Searing Heat Is Hurting Texas Wind Power

7.5.17

Temperatures are soaring across Texas, and that’s bad news for the state’s wind power generators.

Wind farms -- which now account for about a fifth of the state’s power mix -- are forecast to generate significantly less electricity this week as the heat builds and keeps turbines from spinning. Wind generation may peak at about 5,900 megawatts on Thursday and 6,900 megawatts Friday, less than two-thirds of what they totaled a week earlier, according to grid manager Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or Ercot.

The decline in power supplies may hit just as Texas needs them most. Temperatures are forecast to reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) in some areas, a heat that’ll have people using more power to blast their air conditioners. That may touch off a rally in Texas’s wholesale electricity prices as more costly fossil-fuel generators such as coal and natural gas plants step up to help meet demand.

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West Texas Transmission Line Project Takes A Step Forward

7.3.17

Huge new transmission lines could be coming to Far West Texas.
Utility companies say almost 200 miles of high-voltage power lines are needed to serve the oil and gas industry. The project is still in its early stages, but it could face opposition. 
The state grid operator ERCOT recently endorsed the project, saying its own study agreed with what utility companies Oncor and AEP had found: that rural West Texas is using a lot more power.
“They had new oil and gas customers that had come and said hey we have this new load that wants to connect to your system,” says Jeff Billo, ERCOT’s Senior Manager of Transmission Planning.
The project calls for new high-voltage lines across five sparsely-populated counties near the New Mexico border.
Oil and gas is an up-and-down industry, but Billo says growing oil production is still creating long-term power needs in these areas.
“Once you have these wells on your system, once you have these processing plants, that demand does not go away,” he says. 
These huge lines would be the first of their kind for much of this region. So there could be a land battle brewing here.

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A ‘volatile’ market: How Austin Energy traders buy, sell power

7.5.17

It’s 10:10 a.m. on a sunny morning last week and Lei Ye is staring at charts of energy prices updating every few minutes.
In front of him and several other staff in the same room are banks of half a dozen or more wide-screen computer monitors showing the day’s predicted market and real-time data prices for electricity and natural gas. Looming behind Ye is a large television screen showing live weather conditions across the state that play an important role in each minute’s price of a megawatt-hour of electricity.

It resembles a cross between a trading room floor and NORAD, and here millions of dollars are spent and made per day in attempts to take advantage of the energy market’s fleeting sweet spots as people across the state decide whether to fire up their air conditioning units under a blistering Texas sun.

“It’s comparable to the New York Stock Exchange,” said Austin Energy spokesman Robert Cullick.

But these traders aren’t working for a high-powered investor, they work for Austin Energy. And they aren’t working on a trading floor, they are seated at the utility’s Energy Market Operations center on the second floor of Austin Energy’s office on Barton Springs Road.

They work not to turn a profit for investors, but to help save money for Austin Energy’s customers.

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Texas firm raises $900M for rooftop projects

6.14.17

A little-known Houston company that finances home solar has raised more than $900 million for a nationwide expansion with the eventual goal of "hundreds of millions of systems on rooftops," according to a company spokesman.

Summoning that level of cash is typically the terrain of larger, publicly traded rooftop-solar companies, such as Sunrun Inc., Vivint Solar Inc. and SolarCity Corp. (now part of Tesla Inc.). Even then, few have marshaled such a large sum so quickly.

Sunnova Energy Corp., founded in 2012, doesn't sell or install solar systems. It finances the projects through power-purchase agreements or leases, leaving other parts of the business to local partners, and guarantees that the systems work during the length of a 25-year contract.

That investors banked on the company is a signal of overall confidence in the solar industry, said Nicole Litvak, a solar analyst at GTM Research. "It is a good sign that Sunnova is still raising money," she said.

Sunnova currently has more than 40,000 customers, according to Jordan Fruge, Sunnova's chief marketing officer, who didn't offer details on where or how quickly the company plans to expand.

However, Litvak estimated that, based on the amount that Sunnova has raised, it could add 350 to 400 megawatts of solar power.

Like many rooftop-solar firms, Sunnova is also experimenting with supplementing its solar systems with batteries in order to add value and perhaps one day aggregate its solar fleet to interact with the grid.

Fruge said the company is trying out several energy-storage manufacturers, including Tesla, Enphase Energy, Mercedes-Benz and LG Chem Ltd., at installations in Hawaii.

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CPS Energy Named Public Power Utility of Year

6.27.17

SEPA Awards San Antonio Utility for Excellence in New Generation Solutions

CPS Energy was named the Public Power Utility of the Year award by the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) for the utility’s forward thinking in new generation sources and using technology on the grid to facilitate access to distributed energy resources.

