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Solar Power Shedding ‘Ugly’ Image in Houston

Jennifer Ronk with the Houston Advanced Research Center

KUHF

Jennifer Ronk with the Houston Advanced Research Center

Global demand for solar panels could soon create shortages according to Bloomberg News.

In Texas, costs for solar are dropping and the amount of power Texans now get from the sun is up over 30-percent in the past year. But while some housing developments are banning the roof-top solar panels, saying they’re unsightly, some homeowners in one Houston neighborhood can’t imagine life without solar power.

It’s the hottest part of the day in a subdivision on Houston’s northwest side. The neatly-kept streets and lawns border several rows of recently-built, two-story homes made of brick and stone. They all look similar but a few of them have one difference: solar panels.

“They don’t even notice them till we tell (visitors) we have solar panels, they’re like where,” said Velia Uballe, a stay-at-home mom.

They bought their new, solar-panel equipped house three years ago.  But while Uballe said the panels hardly stand out, what they’re saving on electricity definitely does.

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Are Companies at Risk when the CEO is in the Cockpit?

Houston had the third highest number of CEOs with pilot licenses according to a study assessing risk-taking among executives

Dave Fehling / StateImpact Texas

Houston has the third highest number of CEOs with pilot licenses according to a study assessing risk-taking among executives

It’s a sign of success: having your own plane and being your own pilot. In fact, Houston ranks third in the nation for the number of corporate chief executives who have pilot licenses. Dallas ranks sixth. But as highlighted by a tragedy earlier this spring in West Texas, there may be an added risk. But is that bad for the company’s bottom line?

On a Wednesday afternoon this past June, a turboprop plane took off from Aspen Colorado.

Destination: Brenham Texas, northwest of Houston.

As the plane headed southeast, crossing over the Texas panhandle, it encountered a big line of thunderstorms. The on-line tracking service FlightAware shows the plane turned sharply to the south. It was sometime later that afternoon that a rancher would find the crumpled wreckage in an open field just west of Lubbock.

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During Drought, Once-Mighty Texas Rice Belt Fades Away

In the floodplain, several inches of fine silty mud sit atop thick, heavy clay. The clay is the finest dust eroded by the river, carried until this point then deposited as the river spreads out across the prairie. The silt is a thick rich mixture of sediment from upstream. The land in the floodplain naturally holds water very well.

Dylan Baddour / StateImpact Texas

In the floodplain, several inches of fine silty mud sit atop thick, heavy clay. The clay is the finest dust eroded by the river, carried until this point then deposited as the river spreads out across the prairie. The silt is a thick rich mixture of sediment from upstream. The land in the floodplain naturally holds water very well.

In 2012, some farming districts on the Lower Colorado River were cut off from water for irrigation for the first time. Reservoirs were too low to flood tens of thousands of rice fields. Some asked, “Why would anyone be farming rice in Texas in the first place?”

The answer is long, and it begins with the fact that parts of Texas haven’t always been dry. For farmers like Ronald Gertson, who remembers driving a tractor through rice fields as a child, recent years have been hard to bear.

“It’s just unbelievable that it’s been so bad that we have had three unprecedented years in a row, and I recognize some experts say we could have a couple of decades like this. I hope and pray that’s not the case,” says Gertson, a rice farmer, chair of numerous water-related committees and, in recent years, unofficial spokesman for the Texas Rice Belt. “If that is the case then yeah, this whole prairie is going to change.”

But it has already changed.

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EPA Showdown: Who in Texas Wants Tighter Refinery Regulation?

Do Hydrogen Cyanide Leaks Show Weakness of Current Regs?

Houston's Ship Channel: home to refineries and petrochemical complex and site of EPA hearing

Dave Fehling

Houston's Ship Channel is home to one of the nation's biggest oil refining and petrochemical complexes and is the site of the EPA hearing

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will set up its microphones for an all day hearing Tuesday in Galena Park, a community on Houston’s east side in the heart of the enormous Houston Ship Channel refinery complex. It’s the second of two such hearings with the first held last month in a similar community in Los Angeles.

At issue: new EPA rules that would make oil refineries invest in better equipment to reduce pollution emissions from storage tanks and to improve the efficiency of flares that burn emissions during plant “upsets”. Refineries would also have to increase fence-line monitoring to track exactly what pollution is blowing into adjacent communities.


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Brewing Beer With Less Water While Battling Drought in Texas

From KERA News:

The beer menu sits on the bar in Luckenbach, Texas.

REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi /Landov

The beer menu sits on the bar in Luckenbach, Texas.

The drought has tested industries across Texas in the last few years — and it’s even had an impact on beer.

One of MillerCoors’ mega-breweries is in south Fort Worth, and last year it produced 9 million barrels of beer. Environmental and sustainability engineer Lairy Johnson says the plant cut its water use by 9 percent.

