Terrence Henry is the Austin-based online reporter for StateImpact Texas. He has worked as an editor, writer and web producer for The Washington Post and The Atlantic. He has a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Brigham Young University.
Now, a few dry years and billions of dollars in drought losses later, the state has decided it needs a more consistent strategy to secure water. “We can’t make it rain,” Perry said at a recent event. “But we can take measures to extend our existing water supply and work to develop new supplies.” Perry was out stumping in support of Proposition 6, a state constitutional amendment on the ballot this year.
“What Prop 6 does is put in place 2 billion dollars so the state can lend money to utilities and cities that are seeking to do either conservation projects or new water supply projects,” says Laura Huffman, Texas state director for the Nature Conservancy.
That $2 billion would come from the state’s surpluses, known as the Rainy Day Fund, to create a fund for new water projects. It’s drawn widespread, bipartisan support, from businesses to environmental groups. Continue Reading →
New numbers from the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA) show that energy-related carbon emissions continue to fall in the country, down nearly four percent last year. “The 2012 downturn means that emissions are at their lowest level since 1994 and over 12 percent below the recent 2007 peak,” the EIA reports.
Those declines have occurred in 5 out of the last 7 years, even last year as the economy began to recover.
So what’s behind the change? The EIA credits several factors: increased energy efficiency (i.e. appliances that use less power), warmer weather (meaning less heating for homes), more efficient vehicles, and more natural gas in the power sector instead of coal. (Renewable energy actually declined last year, due to less hydro power being used.)
While the declines are positive news, they likely aren’t enough to reverse an emissions trend that has lead to climate change across the planet. And what’s happening here in the U.S. isn’t true for growing countries like India and China, where emissions are growing. Continue Reading →
“Scams are constantly being generated, not just utility scams,” says Jarrod Wise with the Better Business Bureau‘s Austin office. “Scammers will find any kind of way to try to get your personal information,” he says, with the intention of stealing your identity.
Sometimes the scams will use intimidation and fear to defraud consumers, like threatening to cut off your power. Wise says this is a “red flag.” “I mean, you have to say, no one [from a power company] is going to demand to do this right away, no one is going to demand money up front, and your power isn’t going to be turned off. That’s just not going to happen.” Continue Reading →
The U.S. is set to be the number one producer of oil and gas this year.
The current domestic drilling boom has brought plenty of jobs, traffic and concerns about pollution and sustainability. It’s also put the U.S. in a position that was unimaginable a decade ago: this year, the U.S. will be the number one producer of oil and gas, according to the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA).
“Since 2008, U.S. petroleum production has increased 7 quadrillion Btu, with dramatic growth in Texas and North Dakota. Natural gas production has increased by 3 quadrillion Btu over the same period, with much of this growth coming from the eastern United States,” the EIA says in an analysis today. Production has also been up for Russia and Saudi Arabia, but not nearly the same amount. The U.S. and Russia had been neck and neck for the past few years; this year, the U.S. struck a clear lead in fossil fuel production.
The increase in domestic production is due largely in part to the use of drilling techniques like hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” and horizontal drilling. Those methods — largely proven viable in Texas — have allowed large domestic deposits of oil and gas to be reached. Texas has taken the lead in that domestic production, and is projected to continue to do so.
Millions of them have been installed in homes across Texas, but not everyone is happy about them. Smart meters, which allow allow utilities to respond to outages faster and help utilities and consumers monitor their energy use, have been deployed across much of the state at the urging of the state’s Public Utility Commission (PUC). By replacing old analog meters, the argument goes, grid efficiency is improved and utilities are saved a monthly trip to each home to record usage.
But now that the smart meters are making their way to smaller towns like Alpine in Far West Texas, more opposition is occurring. As Natalie Pattillo reports for Marfa Public Radio today, that opposition is coming from people concerned about “health risks from radioactive-frequency signals, a rise in electric bills, and consumer anxieties about the security of their information.” Some of the opposition has come from Tea Party groups and the Alex Jones InfoWars crowd. In at least one instance, a Texas town has come up with rules to allow people to refuse the meters: the town of Brady successfully passed a smart meter opt-out plan earlier this year.
After some of the opposition became vocal over the last few years, the Public Utility Commission has approved a plan that will allow Texans across the state to opt-out of the meters. But it will come at a price.
“The customers who opts-out will have to pay the costs that will be incurred to be able to do that,” says PUC Commissioner Kenneth Anderson. “We also will be requiring those customers to acknowledge in writing that they understand they will be losing some benefits from not having the smart meters.”
The PUC says claims of health risks from smart meters are “unwarranted.”
Texas isn’t known for having a warm relationship with the federal government. A recent petition to the White House calling for Texas to secede garnered more than 100,000 signatures. The leading Republican candidate for Governor, state Attorney General Greg Abbott, has openly bragged about how much he loves suing the Obama administration. So Texans who disdain the federal government may be feeling a bit of schadenfreude today due to the federal government shutdown. But they could be missing out on some Texas treasures as a result.
