Energy & Environment

Energy & Environment
6:30 am
Fri December 27, 2013

Austin Church's Solar Project Could Shine Soon

From StateImpact Texas:

The promise of harnessing the power of the sun and turning it into renewable energy has attracted countless businesses, governments and environmental groups. But it might be a church here in Austin that ends up bringing one of the next breakthroughs in solar technology.

To understand the scope of this project, it helps to know that Saint David’s is no little roadside chapel. The Episcopal Church in downtown Austin fills up a whole city block. It provides your typical church services and then some.

“We have a coffee shop, we have a restaurant, we have a pre-school for children,” says Terry Nathan, the parish administrator. “The better part of our basement is dedicated to a homeless center." The Church keeps a staff of caterers for its side business hosting events, and has a bookstore and parking garage, which they make available for commercial use. All that takes a lot of electricity.

So about ten years ago, church members got the idea to put solar panels on the parking garage. But they didn’t take the plunge until last year. That’s when low interest rates, improved technology, and government rebates all came together.

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Energy & Environment
6:15 am
Mon December 23, 2013

How Much Energy Do We Use at the Holidays?

The holidays can mean lumps of coal - not in stockings, but in power plants.
flickr.com/pagedooley

The holidays are here and it might surprise people how energy-intensive they can be. Commentator Michael Webber is keeping a list - and checking it twice - on some ways we burn fuel this time of year.

For starters: There's the energy involved in travel to visit family – those long road trips over the hills and through the woods to visit Grandma, plane flights, even train travel.

Then there's the energy for heating our homes during cold weather. In the northeast that's likely fuel oil; gas in the Southwest; and electricity in the South. Then there are all those presents!

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StateImpact Texas
1:24 pm
Tue December 10, 2013

Near-Catastrophe During Flooding Highlights Issues at Dam in Austin

Crews work to dislodge a barge from Longhorn Dam, the dam that creates Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin.
Austin Energy

From StateImpact Texas:

A lot of people who walk or drive past Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin probably assume it’s a natural feature. They appreciate the trails and parks that line the lake's 416 acres, unaware of the series of floodgates on the Longhorn Dam that hold its waters in. But recent flooding along the waterway has called attention to longstanding mechanical problems at the dam, problems that the City of Austin is aware of, but hasn't found the money to address.

While its been called the "jewel in the crown" of Austin, Lady Bird Lake was created to serve a utilitarian purpose: to provide water for a now-decommissioned gas power plant in the Holly neighborhood of East Austin. Because of its connection to the power plant, the dam is operated under the supervision of Austin Energy, the city's publicly-owned electric utility. Built in 1960, the floodgates on Longhorn Dam have stored and released water from the lake for over 50 years. Now that age is showing.

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StateImpact Texas
1:31 pm
Fri December 6, 2013

As Texas Towns Shake, Regulators Sit Still

Cliff Frohlich of the University of Texas at Austin.
Credit Terrence Henry/StateImpact Texas

From StateImpact Texas:

State Oil and Gas Regulator Says No Changes Needed After Latest Earthquake Swarm

After twenty minor earthquakes in a month, residents in the small towns of Azle and Springtown outside of Fort Worth are understandably confused about why their once-stable region is now trembling on a near-daily basis.

Teachers in the Azle school district are taking a page from the California playbook and holding earthquake drills for students. Inspectors are making regular visits to the earthen Eagle Mountain Lake dam, as well as others in the area, checking for damage. (So far they've found none.) And locals like Rebecca Williams are constantly looking at their own homes for damage. So far she's found cracks in her home, driveway and in a retaining wall in her backyard.

The quakes have been small, below the threshold that is known to cause significant damage. But they've unnerved residents like Williams, who moved out to Eagle Mountain Lake looking for some peace and quiet. "You can actually see my house rocking from side to side," Williams says. She was at home when the largest of the quakes (magnitude 3.6) struck on the evening of November 19th. "I tried to get up and run downstairs," she says. "And for a moment, I couldn’t run, because the house was shaking so bad!”