Highlights from the Interview with Lairy Johnson:

On how much water the Fort Worth plant uses a year:

  • “In a year we use about 750 million gallons, but what we like to do is talk about how many barrels of water does it take to make a barrel of beer. In this past month we were about 3.18 barrels per barrel, 3.27 I think was our number last year for the average, and 3.21 is the year to date.” Continue Reading

Don’t Frack on Me: Local Challenges to the Right to Drill

Video shown to Denton City Council by citizens concerned about flares at drilling sites near neighborhoods

Via CityofDenton.com

Video shown to Denton City Council by citizens concerned that flares at drilling sites threatened neighborhoods

In Texas, a government official has warned that groups opposed to fracking might be acting on behalf of Russia.

In Colorado, a TV ad portrays fracking opponents as goofy idiots who believe the moon may be made of cheese.

The attacks on drilling opponents may reflect how deeply concerned the industry has become over citizen-led efforts to curb fracking, the now widely-used drilling technique that’s dramatically increasing oil & gas production from shale rock formations.

In both states, there are new and serious proposals for referendums to allow voters to impose statewide restrictions on drilling or to allow local bans on fracking. The public referendums would by-pass state legislatures and state regulatory agencies where, especially in Texas, the oil and gas industry enjoys enormous clout and support.

Texas law also officially promotes oil & gas drilling. The state’s Natural Resources Code says the “mineral resources of this state should be fully and effectively exploited.” But the code also says local governments have the right to regulate drilling.

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Presidio County Water Managers Offer Answers, but Citizens Have More Questions

From Marfa Public Radio: 

Tanker trucks lined up inside the City of Marfa’s water treatment plant after a group of residents blocked the trucks’ access to city fire hydrants.

Tanker trucks lined up inside the City of Marfa’s water treatment plant after a group of residents blocked the trucks’ access to city fire hydrants.

Two weeks ago, a small group of citizens vocalized concerns over Marfa’s practice of selling bulk water to clients outside the city.

“Our water is too cheap. It needs to be expensive. We need water conservation. We need to think about that,” said Buck Johnston.

Two weeks ago the Marfa resident formed a small protest to block tanker trucks using city water for their oil and gas speculation. The protest worked briefly but soon the trucks were rerouted to other spigots.

Later, it was announced that no oil or gas was found. And though the trucks disappeared from Marfa city streets, the concern about water use in Presidio County hasn’t. Continue Reading

Texas Slams EPA Website that Compares State Pollution Enforcement

The ECHO website uses data from state pollution regulators

Dave Fehling / StateImpact

The EPA's ECHO website uses data from state pollution regulators to compare compliance and enforcement

Compared to other states, Texas has a consistently higher percentage of major industrial plants with “high priority violations” of air pollution laws. Yet, compared to other states, Texas does far fewer comprehensive inspections of polluting facilities.

Or at least, that’s what data seem to show on website run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Not surprisingly, Texas, with a history of fighting the EPA at every turn, says the website has “tremendous potential” for being misleading, deceiving, and inaccurate.

The site is called ECHO for Enforcement and Compliance History Online. The EPA launched it in 2002. The goal was to give the public access to data on how state and federal regulators were enforcing pollution laws. The site not only allows access to detailed compliance reports for specific facilities, it also allows a comparison of enforcement action by state.

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Despite Obstacles, Solar Gains Ground in Texas

From Marfa Public Radio: 

photo-2-8-500x375

(Travis Bubenik/KRTS)

This week we have examined the opportunity and challenge for solar power in Texas. There are no state mandates or incentives for solar.

And the head of the Public Utilities Commission says Congress should end solar’s 30 per cent federal tax credit. 

Despite that landscape solar is breaking through in parts of Texas, providing models that renewable energy advocates hope will resonate in the rest of the state, starting with the price of solar power.  Continue Reading

Small-Scale Solar Energy Projects take Advantage of Abundant Sunlight in West Texas

From Marfa Public Radio: 

Continuing their weeklong series on the future of solar power in West Texas, Marfa Public Radio takes a look at small-scale solar projects around the Big Bend region:
Bennett Jones points to the solar panels he helped design for Alpine Public Library.

KRTS/Tom Michael

Bennett Jones points to the solar panels he helped design for Alpine Public Library.

The Big Bend region is ranching country. Miles of barbed-wire fences, cows clustered in the distance, and windmills on the horizon. Those windmills, of course, draw well-water from the ground. It’s alternative energy, but it’s old technology.

Preston Fowlkes and his family has been in ranching for generations. For the past five years, he’s been replacing his old windmills with solar panels for his water wells, especially in remote locations.

“We’ve used windmills in the past, but were just not reliable. In my opinion it’s become the best alternative., versus a generator or a windmill or an engine which requires fuel,” Fowlkes says. Continue Reading

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