StateImpact Texas

Energy & Environment
1:40 pm
Mon July 14, 2014

How One Austin Home Produces More Energy Than It Uses

Steve Bijansky climbs down from the attic of his "Net Zero" home in Allandale.
Mengwen Cao for KUT News

From StateImpact Texas:

As the mercury rises in Texas, so does our energy use. Air conditioners will work overtime to keep your house cool. And when that happens, the Texas grid can become stretched thin.

One solution is to build more power plants to meet growing demand. Another is to simply get Texans to use less energy.

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StateImpact Texas
12:42 pm
Thu June 26, 2014

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

From StateImpact 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.

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StateImpact Texas
1:50 pm
Wed June 25, 2014

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

From StateImpact Texas

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.

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StateImpact Texas
11:35 am
Tue June 24, 2014

Feds Target Oil and Gas Industry for Underpaying Workers

Exhibit from lawsuit: A worker's time sheet showing 90 hours in eight consecutive days.
Credit Dave Fehling/StateImpact Texas

From StateImpact Texas:

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.

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StateImpact Texas
1:22 pm
Wed June 11, 2014

As Highland Lakes Near Record Low, Will They Ever Fill Again?

The public boat ramp at Cypress Creek Park on Lake Travis has been out of use since the water receded past its end in 2011. Since then, the entire lagoon on which the park is situated has dried.
Dylan Baddour/StateImpact Texas

From StateImpact Texas:

The combined storage of the Highland Lakes is expected to approach its record low – 30 percent full – by the end of this summer. After that, forecasters say, the El Niño weather pattern could bring some relief. But how much rain would it take to get them full again?

The total volume of water in the Highland Lakes, the main reservoir for a million people in and around Austin, fell to its lowest level since 1952 (during Texas’ multi-year drought of record) in September 2013. Water flowing into the Highland Lakes hit record lows – just ten percent the annual average — in 2011, Texas’ driest year on record.

Historically, low levels like the ones we’re seeing now have been corrected by massive rain events.

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Event
1:24 pm
Mon June 2, 2014

What’s Behind the North Texas Quakes? A KERA/StateImpact Texas Discussion, June 18

Event: Dallas' KERA and KUT's StateImpact Texas will host community event exploring What’s Behind the North Texas Quakes?

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Energy & Environment
12:53 pm
Tue March 25, 2014

Why It's So Damn Hard to Move the Taco Bell Tree

Michael Fossum with the Austin Heritage Tree Foundation stands in front of the heritage Live Oak known as the "Taco Bell Tree." Fossum and his group fought to save the tree from being cut down for a traffic project.
Terrence Henry, KUT News

From StateImpact Texas: 

Back in the 1970s and '80s, it probably looked like something out of Dazed and Confused. Teenagers pulling up in T-Birds, wind in their hair, to hang out in the parking lot of a Taco Bell. The sun would set in the Hill Country to the west, sending a glow through the branches of an old Live Oak tree. Today the Taco Bell and the teenagers are long gone, but the tree remains, affectionately known as the "Taco Bell Tree."

It's also now at an intersection best known for being a traffic nightmare – the Y at Oak Hill –  where two highways intersect and a third road feeds into the jumble. In order to improve that intersection, the state embarked on a temporary plan to expand it that would help for the next five years, while something longer term is put into place. The plan included cutting down the Taco Bell Tree, which has been here long before drive-thrus (or even combustion engines). All right, all right, all right.

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Energy & Environment
8:43 am
Tue February 25, 2014

Why You Should Pay Attention to the Race for Railroad Commission

Charles Matthews served on the Railroad Commission of Texas from 1995 to 2005, including time as Chairman.
Credit Mose Buchele

From StateImpact Texas:   

In an often-quoted scene from the 2007 movie "There Will Be Blood," sociopathic oilman Daniel Plainview meets his rival for the last time. If oil fields are like milkshakes, he says, it pays to have a straw that reaches all the way across the room “and starts to drink your milkshake.”

“I. Drink. Your. Milkshake,” Plainview screams maniacally, “I DRINK IT UP!!!!”

This year, Texans will have the chance to vote for  a seat on the Railroad Commission of Texas. But the commission has a lot more to do with milkshakes than railroads. It regulates oil and gas in Texas.

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Energy & Environment
11:05 am
Wed February 5, 2014

KUT's StateImpact Texas Talks Keystone XL Pipeline on 'The Takeaway'

flickr.com/shannonpatrick17

The controversial Keystone XL Pipeline is taking over national headlines again. 

Last week, the State Department released an environmental review of the pipeline, finding tar sands extraction would have little impact on greenhouse gas emissions. 

As KUT's StateImpact Texas reports, "tar sands oil will be extracted regardless of whether or not the pipeline is built."

KUT's Mose Buchele talked with The Takeaway this morning about the impact that the largest oil producer in the world is having in Texas.

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Energy & Environment
9:05 am
Thu January 30, 2014

Meet the Answer to Texas' Air Conditioning Issues

The Nest smart thermostat.
flickr.com/dan_h

From StateImpact Texas:

For years, Texas has struggled with how to solve its energy crunch: forecasts said not enough power plants were being built to meet the demands of a growing population and a booming state. But it turns out the state’s supplies are likely adequate. Despite all the growth in Texas, peak power demand hasn’t increased as fast as expected.