So what's behind the tremors? 

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Mexico
7:51 am
Wed December 4, 2013

Stolen Radioactive Material Found In Mexico

A photo released by Mexico's nuclear safety agency shows medical equipment containing radioactive source material. The photo was taken as the equipment was being prepared for loading into a truck, which was later stolen.
CNSNS

Originally published on Thu December 5, 2013 12:10 pm

Updated at 11:30 p.m. ET: Cobalt-60 Found

Mexican officials say they've recovered the "extremely dangerous" radioactive cobalt-60 that was stolen last week, hours after finding its empty containter.

The Associated Press reports:

"A missing shipment of radioactive cobalt-60 was found Wednesday near where the stolen truck transporting the material was abandoned in central Mexico, the country's nuclear safety director said.

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Energy & Environment
7:54 am
Wed November 27, 2013

LISTEN: What's the Carbon Footprint of Your Thanksgiving Dinner?

The traditional Thanksgiving fixings cost a lot of energy to produce - and consume.
flickr.com/silvershaina

As you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, consider this: how much energy it takes to produce and consume that food.

Throughout the year, transportation is responsible for 28 percent of our energy consumption. And there's a non-trivial bump right around Thanksgiving time. According to USA Today, more than 25 million people in the United States are expected to fly for the Thanksgiving holiday. 

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Israel
7:08 am
Wed November 27, 2013

Israel Dreams Of A Future As An Oil Producer

Givot Olam CEO Tovia Luskin expects to drill 40 wells and build a pipeline to a refinery on the coast. The company already has "proven and probable" reserves of 12.5 million barrels of oil. Luskin chose where to drill based on a passage from the Bible.
Emily Harris/ NPR

Originally published on Sun December 1, 2013 7:51 am

There's an old joke that if Moses had turned right when he led Jewish tribes out of Egypt, Israel might be where Saudi Arabia is today — and be rich from oil. Consultant Amit Mor of Eco Energy says that joke is out of date.

"Israel has more oil than Saudi Arabia," he claims. "And it's not a joke."

But that oil will be difficult to reach, if it can be recovered at all. The oil he's talking about is not yet liquid but is trapped in rocks underground.

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Winter Weather
9:45 am
Sun November 24, 2013

Winter Weather Advisory in Effect for Austin Area; Winter Storm Warning Canceled (Update)

National Weather Service

Update: The National Weather Service has removed a winter storm warning from the Austin area forecast. It had been scheduled to go into effect Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. and last until Monday at noon. However, a winter weather advisory is now in effect for Central Texas until 9 a.m. on Tuesday.

The National Weather Service says we could get some light sleet through Monday evening and some light snow flurries from Monday evening into Tuesday morning.  The advisory area covers Comal, Hays, Travis and Williamson counties. A winter weather advisory is also in effect for the Hill Country until 9 a.m. on Tuesday.

Original story (Nov. 23): The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning for the Austin region, beginning tomorrow. It's an upgrade from the winter storm watch the NWS previously forecast for the region.

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Energy & Environment
4:08 pm
Thu November 21, 2013

Central Texas Farmers Could Lose Water Access Due to Drought

Rice farmers in Texas could face a third year in a row of being cut off from water due to severe drought conditions. (Jeff Heimsath/StateImpact Texas)

Originally published on Thu November 21, 2013 3:58 pm

Half of Texas is experiencing drought conditions, and for the third year in a row, rice farmers in Central Texas may be cut off from water supplies because of severe drought.

The Lower Colorado River Authority has asked the state to approve emergency plans to cut water to farmers in 2014 if reservoir lakes are at less than 55 percent capacity. The lakes are currently 36 percent full.

Homes and businesses would also face water restrictions.

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Weather
5:00 pm
Tue November 12, 2013

Austin Under Freeze Warning as Cold Front Hits Central Texas

Austin and Central Texas are under a freeze warning from midnight to 9 a.m. Wednesday.
Credit National Weather Service

Austin is expected to get its first freeze of the season tonight, with temperatures dropping as low as the upper 20s overnight.

