lot about the smart grid, and put a great deal of its research into practice. And, compared to the water sector, the electricity sector is pretty far along with its smart meter roll-out and understanding of all the information points across the system. For instance, in Texas, more than 3.5 million smart water meters have been installed, compared with approximately 17 million electric smart meters. But, while much of the smart electric grid findings are valuable in relation to the water sector, there are clear differences. Read More
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages 90 percent of Texas’ electric grid, has been busy. In the last two months of 2014, the agency released two very lengthy reports examining the future of a lower-polluting power grid in light of upcoming EPA clean air protections, in particular the Clean Power Plan. As the media described it, the reports did not provide the rosiest of outlooks for costs to Texans or electric reliability. But I think they are looking at the reports the wrong way.
The electric grid is changing. Innovative technologies – many of which are created right here in Texas – are lowering electricity bills and increasing energy independence. They are disrupting the way we produce and use electricity and they are changing the way ERCOT looks at grid reliability – albeit not in these two reports.
Cleantech entrepreneurs are at the helm of deciding Texas’ (and, let’s face it, America’s) energy future. And there are quite a few market opportunities outlined in the reports, if you look closely. Here are a few hidden in the report, plus other trends to keep an eye on: Read More