To understand why, it helps to start with those long, hot Texas summer afternoons just six months ago.

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Energy & Environment
8:11 am
Thu January 23, 2014

Keystone Pipeline's Southern Section Begins Delivering Oil To Gulf Coast

A 2012 photo shows sections of pipe on a neighboring property to Julia Trigg Crawford family farm in Sumner Texas, in the path of the Keystone pipeline. TransCanada said today that it is delivering oil through the Gulf Coast portion of its proposed Keystone XL pipeline, from a hub in Cushing, Okla., to Houston-area refineries.
Tony Gutierrez AP

Originally published on Wed January 22, 2014 8:04 pm

A large section of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline went into official operation Wednesday, in a move that supporters say will help ease the flow of oil to refineries in the Gulf Coast region. The Obama administration has yet to rule on the project's northern portion.

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StateImpact Texas
1:36 pm
Mon January 20, 2014

How Climate Change Could Lead to More Massive Fish Kills in Texas

Dead fish washed ashore during a toxic bloom of golden algae in Canyon Lakes in Lubbock, Texas.
Credit Photo by Michael Hooper courtesy of USGS.

From the Asian Carp to the Zebra Mussel, Texas has its fair share of invasive species. Some of them get a lot of attention (I'm looking at you, voracious feral hog). Others tend to sneak under the radar even when they damage ecosystems.

Take Golden Algae. Originally from Europe, the microscopic plant was discovered on the Pecos River in 1985 when an algae bloom killed hundreds of thousands of fish. Since then, it has colonized other Texas river basins and killed millions more fish. Unlike deadly algae blooms in the Gulf of Mexico that kill fish by taking all the oxygen, golden algae is, itself, toxic. Under the right circumstances, it produces a poison that kills fish and bivalves in the affected waters.

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StateImpact Texas
12:46 pm
Tue January 14, 2014

North Texas Earthquake Swarm More Centralized Than Previously Thought

Another minor earthquake shook the North Texas community of Azle on Monday. It’s one of dozens to hit the region over the last few months that have residents on edge and complaining of property damage.

Many see a link between the quakes and increased oil and gas activity. But challenges confront scientists researching the quakes for the U.S. Geological Survey and Southern Methodist University. For one, they’ve needed to more accurately pinpoint the epicenters of the Azle quakes.

View Earthquakes Near Azle, Texas in a larger map

Map created by Andrew Weber for KUT News and StateImpact Texas. Orange circles represent earthquakes, wavy blue lines represent active wastewater disposal wells.

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StateImpact Texas
11:47 am
Fri January 3, 2014

Anger Greets State Officials in Quake-Prone Texas Town

Residents of Azle, near Ft. Worth, were asked to raise their hands if they've heard a loud "boom" accompanying recent earthquakes.
Mose Buchele for KUT

“I’ve got a crack in my hallway,” chuckled Marion LeBert as he stood in the parking lot of Azle High School.

“Oh my!” commiserated Tracy Napier. “We have sink holes in our yard. And they’ve gotten bigger since these earthquakes.”

The two were among hundreds of townspeople hoping to get answers at a meeting hosted last  night by the  Railroad Commission of Texas, the state’s oil and gas industry regulators. The area, in Parker and Tarrant counties, didn’t experience earthquakes until recently. Now, it’s seen a swarm of over twenty minor ones in the last two months, troubling residents and causing damage to some homes. The earthquakes would be the topic of discussion.

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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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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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StateImpact Texas
11:00 am
Wed October 23, 2013

More than Prayer: How Prop 6 Aims to Improve Water Supplies in Texas

Water sources like Lake Travis have seen record lows since the drought in 2011, Proposition 6 hopes to develop techniques to preserve existing, and develop new, water supplies.
Lower Colorado River Authority

2011 was the driest year in Texas’ recorded history — crops failed, herds were sold off and lakes and reservoirs literally went dry. And in the middle of this catastrophic drought, the state of Texas had one vocal strategy: Pray for rain. Texas Governor Rick Perry issued a proclamation that year asking Texans to pray for rain for three days.

Now, a few dry years and billions of dollars in drought losses later, the state government has decided that prayer alone isn’t enough for a thirsty state. And, while Perry admits we can't make it rain,  Proposition 6, a state constitutional amendment on the ballot this year, will extend the existing water supply and develop new supplies.

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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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StateImpact Texas
3:35 pm
Wed October 16, 2013

Want to Learn About a Nearby Dam? In Texas, Some Questions Are Off Limits

Texas has more dams than any other state in the country. This is a map of Texas dams from the USACE. Texas has more dams than any other state in the country. This is a map of Texas dams from the USACE.
USACE

This is part three 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.

In 1978 a massive storm hit the West Texas town of Albany. It dumped 23 inches of rain in just eight hours. Waters caused 9 deaths, flooded hundreds of homes, and broke through a local dam. Troy Henderson, who now works on the Brownwood Texas Lake Patrol, says since then he’s followed a simple rule.

“If I were to build a home somewhere, I’d make sure that if it was downstream from a lake that their dam is property maintained,” he told StateImpact Texas, “and the reason I say that is, I lived in Albany in 1978.”

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