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How Denmark and Texas Became Wind Energy Kings

Standing on the shore of the Baltic sea a few miles outside of Copenhagen, Denmark, the view’s about what you’d expect. Rocky shore, grey horizon, a boat here or there. But this shore is special. Look up, and you’ll see — and hear — three giant offshore wind turbines cutting through the air. Each stands 500 feet tall, with three blades (each close to 200 feet long), spinning non-stop.

“The blades look quite thin, but don’t be cheated,” says Rune Birk Nielsen, with DONG Energy, which runs the turbines. “They each weigh about twenty tons. They are massive.” Each turbine has a capacity of 3.6 megawatts, or enough to power 3,000 Danish homes.

Nielsen guides me through the small offshore wind park — well, technically it’s offshore. The turbines aren’t actually too far from land — each is connected to the shore by a short footbridge about ten yards long.

“For us, it’s kind of a demonstration park,” Nielsen says, “where we are able to test all sorts of things.” With turbines close to shore, they’re easier to fiddle with or repair. The company can safely train their workers without sending them far out to sea.

Denmark is booming when it comes to wind energy. To understand how and why, you have to go back a few decades. Continue Reading

Voters Pass First Local Fracking Ban in Texas

Cathy McMullen and Tom Giovanetti debate a proposal to ban fracking at a meeting of the County GOP Womens Club.

Cathy McMullen and Tom Giovanetti debate a proposal to ban fracking at a meeting of the County GOP Womens Club.

Update, Nov. 5: Denton voters passed a local ban on “fracking,” an oil and gas production process. 59 percent of voters said “yes” to the ban, with 41 percent voting against. The Texas Oil and Gas Association (TXOGA) wasted no time in filing a request to overturn the vote, saying it violates state law.

Original story, Oct. 21: For Cathy McMullen, the reasons to ban fracking in Denton are as obvious at the drilling rig that sits on the corner of Masch Branch and Hampton Road on the northwest side of town. It’s big, it’s noisy, and she believes it vents toxic emissions into the community. The site is, however, not very close to any houses.

“I’ll show you where this exact same thing was sitting by someone’s home,” she says.

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State Lawmakers Consider the Impacts of EPA Regulations

A recent drop in carbon emissions in the U.S. could only be temporary, a new report warns.

Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

A recent drop in carbon emissions in the U.S. could only be temporary, a new report warns.

Texas will need to make big cuts in carbon emissions over the next 15 years under a mandate from the Environmental Protection Agency.  You can expect to hear complaints about the EPA rule at a two-day meeting of the House Environmental Regulations Committee starting Monday.

The federal agency and state leaders have been at odds for years and many conservatives worry that limiting carbon emission to fight climate change will hurt the economy.

But there are some in Texas who see an upside. Click the player to learn more.

As Drought Persists, Cities Look to Texas ‘Lakes’ to Answer Needs

Austin's Decker Lake is used for electricity production and recreations. But it could be re-purposed for municipal water use.

Photo by Mose Buchele

Austin's Decker Lake is used for electricity production and recreations. But it could be re-purposed for municipal water use.

The funny thing about Walter E. Long Lake: most people don’t know it exists.

The lake, tucked into a rural-feeling part of North East Austin is big, by Austin standards. It can hold more water than Austin’s two central city Lakes -Lake Austin and Lady Bird Lake- combined. It was created to host a power plant, which it’s done for for nearly 50 years. That’s how it got its other name: Decker Lake.

But Last week, Austin’s city council voted on a plan to wean Austin off Decker Power Plant electricity, opting to shutter the plant to lower citywide emissions. If that happens, the lake could serve as Austin’s a new city reservoir.

“It’s a body of water most people don’t know about. Some people use it, you’ll see fishing boats out there on the lake,” says Sharlene Leurig, who works at Ceres, a non-profit specializing in sustainability. “But for the most part it’s the unappreciated stepchild of the lakes we have here in Austin.”

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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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