Texas Clean Air Matters

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 Energy-Water Nexus, Environment, Extreme Weather, Legislation, Texas Energy Crunch / Comments are closed

Latinos In Texas Especially Vulnerable To Impacts Of Climate Change

Para leer este artículo en español, haga clic aquí

Source: Texas Vox

This week, President Obama shared his vision for how the U.S. can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for the effects of global warming.  This is the great challenge of our time and our moral responsibility compels us to take action now.  It is time to implement practical and sensible solutions to ensure that we leave a healthy planet for our kids and grandkids.

Climate change knows no boundaries; whether you live in an urban or rural area, close to the ocean or the mountains or somewhere in between, you are impacted by climate change.

The increased likelihood of extreme weather events may result in stronger, more intense hurricanes and the development of long-lasting droughts; both of which can increase food costs and decrease our government’s resources in the long term.

Public health is another concern, particularly for Hispanics, which account for 40% of Texas’ population.  Respiratory diseases, such as asthma, can be aggravated by changes in the weather. According to the National Institute of Health, Hispanics have an elevated rate of hospital admissions and emergency room visits due to these diseases.  Simply put, global warming puts our planet’s and family’s health at risk.

In Texas, we’ve seen our fair share of extreme weather and many of our industries and employment sources are being affected.  The ongoing drought that began three years ago continues to constrict water supplies around the state and is hindering the agricultural, recreational and energy sectors. The water crisis has reached critical limits in the Rio Grande Valley, where Hispanics account for 90% of the population. In some areas, economic losses could total $395 million.   Read More »

Also posted in Air Pollution, Climate Change, En Español, Extreme Weather, Houston / Tagged | Comments are closed

New Thinking Is Critical To Better Manage Water And Electricity Resources In Texas

Central Texas Workshop Discusses Opportunities For Resiliency During Extreme Weather Events

Last week, I attended a regional workshop that focused on adapting to extreme events, sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Water Environment Research Foundation, the Water Research Foundation, Concurrent Technologies Corporation, and NOBLIS. This workshop was the sixth in a series organized around the country to determine what is needed to increase the resilience of water utilities and communities in the face of extreme weather events. While the focus was on water, time and again, electricity was brought into the conversation—the two are closely linked, and in Texas, a state facing shortages of both water and power, this will require some creative thinking on our part.

This workshop focused on Central Texas, in particular our drought. But as the two-day workshop went on, it became clear to the organizers when local water utilities and other stakeholders spoke, that drought was only one extreme event that Texas has had to deal with…and continues to deal with. We are a state of extremes—weather, politics, personalities—and we not only have drought to handle, but also hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, wildfires, and just generally scorching heat. One of the first speakers was John Nielson-Gammon, the State Climatologist based out of Texas A&M University. He confirmed that while these natural phenomena are not new to Texas, we are experiencing more intense weather events. Last year was one of the hottest in Texas since we started recording temperatures, and we are heading into the third year of a pretty gruesome drought. Not being prepared for extreme events to get worse seems pretty foolhardy.

During the workshop, we heard from a variety of speakers from around the Central Texas region, including from the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, the Lower Colorado River Authority, rice growers, the University of Texas, the high tech industry, and individuals from Austin, San Antonio, and Bastrop. These people are dealing first hand with the impacts of the extreme events we’ve had in the past few years. They are simultaneously trying to manage the current situation while planning for what the changing climate means in the coming years. It’s a difficult balancing act.

As an outsider to the planning process, I was asked to report on the proceedings of a meeting at the end and to give an overview of my impressions of the workshop. My impressions were as follows:

It is crucial to balance short-term preparedness with long-term resiliency, and neither should be sacrificed at the expense of the other. Planners in Central Texas know how to handle floods, fires, and drought, but the intensity of these natural phenomena will likely increase with the effects of climate change. It’s also essential to ensure that we are protecting our water and electricity needs for the long-term.

