Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Five Ways Climate Change Threatens Energy in Texas

An array of rooftop solar panels

Photo by flickr user IntelFreePress

An array of rooftop solar panels

The Department of Energy released a report recently looking at how climate change and extreme weather could make our power supplies more vulnerable. Given that it’s the nation’s leader in energy production, Texas was prominently featured.

The report looks at both current and future threats to the energy sector from climate change. There are three major trends, it says:

  • Air and water temperatures are increasing
  • Water availability is decreasing in certain regions
  • Storms, instances of flooding, and sea levels are increasing in frequency and intensity

Though the report stressed how different regions of the country are connected by the energy sector, StateImpact Texas found five key takeaways that relate to Texas. Let’s take a look:

1. Power Lines Can’t Beat the Heat

It gets hot in Texas, but climate change will likely mean that it’s going to get even hotter. According to the report, that could be bad news for the state’s grid and its power consumers.

That’s because higher temperatures decrease the efficiency of electric transmission by reducing current carrying capacity. Translation: just like everything else, power lines have a hard time getting motivated in the summer heat.

As temperatures rise, power lines can sag. That means electrical currents have to work harder to move down them. This makes electricity more costly to transmit, and could even cause power failure by lines sparking against trees and other foreign objects.

2. After the Droughts Come the Floods

Texas’ persistent drought has seen the state experience much less rain. But when rain has fallen, it’s typically more intense than your average drizzle.

The report found that Texas experienced a 15% increase in the amount of “very heavy precipitation” it received between 1958 and 2007. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, since too much rain at once can damage crops and cause flash floods.

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 2.43.33 PM

Map by the U.S. Department of Energy

3. Cities Having to Choose Between Water and Fracking

It might seem unlikely that a city in Texas would lead the way in restricting the reach of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” but that’s precisely what Grand Prairie did in 2011. In the midst of what was then the state’s worst drought in history, the Dallas-Fort Worth suburb decided to ban the sale of municipal water to companies that were fracking in the Barnett Shale. Although it was the first city in the United States to institute such a ban, other municipalities and water districts followed suit.

It should be noted that the ban didn’t halt fracking in Grand Prairie altogether. At least one drilling company simply pumped water from the neighboring city of Arlington, and trucked it back over to wells in Grand Prairie.

4. Goodbye to Galveston?

In 1969, Glen Campbell wrote the song “Galveston,” which trumpeted the Gulf Coast city as an idyllic seaside escape. While that may still be the case, one of the report’s projections says it may not be for long.

The report says that sea levels in Galveston could rise by as much as 3.5 feet by the end of the century. According to Climate Central, nearly 25% of Galveston’s population currently lives just four feet above sea level. Such a rise could also alter coastal ecosystems and damage infrastructure for energy and trade.

5. $1 Trillion Worth of Risk for Gulf Drillers

As climate change progresses, so too will the risk for oil and gas companies who drill in the Gulf. The report cites a study by Entergy Corporation and America’s Wetland Foundation that says that by 2030, over $1 trillion in energy assets in the Gulf of Mexico will be at risk from hurricanes and rising sea levels.

Oil platform damage from hurricanes like Ivan, Rita, and Katrina could become more common as the number and intensity of Gulf storms increases. The map below shows the distribution of Gulf energy assets that could exist by 2030, as well as where they would be located.

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 2.52.29 PM

Map by the U.S. Department of Energy



  • RoadsCostMoney

    I’m confused.
    Why would NPR report an Obama administration document without a critical headline and a long list of defamatory adjectives intended to diminish the document’s credibility?
    That has been NPR’s M.O. for a long time now.

    Will be interesting to see if NPR repeats this very rare incident of publishing something not previously approved by NPR’s GOP masters.

    • brock2118

      I had no idea that NPR was mastered by the GOP. Thanks for the info.

  • greg harman

    true, i haven’t eaten dinner yet and my low blood sugar could be affecting my reading comprehension, but i have yet to find one “defamatory adjective intended to diminish the document’s credibility.” actually i seem to be straining to find many adjectives at all. seems like very straight-forward reporting to me on an important subject. thanks for the update y’all. i downloaded the doe paper a couple days ago but haven’t digested it yet. maybe something for after dinner. ;)

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    What a bunch of nonsense. Look. Regional and state water systems have been planned for the last 100 years to alleviate so-called climate change (i.e., droughts). B storing water in reservoirs during wet years there is water supply in dry years.

    As for power lines frying, the copper core transmission lines can be replaced with ceramic core lines that don’t sag and are more efficient.

    And cities DO NOT have to choose between drinking and fracking water. Water used for fracking is thousands of feet below the water table. A new EPA report indicates there is no contamination of the water table or underground storage basins from fracking.

    As for Galveston drowning, this is based on statistical models. And is the sea level rising or the land subsiding in Galveston?

    Yes, we know that deserts once were inland seas and vice versa. But that kind of change is not fast enough to plan for.

    Well paid scientists have replaced religious prophets in making predictions.

  • Icepilot

    Power lines – so install more (and better) power lines.
    Floods – build dams.
    Water availability is definately a problem for TX. Better start building desalination plants on the Gulf.
    Galveston – The oceans have been rising since the end of the last Ice Age. But even the IPCC is backing off these worst case scenarios. The city should plan for a foot, and build dikes.

    Risk – And yet, somehow, in “the hottest decade ever”, tropical cyclone activity for the past two years is at the lowest for as long as records have been kept. And only Hurricane Ike (2008) has crossed our shores since 2005.

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