The National Weather Service says a strong Canadian cold front is moving across the Hill Country and the Austin metro area. A freeze warning has been issued for Austin, from midnight through 9 a.m. tomorrow.

“It’s not going to be that long-lived of a freezing temperature, maybe an hour or two, so I would not worry about pipes at this time,” says National Weather Service meteorologist Pat McDonald. “But if you have any tender vegetation, you may want to cover or cover them tonight.”

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Philippine Typhoon
10:43 am
Tue November 12, 2013

How Austin Can Aid Philippines Typhoon Survivors (Update)

The coastal town of Ormoc in Leyte province, Philippines.
European Commission, Humanitarian Aid & Civil Protection, http://flic.kr/ps/24ujFF

Update (Tuesday): A typhoon being called one of the  worst in recorded history has rocked the Philippines, with officials fearing as many as 10,000 people dead and  tens of thousands of homes destroyed.

The southeast Asian country is home to nearly 100 million people, and nearly one-in-four families live in poverty. Super-typhoon Haiyan reportedly destroyed between 70 to 80 percent of structures in its path. The destruction has caused many relief organizations to mobilize.

Make a Local Contribution:

Austin-based Circle of Health International works with women in crisis areas to provide access to family, newborn and reproductive care, ensure womens’ safety and combat sexual assault and sex trafficking. 

Circle of Health International founder Sera Bonds recently spoke with KUT about their plans to assist in the Phillipines following typhoon Haiyan.  You can donate here.

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Philippine Typhoon
4:24 am
Mon November 11, 2013

Thousands Feared Dead After Typhoon Haiyan

Residents rest outside a stadium used as an evacuation center in Tacloban, Leyte province, central Philippines on Sunday after devastating Typhoon Haiyan hit the city on Friday.
Ted Aljibe AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Sun November 10, 2013 11:16 am

The vicious typhoon that raged through the center of the Philippines appears to have killed hundreds, if not thousands of people, and officials were reportedly struggling Sunday to distribute aid to survivors left homeless and destitute.

Deaths in the province of Leyte — mainly from drowning and collapsed buildings — could escalate to 10,000, the regional police chief told the AP. The administrator of the province capital, Tacloban, said the toll could climb that high in the city alone.

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StateImpact Texas
4:09 pm
Thu October 17, 2013

Aging Dams, Booming Growth, and the Search for Solutions

Bruce Bar is a certified floodplain manger and caretaker of his neighborhood dam in Bastrop County.
Mose Buchele, KUT News

This is part four of a series looking at the infrastructure of dams in Texas, and what can be done to improve it. You can find part one here, and part two here, and part three here.

In a peaceful, wooded corner of Bastrop County, Texas sits one of the unluckiest dams in the state. In 2011 the Labor Day Wildfires burned soil and vegetation around Clear Springs Lake and its earthen dam. Then, half a year later, a massive rainstorm hit. Water poured over the structure and wrecked havoc on an already crumbling spillway.

“Our poor little dam has gone between being scorched to being flooded in a matter of six months,” Bruce Bar, a floodplain engineer and the manager of the community’s dam told StateImpact Texas. “So it’s handled about as much as nature can throw at it.”

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Energy & Environment
10:23 am
Thu October 17, 2013

For Rain Barrel Users, Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Water?

Rainwater harvesters are loving Austin’s wet weather. This residential rainwater collection system uses tanks from Austin-based Poly-Mart.
Dick Peterson

Austin's recent rains have caused a fair amount of trouble. But some folks made out like bandits during the recent deluge.

Many urban rain collectors watched recent downpours overwhelm their rain barrels and cisterns. It raises a question: Can too much rain be a bad thing, even for rainwater harvesters?

Most rain harvesters say: Nope.

Karen Collins, who collects rain at her home in Austin and on farmland north of Liberty Hill, is optimistic about the surge in rain. “It’s wonderful,” she says. “My tanks are completely full. I am in great shape. There are times in the summer when I don’t have any rainwater.”

