Texas’ Solar Challenge: Lessons Learned From Arizona, California

San Francisco-based Recurrent Energy has committed to building what would be the largest single solar installation in Texas.

San Francisco-based Recurrent Energy has committed to building what would be the largest single solar installation in Texas.

From Fronteras: 

MARFA, Texas — Texas has been called an energy superpower. Fracking technology is allowing Texas producers to extract vast amounts of oil and natural that were once out of reach.

The state pumps more natural gas that any other. And it leads the country in wind energy. But Texas ranks eighth in solar power.

Three attempts by the state legislature to give incentives to solar have failed. The economics of solar in Texas stand in contrast to the rest of the Southwest. And a prominent Texas regulator says solar should not receive any government assistance to expand its footprint.

The United States Department of Energy says Texas represents 20 percent of the country’s potential solar output. So why is solar sluggish in Texas? Blame it on mix of policy choices and economics. Continue Reading

Don’t Pick Up Aquatic Hitchhikers: New Texas Boating Rules Start Today

Zebra mussels are named for the stripes on their shells.

Courtesy of NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory via Flickr Creative Commons

Zebra mussels

Zebra mussels have been stealthily hitching rides between Texas rivers and lakes for several years, but new rules to combat their spread take effect today. The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) is requiring that boats be drained and checked for mussels and prohibiting transfer of personally-caught live bait between water bodies.

Zebra mussels, invasive species that clog and damage underwater equipment, were introduced to Texas in 2009. They’ve been established in seven lakes statewide and found in several other water bodies since. Continue Reading

Rising Oil and Gas Boom Does Little for Poor in Texas

When it comes to the oil and gas drilling boom in the country, Texas is king. Actually, make that crown a global one: over a quarter of all the active drilling rigs in the world are right here in the Lone Star State.

The boom – taking place thanks to hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” and horizontal drilling – has brought jobs, money and more energy security to Texas and the country. It’s also damaged roads, increased traffic and accidents, strained local governments and caused housing prices to skyrocket in parts of the state. How the boom is leaving some communities behind is the subject of an in-depth report today in The New York Times.

“Though the boom has helped produce fortunes for some and comfortable lives for many, for others it exists within a rural landscape of unpaved streets without garbage pickup, where few dare to drink the tap water because it tastes and smells like chlorine,” Manny Fernandez and Clifford Kraus write.

“Not all tides raise all ships,” Libby Campbell, director of the West Texas Food Bank in Midland-Odessa, told StateImpact Texas when we visited her last fall. Campbell showed us how her operation is struggling to meet with increased demand for their services. People are showing up to the region broke, with the hopes of finding a job in the oilfield – or they already live in the area and have seen their rent double or triple since the latest boom began.

In a video accompanying the story in today’s Times (above), you can see how an influx of industry and profit has caused more hardship for those already stuck in poverty.  Continue Reading

Here Are 5 Challenges to Texas Water That Might Surprise You

An old radio lies in the mud exposed after the water has gone at Lake Arrowhead State Park near Wichita Falls, Texas, in September 2013

EPA/LARRY W. SMITH /LANDOV

An old radio lies in the mud exposed after the water has gone at Lake Arrowhead State Park near Wichita Falls, Texas, in September 2013

With nearly 70 percent of the state still stuck in a drought that has dragged on for years, there’s been plenty of talk about how to strengthen water supplies in Texas. A multi-billion-dollar water fund (the passage of Proposition 6 last election) is in the works that will help fund projects like reservoirs, desalination and conservation. And there’s ongoing discussion and debate about the elephant in the aquifer: ways to change how groundwater is regulated, which took up a whole day of testimony at the state legislature this week. But that’s not all.

Beyond those two big-ticket items — how to pay for water supplies and how to regulate water underground — there are some other smaller challenges the state faces when it comes to water. At a hearing by the House Natural Resources Committee Thursday, several state agencies told lawmakers about the water challenges they’re dealing with. Here’s five issues that caught our attention:

1. ‘Toilet to Tap’ Could Mean Drier Rivers Downstream

Water reuse is picking up in Texas, but it could create problems for downriver communities. Customers currently pump treated wastewater back into a river, where its carried downstream to be treated and used again, but better techniques and technologies in water reuse are upsetting that system. Now communities like Wichita Falls in North Texas are moving towards direct wastewater reuse, and when that happens, there’s less water flowing downstream. Continue Reading

How New Transmission Lines Are Bringing More Wind Power to Texas Cities

New transmission line projects are already resulting in more wind power making its way to cities in Central and North Texas.

Public Utility Commission

New transmission line projects are already resulting in more wind power making its way to cities in Central and North Texas.

We’re all going to be paying for it, so you might be glad to know that a new set of transmission lines to bring wind power from the Panhandle and West Texas to folks in North and Central Texas appear to be off to a good start. According to a new federal analysis this week, the Competitive Renewable Energy Zones power transmission project, also known as CREZ, is already resulting in fewer curtailments of wind power and more even prices in Texas’ energy market.

The project cost $7 billion, a price that will be paid for by tacking on a fee to Texans’ utility bills. On average, your power bill could go up several dollars a month.

Before the lines went into operation, Texas had an odd problem: the state was producing too much wind power. Wind power grew so rapidly in Texas that it was a victim of its own success. More than half of the state’s wind power was built in a very short period, from 2006-09, according to the analysis from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), and transmission couldn’t keep up.  Continue Reading

Midland Delays Vote Over Energy Towers

Midland, Texas, sits at the center of an energy revolution transforming the globe.