There is tension between urban and rural needs. This is not a new concept, and it is particularly tense with regards to water needs. Often the decisions about water and electric needs are made in cities, and city dwellers may think of rural needs only in the abstract. But protecting the quantity of water available for farmers and ranchers is how we feed our urban populations. Some cities in Central Texas are, out of necessity, dealing with this issue. In the wake of the wildfires in Bastrop, planners in that area are taking a closer look at how homes are constructed and how the urban/rural interface affects the ability to provide water for its population and prevent future wildfires. Controlled burns are one way that wildfires are prevented, but you can’t do controlled burns in a subdivision built into a forest. Thinking about developing our communities in more thoughtful ways is critical.

Adapting to our changing climate necessarily includes water, but it also goes beyond water. Emergency preparedness must include ensuring adequate water supplies and electricity. We can envision extreme events in Austin because we’ve had them in the past: fatal flooding, tornadoes, wildfires, drought, and heat waves. These extreme events will likely intensify as climate change advances, and we need to be comprehensive in our planning. We know that we’re facing potential electricity shortages within the next three years, and water supplies are already stressed. We also have to take into consideration whether our current infrastructure can maintain our growing population, especially in the face of future extreme events, and what those events mean in terms of health impacts. Many evacuees from Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike were dehydrated and fell sick, and healthcare workers across the state responded heroically. We should anticipate more vulnerable populations in the wake of extreme events in the future. Read More »

Also posted in Climate Change, Environmental Protection Agency, Extreme Weather, Texas Energy Crunch / Comments are closed

ERCOT’s Three-card Monte Trick For Grid Reliability

(Credit: Arnie Levin)

First we have enough generating capacity, but next year is the problem; now that next year is upon us it’s really the next few years that are the issue. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), grid operator for most of Texas, foresees potential electricity shortages. Clearly the risk is real, but when?  This year? Two years from now? Reports swirl by, some only weeks apart, showing different numbers and contradicting previous reports. Are we seeing a bureaucratic version of Three-card Monte?

During last summer’s drought, demand peaked on August 3, using more than 68,000 megawatts. ERCOT’s stated goal is to maintain a 13.75% reserve margin in generating capacity. Their latest report shows the state’s electrical grid will fail to meet the target reserve margin as soon as 2014, two years from now.  A report in early May actually shows that this summer ERCOT will fail to meet that target as well, although it isn’t stated explicitly.

Meanwhile EPA is meeting with ERCOT and the nation’s other grid operators to develop an implementation timeline for the new Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) air toxics rule, which should begin this fall. Utilities have three years to implement the new rules…unless the three-year timeline threatens grid reliability. Then utilities can get a fourth year…unless grid reliability is still threatened. Then utilities have a full five years to comply.

Concerns about grid reliability are very real, but they are due to power companies deciding to hold off on constructing new power plants while prices are so low.  Unfortunately some state leaders and utilities have seized on these ERCOT reports, and are shifting their conclusions in an attempt to delay rules that have been in the works for years, and in some cases decades.  The new EPA standards will dramatically cut mercury, heavy metals, acid gas and other emissions from power plants. The public health benefits to our state will be enormous, especially for Texas children who breathe air tainted by power plant emissions. The cost of unwarranted delay is a price Texas should not have to pay.

Also posted in Air Pollution, Environmental Protection Agency, MACT Rule / Comments are closed

An Interactive Guide To Governor Perry’s Fight To Protect Polluters

Governor Rick Perry loves to talk about how bad frivolous lawsuits are for Texas; he feels so strongly that last year he made the reduction of these lawsuits an emergency issue for the Texas State Legislature as he prepared for his failed bid for the Republican nomination for President.  Speaking of frivolous lawsuits, Governor Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott have been pressing no less than 16 lawsuits against the Federal Government.