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Austin Weather
1:00 pm
Wed October 16, 2013

Austin Showers Taper Off; City Opens Roads, Parks Still Closed; APD Officer Killed in Crash

The City of Austin warns drivers to avoid flooded roadways.
Emily Mathis for KUT News

Update: While Central Texas did not receive another deluge of rain like it saw over the weekend, rainfall Tuesday night and Wednesday morning still created dangerous flooding and driving conditions that forced some road closures, and left Austin’s parks shuttered until at least later this afternoon.

An off-duty APD officer died earlier this morning in a collision, according to KXAN.

Several low water crossings closed this morning, but as of now, they have all reopened. City of Austin and Travis County officials ask drivers to proceed with caution, and urge drivers not to cross flooded roads.

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StateImpact Texas
11:56 am
Tue October 15, 2013

How Hundreds of 'Significant Hazard' Dams Escape State Inspection

Credit TCEQ

This is part two of a series devoted to looking at the infrastructure of dams in Texas, and what can be done to improve it. You can find part one here.

In 2008, the Texas State Auditor’s office released the kind of report that keeps public officials awake at night.  It found that state regulators were not ensuring the proper maintenance of thousands of dams in Texas. The audit found that state inspectors had never visited hundreds of dams that could cause loss of life if they failed.

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Austin Weather
4:42 pm
Mon October 14, 2013

Austin Dries Off After Storm, Flooding – But More Rain On the Way (Update)

Much more rain is expected Tuesday – and that could lead to flooding in areas that are already saturated.
National Weather Service

Update: The Red Cross is keeping an eye on weather conditions in Central Texas over the next few days. So far, they’ve responded by distributing supplies like clean-up kits.

“We are working closely with local emergency management to respond and assist families who have been affected by flooding in their homes,” Red Cross Central Texas Region CEO Marty McKellips says in a statement.

The Red Cross shares four tips for making it through extreme weather:

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StateImpact Texas
10:07 am
Mon October 14, 2013

Many Dams In Texas Are in Bad Condition

This picture of a dam that over-topped is used in dam safety workshops presented by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
TCEQ

This is part one of a StateImpact Texas series devoted to looking at the infrastructure of dams in Texas, and what can be done to improve it.

Of the 1,880 dams inspected by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality since 2008, 245 were found to be in bad condition, according to the TCEQ. Around 2000 of the state’s dams were built with federal help in the wake of the great drought of the 1950s. Almost all of those are now past or nearing their projected 50 year lifespan, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Statistics like these don't come as a surprise to the people who work with dams in the state of Texas.

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Drought
5:30 am
Mon October 14, 2013

A Tiny Bit of Vegetable Oil Could Save Texas Billions of Gallons of Water

Right now, the Highland Lakes are only 34 percent full. In an average year, they lose about as much water to evaporation as the whole city of Austin consumes.
Lower Colorado River Authority

Parts of Central Texas saw as much as 12 inches of rain over the weekend. Water levels in the Highland Lakes  rose slightly, but the storm was far from a drought-buster.

Lakes Travis and Buchanan remain only about one-third full. 

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West Plant Explosion
11:30 am
Wed October 9, 2013

Investigation Into West, Texas Explosion Stopped Due to Shutdown

An apartment complex near the West Fertilizer Plant was destroyed in the April explosion.
Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

The government shutdown has halted the federal investigation into the West Fertilizer Plant explosion. The explosion in April killed 15 people and injured hundreds of others.

“Some of the brightest scientists in the world are home today rather than doing their work to protect, and give us information so that we can have the right rules and regulations to protect our environment,” Sen. Ben Cardin, D-MD, said during a press conference yesterday. “The monitoring and enforcement is not being done as it should be done.” Cardin chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife.

The ranks of furloughed workers includes most employees on the Chemical Safety Board, which investigates industrial accidents such as the West Fertilizer Plant explosion.

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