There are several federal outposts in Texas, in the form of National Parks, Forests and Monuments. And as of today you’ll find yourself out of luck if you want to collect pine cones in Davy Crockett National Forest or Instagram a sunset at Big Bend National Park. All of them are closed because of the shutdown.
Here are thirteen national parks and seven national forests and grasslands closed as of today, with a description of each from their respective National Park websites: Continue Reading →
French Erwann Le Rouzic, captain of Planetsolar catamaran, the first boat around the world with solar energy, walks over the photovoltaic panel during his 581st day of sailing around the world, in the Mediterranean Sea near Corsica on May 1, 2012 .
While Texas leads the nation in the production of oil, natural gas and wind energy, the sunny state is lagging a little in the solar energy race. Texas comes seventh in installed solar, but ranks first in potential for solar energy. Several new developments in the state’s energy industry may begin to change that.
If you’re a customer in the deregulated parts of Texas’ energy market (i.e. most of the state, save Austin, El Paso, San Antonio, and some parts of the Panhandle), you now have the option to to power your home 100% from the sun. SolarSPARC is a new program from a retail electric provider — essentially the cable or phone companies of the electricity world in Texas — that is offering, for the first time, a 100% solar power option for customers.
“This really opens up solar to the masses,” says Shay Ohrel, product innovation manager for Green Mountain Energy in Austin, which has started the program. “It allows people to receive both the environmental and financial benefits of solar.”
Solar continues to get cheaper, and installations are growing in the country. While Texas doesn’t have much of it yet, cities like Austin and San Antonio are moving forward with long-term projects to build large solar farms. An option like Solar Spark allows residential consumers outside of those cities to choose solar without having to install panels on their own roof. Continue Reading →
A stream of workers leave the TXU Monticello power plant near Mt. Pleasant, Texas February 26, 2007.
Amid the continued decline in coal power in the state, Texas’ largest power generator is asking the state for permission to idle another of its coal power units this winter. And new federal regulations proposed today make it unlikely that many new coal power plants will be built in the foreseeable future.
Luminant, a division of the financially-troubled Energy Future Holdings, is asking operators of the Texas grid if it can suspend one unit at its Martin Lake coal plant in Northeast Texas. It’s similar to another request by the company — already granted last year and again this year — to suspend two other units at the large Monticello coal power plant in the same region.
While there’s been plenty of talk over the last few years of a regulatory “War on Coal,” the culprit behind coal’s slowdown in Texas is something far different: the free market. Continue Reading →
As the fracking drilling boom continues in Texas and other states, a shift has taken place. While the beginning of the surge saw a rush for natural gas, in recent years the focus has moved to oil. And in the process, a lot of natural gas is being wasted. Billions of dollars worth, enough to power an entire nation.
When an oil well is drilled, it can also produce methane. But in drilling areas like the Eagle Ford Shale in Texas and the Bakken Shale in North Dakota, methane isn’t what drillers are after. One option is to simply vent it, releasing it directly into the atmosphere. Another is to “flare” it, combusting the methane instead. There’s enough flaring and drilling going on that you can see it from space.
“Flaring is infinitely more preferable than just venting those emissions into the atmosphere,” Drew Nelson, Manager of Special Projects for the Environmental Defense Fund, says. “Methane is much potent than carbon dioxide.” If methane were released directly in the air, it would have a much more detrimental climate effect. By burning the methane, it converts to carbon dioxide. “Which is still a greenhouse gas,” Nelson says, “but one molecule of methane is anywhere from 24 to a hundred times more potent than one molecule of carbon dioxide, depending on the time frame you’re looking at.”
A Cabot Oil and Gas natural gas drill is viewed at a hydraulic fracturing site on January 17, 2012 in Springville, Pennsylvania. A domestic drilling boom has led to concern that more methane is leaking into the atmosphere.
A new study of natural gas drilling sites out today offers mixed results on methane leakage during the drilling and production process, one issue in an ongoing debate over the safety and risks involved with a new surge in domestic drilling.
Since domestic drilling for oil and natural gas has taken off with the help of techniques like fracking and horizontal drilling, a constant question has been how much methane (aka natural gas) is leaking into the atmosphere during the process. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, says Drew Nelson with the Environmental Defense Fund, who helped coordinate the study. “For every molecule of methane that is emitted into the atmosphere, that molecule has the potential to undermine and erode the benefits of natural gas compared to other fossil fuels,” Nelson says.
Increased supplies of natural gas mean less coal (which has nearly twice the greenhouse impact of gas) is being burned in the country. But if too much methane is leaking, those climate gains could be lost.
The study, authored by David Allen of the University of Texas at Austin, is unique in its methodology. While previous studies have relied on estimates or downwind measurements, Allen’s team is the first to monitor emissions at nearly 200 drilling sites across the country directly for a year and a half. Previous studies of methane leakage had found varying rates, some as high as 8 percent. But Allen says direct access to the drilling sites themselves provided researchers with more accurate measurements. Continue Reading →
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