Source: CPS Energy
While many are prophesizing the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) as doomsday for the electricity sector, Texas utilities are telling a different story. The CPP will limit – for the first time ever – carbon emissions from existing power plants. One utility in particular, CPS Energy in San Antonio, “has already embraced a low-carbon strategy that anticipates this rule,” making it the most well-positioned utility in the state, if not country.
Homegrown energy, literally
CPS Energy has excelled using its commitment to create local, clean energy jobs. In its Request for Proposal (RFP) for a 400 megawatt (MW) solar energy plant, the utility included a specification for the creation of local solar jobs. And it worked. Most recently, the utility announced the launch of the Mission Solar Energy Plant – a 240,000 square foot manufacturing plant that will employ upwards of 400 San Antonians. To assist with future expansions, CPS also helped create a program at Alamo Colleges to train its future workforce for clean energy jobs and, admirably, almost one out of every five employees is a veteran. Read More
Every year, it seems, is predicted to be the “year for solar,” and for certain states this may ring true.
But in Texas, despite having a close relationship with the sun and its heat (2011 gave us 100 days over 100 degrees and no rain), we have yet to realize our potential for solar energy development, the highest potential of any state in the nation. Texas currently only has about 213 megawatts (MW) of solar energy installed (compared to over 237 MW in little ol’ Massachusetts). Recent developments, however, make me encouraged that the next few years will be the catalyst for finally fulfilling that potential.
A few weeks ago, the Austin City Council voted on an ambitious solar step forward, directing a “utility-scale solar target of 600 megawatts by 2017, a rooftop solar target of 200 megawatts by 2020, explicit language enabling third-party solar ownership, a floor price for the value-of-solar tariff…and a mandatory strategy to procure 200 megawatts of fast-response storage.” The resolution will require the municipal utility, Austin Energy, to obtain 60 percent of its electricity generation from renewables over the next decade, and to be completely carbon-free by 2030. Read More
A few months ago I logged into my online utility account and noticed it was more than twice the amount I usually pay, all of the excess going to water. Given the kind of work I do, I scour my bill every month, comparing electric and water usage month-to-month and over the course of the year. We are water and electricity savers in our household, so what on earth could this spike be?
I immediately called the City of Austin, and they sent someone out to check the meter. Nope, nothing on that end. Then we brought in a plumber, who spent many hours and many of our dollars searching and found a leak in the toilet. By the time we went through all of that and got the toilet fixed, we had to pay our enormous bill plus the plumber’s bill. Why should I have to go through that rigmarole just to find a leak?
Wouldn’t it be easier if a smart water meter could send my utility and me a message the moment the toilet starts leaking?
Unfortunately, water infrastructure in this country is sorely in need of a reboot. The American Society for Civil Engineers gave the U.S. drinking water infrastructure a grade of a “D” in its 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, stating there are 240,000 water main breaks per year. And we’re still using antiquated “technology” in much of the sector. Read More
By: Andy Ferris, student of the University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business
Distributed generation solar has been a growing trend around the country. Home owners, large commercial entities and other facilities all have looked to their rooftops to cash in on a previously underutilized asset. My EDF Climate Corps fellowship at Huston Tillotson University focused on evaluating opportunities for solar power on a 23 acre, private, tax-exempt HBCU (Historically Black College or University) campus in Austin, TX. Huston-Tillotson has a target of 50 percent carbon emissions reduction by 2030 and hopes to become one of the most sustainable HBCUs in the country. My analysis calculated that completing the recommended solar installation would increase the portion of their energy from renewable sources to 14 percent; a level high enough to place them first in the country among private HBCUs.
Challenges Facing Small Organizations
With an abundance of sun and a highly competitive solar industry, making solar photovoltaic (PV) installations work in Texas should be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, a less-than encouraging regulatory environment can complicate solar installations for commercial scale projects. In Austin, a production based incentive has been rapidly reduced from $0.14/kWh to $0.09/kWh in just the last three months. This trend along with a policy that eliminates net-metering for installations over 20 kW capacity has made it challenging for small organizations looking to add PV panels to their facilities. Read More
On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of participating on a panel hosted by the Texas Tribune that centered on the future of Texas’ power grid and electric reliability. Joining me was John Fainter, president and CEO of Association of Electric Companies of Texas, Inc; Trip Doggett, president and CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas; and Doyle Beneby, president and CEO of CPS Energy, San Antonio's municipal utility. The panel, entitled Keeping the Lights on in Texas, took place at and was broadcasted from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. It's a worthwhile watch and I'm encouraged that Texas Tribune is dedicated to investigating Texas' energy issues.
For about an hour, we discussed a variety of aspects in the current and future energy landscape of the Lone Star State. In particular, I focused on the exciting shift to give people power over their electricity use, save money, and help the environment with every flip of the switch.
As we thaw out this week from our most recent arctic blast, Texas’ inexperience with ice and snow has been met with Internet memes and jokes. But dealing with extreme temperatures causes serious strain on our current energy system and exacerbates our “energy crunch,” signifying that the available supply of electricity barely meets the demand for that power.
However, as is typical of Texas, last week our weather was quite pleasant – in the 70s – and strains on the system due to weather events weren’t too much of a concern. Yet the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the state agency charged with managing the flow of electricity for most of Texas, alerted an emergency situation despite mild temperatures. To avert disaster, ERCOT initiated demand response, “ask[ing] customers to raise thermostat settings to 78 degrees, typically a summer response intended to reduce demand from air conditioners.” A single malfunctioning power plant caused the problem. ERCOT declined to identify the plant involved. Read More