Energy

Justin Dehn, Texas Tribune

As chilly weather grips much of Texas, the state's electricial grid operator is asking consumers to reduce their energy use, though it says a brief threat of rolling blackouts has been averted. 

In an alert sent at 8 a.m., the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the grid covering 85 percent of the state, issued an emergency alert, meaning the grid's power reserves had dropped below a comfortable threshold. 

But the situation, ERCOT said, was improving.

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!

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. 

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 Consultant Amit Mor of Eco Energy says that joke is out of date.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.

Jessie Wang for KUT News

The Public Utility Commission of Texas is proposing a change to the way the state’s electricity market is run. And some lawmakers voiced concerns during a public hearing at the Capitol yesterday.

The Texas Senate Natural Resources Committee hosted a hearing to question the Public Utility Commission, or PUC, about the possible change to the market.

flickr.com/vanwest/

Most computer users are familiar with sleep mode. But the Round Rock Independent School District has found the value in shutting their computers down completely.

The school district is expected to save an estimated $251,000 annually by using a program that automatically shuts computers down after 6 p.m. Over 30,000 desktops and laptops are automatically shut down, drastically cutting energy costs.

facebook.com/WorldWarZMovie

Let’s talk zombies. Can’t kill them. Can’t eat them. What are we to the living dead? 

No longer merely the province of Halloween season, nowadays zombies proliferate in American pop culture, from books to TV to film.

Dr. Michael Webber, deputy director of UT’s Energy Institute, says there’s good reason for the persistence of zombies – and it has a lot to do with how we think about power. 

Energy – or the lack thereof – is always a sign of post-apocalyptic and zombie culture. Loss of energy inevitably leads to resource wars among the apocalypse’s survivors. From “The Walking Dead” to “World War Z,” the main drive is often for fuel, water, or power.

I-Hwa Cheng for KUT News

Texas policymakers searching for ways to curb energy use across their rapidly growing state might want to examine efforts in their capital city.

Austin is among large U.S. cities doing the most to conserve energy, according to a study released Tuesday by a national group that promotes energy efficiency. The Washington D.C.-based American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy analyzed conservation efforts across the country’s 34 most populous cities, ranking Austin sixth behind Boston, Portland, New York City, San Francisco and Seattle.

Texas is expected to have sufficient levels of stored power to serve peak demands this fall and winter. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas released its Seasonal Assessment of Resource Adequacy on Tuesday.

83rd Lege's Regular Session: What Happened, What Didn't

May 28, 2013
Bob Daemmrich/Marjorie Kamys Cotera/Todd Wiseman via Texas Tribune

It's been a whirlwind of an end to the 83rd Legislature's regular session, and with Monday's announcement of a special session, lawmakers aren't done. Here's a look at the deals reached and the measures that fell short during the 140 days of the regular session. 

BUDGET

Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

Even before the President’s State of the Union Address was over last night, some environmental and renewable energy groups were sending out congratulatory emails.

“We thank President Obama for his leadership” read one from the Solar Energy Industries Association. The speech outlined “clean energy solutions”  said the group Environment Texas.

Erik Reyna/KUT News

Gas prices are up. Across Texas, regular is up 14 cents this week, according to AAA's Fuel Gauge Price Report. In Austin, average prices were up by almost 15 cents to $3.36.

Oil analyst Tom Kloza says prices often rise and fall with the seasons, but these are the highest gas prices Americans have seen for this time of year.

Dave Fehling, StateImpact Texas

New legislation that’s been introduced in Austin is supposed to help build a lot more hike and bike trails. It would do that by using those long ribbons of green space called “rights of way”, what are now used by big, utility transmission lines.

flickr.com/coreyp

Rebates for solar panels prompted more people than ever to install them in their homes last year. Austin Energy says it issued 463 rebates in fiscal 2012. That was the highest number ever, breaking the previous record by 40 percent.

The increase came even though Austin Energy decreased the amount of the rebate its lowest ever in June: $2 per watt. 

The wind energy industry is dependent on something even more unpredictable than wind: Congress. Hidden in the turmoil over the "fiscal cliff" compromise was a tax credit for wind energy.

Uncertainty over the credit had lingered long before the last-minute political push, causing the industry to put off further long-term planning. So while the now-approved tax credit revives prospects for an industry facing tens of thousands of layoffs, don't expect to see many new turbines coming up soon.

Growing Uncertainty

Natural gas may have reshaped the domestic energy market in 2012, lowering energy prices and marginalizing the coal industry, but America's shale boom hasn't undermined renewables.

In fact, while analysts were paying attention to fracking this year, a record number of solar panels were being slapped on roofs — enough to produce 3.2 gigawatts of electricity.

Callie Richmond for Texas Tribune

Subjects like solar panels and smart-grid technologies become a topic of discussion at plenty of Austin happy hours. But when dozens of people gathered at a lakeside bar earlier this month, the talk drifted toward oil prices, shale plays and hydraulic fracturing.

“When you think Austin, you don’t think oil and gas,” said David Tovar, a geoscience technician at Three Rivers, an oil and gas company based in Austin, as he held a pint of Texas brew. The native Texan ended up at Three Rivers after graduating from the University of Texas at Austin with a geological sciences degree.

Despite its “Keep Austin Weird” slogan and passion for clean energy, Austin is increasingly attracting oil and gas companies like Three Rivers, a small firm founded in 2009 that focuses on oil development in West Texas and New Mexico, aided by the high oil prices of recent years. Austin’s oil industry, about 4,000 workers strong, is still dwarfed by Houston and Dallas. But the city’s entrepreneurial bent and reputation as an attractive place to live, along with the top-tier petroleum engineering program at UT, have trumped the fact that Austin is far from the oilfields.

http://www.flickr.com/ixtlilton

The ACEEE (American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy) has released its 2012 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard. According to their findings, Texas didn't do so well.

The report ranks the 50 states and the District of Columbia according to their policies and programs regarding the use of energy in buildings, transportation, and industry. This year, Texas is ranked #33

flickr.com/pyxopotamus

Effective today, Austin's electric bills will be increasing an average of seven percent. Austin Energy is increasing its rates and updating it's electric rate structure this October. The Austin City Council approved the increase in June.

The good news is that it's getting colder, so the average user won't see much of an increase. Austin Energy estimates average users will only increase $3-$29 during the non-summer months.

The company has also reduced the time frame of their summer rate from six months to four months. However during the summer months (June to September), average users could see increases of $13 to  $44.

pecanstreet.org

The Pecan Street Project – a demonstration “smart grid” energy system in the emerging Mueller development – was featured on the PBS NewsHour.

Charles Upshaw, a mechanical engineering graduate student working on the project, told StateImpact Texas the initiative is ”a collaboration between the University of Texas, the City of Austin, Austin Energy and a bunch of companies. In order to really test, and have a real world kind of experiment with high density residential solar, they have offered additional incentives to the [Mueller homeowners] on top of the Austin energy rebate and the federal rebate, so the people in Mueller have an opportunity to get solar really cheaply.”

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