James Durbin/MCT

Midland, Texas, sits at the center of an energy revolution transforming the globe.

From KXWT West Texas Public Radio:

After a special session called by Mayor Jerry Morales yesterday, the Midland City Council has delayed a planned vote over its part of the Energy Towers project in downtown Midland.

The council was set to vote on whether to move forward with a $60 million incentives package for the project’s developers and plans to demolish the former Midland County Courthouse, with the possibility that the city might back out of the project.

Two council members (Jeff Sparks and Spencer Robnett) couldn’t be at Tuesday’s meeting, but the remaining members appeared encouraged by updates from the developers. The vote has now been pushed back to the council’s next meeting on July 8th. Continue Reading

As Renewables Grow in Texas, Battles Over Fees and Subsidies Emerge

Wind turbines in West Texas help produce record amounts of electricity for the state.

Mose Buchele/StateImpact Texas

Wind turbines in West Texas help produce record amounts of electricity for the state.

In the coming years, the federal government wants Texas to reduce its carbon emissions by about 40 percent. With a goal like that, you might expect to see more programs aimed at promoting renewable energy in Texas. But something like the opposite appears to be happening.

Donna Nelson, chair of Texas’ Public Utility Commission, asked last month if wind power generators, not Texas utility customers, should pay for upgrades to transmission lines. The Commission regulates the state’s electric grid, among other things.

“This is really my attempt to flesh out some of the issues that are associated with the continued growth of renewable resources in Texas,” Nelson said. In a memo outlining her request, Nelson said wind and solar are already mature industries in Texas, and that federal subsidies distort the market. The federal tax credit for wind power was allowed to expire last year, but could be renewed by Congress this year.

Nelson’s idea got a lot of people talking. Texas’ much-touted Competitive Renewable Energy Zone (CREZ) transmission line project, that brings wind power from the West, were paid for by electric customers to encourage renewables. Those lines, along with federal subsidies, brought a boom in Texas wind power.

A boom, critics say, that Nelson of the PUC is trying to hinder by exploring the idea of a fee or tax. Continue Reading

Feds Target Oil and Gas Industry for Underpaying Workers

Exhibit from lawsuit: worker's time sheet showing 90 hours in eight days

Dave Fehling / StateImpact

Exhibit from lawsuit: worker's time sheet showing 90 hours in eight consecutive days

In states with the most oil and gas drilling, including Texas, Oklahoma and North Dakota, the U.S. Department of Labor has won back pay for over 4,000 energy industry workers in just the past year.

It totaled $6.7 million dollars, accounting for a third of all such settlements by all types of industries nationwide.

“We were hearing that workers were being misclassified as independent contractors, that they were being paid straight-time for their hours over 40 in a workweek. And we were hearing this consistently throughout the Southwest Region,” said Cynthia Watson, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Regional Administrator in Dallas.

Continue Reading

Judge Approves Three Million Dollar Verdict in Fracking Lawsuit

The Parrs says drilling near their property made them sick. A Dallas jury agreed, awarding them nearly $3 million.

Mose Buchele/StateImpact Texas

The Parrs say drilling near their property made them sick. A Dallas jury agreed, awarding them nearly $3 million.

A Texas family claiming emissions from gas drilling made them sick is one step closer to collecting a $3 million jury award against the drilling company, Aruba Petroleum.

When the Parr family of Wise County won their case, it was called the first successful “fracking lawsuit” in the county. Aruba asked Dallas County Judge Mark Greenberg to throw out the three million dollar verdict. But late Thursday Greenberg denied that motion.

The case is important because drilling companies often reach out-of-court settlements with plaintiffs. Those can include gag orders. This time there was no settlement, so the details of the Parrs’ sickness, including nosebleeds, rashes and stomach problems were made public.

The case is being closely watch by industry and groups opposed to fracking.

Tom McGarity, a law professor at UT Austin calls the judge’s ruling “a bad precedent for the industry.”

“I think there are plaintiffs’ lawyers out there right now that are looking at this case and saying this is a really opportunity here to raise claims by people who have been damaged either in their property values or health,” he says.

Continue Reading

Finding Definitive Answers to North Texas Quakes Could Take Years, But Clues Appear

A panel of experts gathered in Azle Wednesday night to talk about what's behind the North Texas earthquake swarm.

Andy Taylor/KERA

A panel of experts gathered in Azle Wednesday night to talk about what's behind the North Texas earthquake swarm.

What is behind the tremors in North Texas? Starting late last fall, a swarm of quakes struck the communities of Reno and Azle outside of Fort Worth. It’s hardly the first community in the Lone Star State to have to deal with damaged foundations, cracked windows and rude awakenings from quakes: there have been nine other scientifically-researched quake swarms in Texas, all of them in areas of oil and gas drilling activity.

In all of those other Texas cases, injection for either oil and gas drilling wastewater disposal or to enhance oil and gas production has been behind many of the quakes. That mirrors similar phenomena in Oklahoma, Ohio and other states, where wastewater disposal has become the main culprit behind a rise in quakes in what used to be seismically-quiet parts of the country. Oklahoma, for instance, now has more quakes than California, with several smaller quakes taking place yesterday, the same day we held a forum with Dallas’ KERA News, ‘What’s Behind the North Texas Quakes?’

The community forum, featuring a panel of officials and experts, explored what we currently know about the quakes, what can be done about them, and whether or not state regulators and legislators are up to the task of taking actions to prevent more quakes in the future. Here’s what we learned, and some of the questions that remain unanswered: Continue Reading

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