The majority of these lawsuits are part of Perry’s fight to protect polluters, and stop life-saving rules that have been under development by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – for decades in many cases.  These EPA rules will reduce toxic pollution, cut back on emergency room visits and childhood asthma, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions that have exacerbated our current record-setting drought, according to Perry appointed State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon.

Today, the Texas Tribune posted an interactive feature that summarizes each of Texas’ lawsuits against the Federal Government.  In the case(s) of Texas vs. the EPA, however, Perry and Abbott’s litigiousness in defense of Texas polluters has been so complicated that the Tribune had to combine the EPA lawsuits into six different categories.  We’ve discussed previously the hypocrisy of Governor Perry’s “loser pays” legislation and his unwillingness to commit to repaying taxpayers all of the state and federal expenses from these frivolous lawsuits.  Governor Perry claims he will “always err on the side of life,” but his lawsuits to protect polluters over the health and lives of Texans flies in the face of what religious organizations consider “pro-life” EPA rules.  Hopefully the Tribune piece will bring this issue back into the forefront of the debate; while Perry spends his time and money on questionable lawsuits, back in Texas we’re facing real energy issues that require real solutions, not more political posturing.

Also posted in Air Pollution, Environmental Protection Agency, GHGs / Comments are closed

A Texas Coalition for Water, Energy and Economic Security Briefing: The Drought Threatens Texas’ Power

(Source: www.businessinsider.com)

On Thursday, February 2, the Texas Coalition for Water, Energy and Economic Security (TCWEES), which includes Environmental Defense Fund and other stakeholders in the environmental and business community, held a legislative briefing discussing the impact that the drought could have on power in Texas. This is the first of a series of TCWEES-hosted, educational events focused on energy efficiency that will be held around the state during the legislative interim.

The speakers at the briefing included:

  • Dr. John Nielson-Gammon, Texas State Climatologist and Regents Professor of Atmospheric Science at Texas A&M University
  • Dr. Carey King, Research Associate at the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy at the Bureau of Economic Geology at University of Texas at Austin
  • Mark Armentrout, President and CEO of Texas Technology Partners; former chair of ERCOT
  • Cris Eugster, EVP and Chief Sustainability Officer for CPS Energy (San Antonio)
  • Kevin Tuerff, Principal and President of EnviroMedia

In 2011, Texas experienced record heat and drought and the electric grid was stressed as a result. Though the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) took a proactive approach to dealing with the crisis, the potential still remains for economic loss caused by electric generation outages related to heat and drought. The drought is predicted to continue and action is needed to protect Texas’ power and economic viability. Given that it can provide the same amount of service while using less electricity, energy efficiency should be a significant part of the solution. Energy efficiency reduces waste, electric bills, emissions and water use needed for electric generation.

During the briefing, Dr. John Nielson-Gammon brought up the recent rain in Texas. He said that while the rain is great for taking people’s mind off the drought, it is not useful for setting us up for the summer of 2012 because it’s too little too late for our current situation. He added that climate change is an important enough factor in the drought that it must be considered in long-term water planning.

(Source: www.droughtmonitor.unl.edu)

Texas State Representative Donna Howard was in attendance and she posed a question about better coordination between state agencies. Though there is some coordination, there is no actual coordinated plan among and between state agencies to be thoughtful about planning for Texas’ future water and energy needs. Dr. Carey King pointed out that both the Texas Water and Development Board and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality work on water issues, but it isn’t clear how power plants fit into water priorities. He stated that we don’t have an answer and that we need a better understanding of the breadth and depth of water issues.

The key takeaways from this briefing are that water and power are inextricably linked and the stress that the drought has had, and will continue to have, on our ecosystems and electric systems is a serious concern. This is not something that will go away as the climate will continue to change. Cleaner energy sources and greater energy efficiency will cut carbon pollution and help stabilize the climate, protecting our land, water, air and health. We need to find solutions now.

Also posted in Climate Change, Energy Efficiency, Energy-Water Nexus, ERCOT / Read 1 Response