CPS Energy is an industry leader for its diversification of its energy portfolio while embracing renewable energy and new technologies to meet its energy demands. The utility is installing battery storage and distributed generation such as solar panels to both improve reliability and reduce the demand for electricity.

“This is about us putting into practice our thought leadership around meeting customer expectations. Many of our customers want reliable, clean electricity – preferably with little or no emissions,” said President & CEO Paula Gold-Williams. “Where some other utilities talk about how it could be done, we ask ourselves how it can be done today.”

Gold-Williams said the utility already has 76 megawatts of installed rooftop solar in addition to nearly 450 megawatts of solar farm generation and is looking for ways to install even more in the future. Leveraging technologies such as the smart meters the utility has installed on its system, Gold-Williams said the utility has already achieved state leadership in this area. Beyond our state borders, the SEPA award recognizes that leadership.

“It’s always great to be recognized for your efforts, but it’s truly motivating to be recognized as a national leader like we are with the SEPA award,” Gold-Williams said.

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ERCOT Board approves transmission project in West Texas

6.14.17

AUSTIN, TX - The ERCOT Board of Directors has endorsed a transmission project that includes two new 345-kV lines to help address future reliability concerns in the growing region of Far West Texas.

"We continue to see a tremendous amount of load growth in West Texas," said ERCOT Senior Manager of Transmission Planning Jeff Billo. "Based on projected load growth in this area, these new lines will be needed to support system reliability in the coming years."

Increased oil and natural gas exploration in the Permian Basin area in Far West Texas has contributed to high load growth in the region. Between 2010 and 2016, the average load growth in Far West Texas was about eight percent. An increase in the number of generation projects, mostly solar, being developed in this region is also a factor.

The new high voltage power lines will be built by transmission service providers Oncor, American Electric Power Service Corporation (AEPSC) and the Lower Colorado River Authority Transmission Services Corporation. Oncor and AEPSC initially proposed the project to the ERCOT Regional Planning Group in April 2016.

An independent analysis performed by ERCOT confirmed the project’s necessity. ERCOT analyzed more than 40 options and proposed the most cost-effective option to meet reliability needs in the area.

The project will include a new, 345-kV transmission line that will connect the Odessa and Riverton substations. It will span approximately 101 miles across Ector, Winkler, Loving and Reeves counties. In this area alone, peak electricity demand has jumped from 22 MW in 2010 to more than 200 MW in 2016. It is projected to exceed 500 MW by 2021.

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ENGIE’s 50-megawatt Houston solar plant enters service

6.26.17

ENGIE and the city of Houston, Texas recently announced that ENGIE’s 50-megawatt (MW) SolaireHolman solar power plant, which is capable of providing up to 10.5 percent of Houston’s energy,
has begun operation.

The plant will continue to provide power the next 20 years under a power purchase agreement with the city of Houston. The agreement makes Houston the largest municipal purchaser of renewable energy in the United States.

SolaireHolman is located in Alpine, Texas, and was developed and implemented jointly by ENGIE subsidiaries Solairedirect North America and ENGIE North America. It includes 203,840 solar panels on 360 acres and will provide electricity to Houston locations that include Hermann Park Zoo, the Bob Lanier Public Works Building, wastewater treatment plants and several Bush Intercontinental Airport terminals.

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City of Houston and Hays County Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Programs Close First Projects

6.30.17

Simon Properties Projects in Houston, Hays County Exceed $4 million in PACE Investment

HAYS COUNTY / HOUSTON ­­ The City of Houston and Hays County announced the closing of their first commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) projects at the Houston Premium Outlets and San Marcos Premium Outlets. Combined, the Simon Properties projects will receive over $4 million in energy and water saving retrofit investments financed by Petros PACE Finance.
"Houston is the energy capital of the world and has a responsibility to lead by example and use our energy resources as efficiently as possible," said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. "We created the Houston PACE program to help Houston businesses access low­cost financing and lower their utility bills. We're thrilled our first PACE project is at the Houston Premium Outlets and we hope more businesses will follow their lead."
"Hays County created a PACE program to help our businesses lower their operating costs with energy and water saving updates that benefit all of our citizens," comments Hays County Judge, Bert Cobb. "It's great to see the San Marcos Premium Outlets, one of Texas' top tourist destinations, be the first of many Hays County PACE projects."
PACE is an innovative financing program that enables owners of commercial and industrial properties to obtain low­cost, long­term loans for water conservation, energy­efficiency improvements, and distributed generation retrofits.

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What happened to the Texas that was proud to lead the nation in clean energy?

6.9.17

If only Texas could go back to the future.

To a time when elected leaders and policy makers addressed global warming and air pollution, and saw renewable energy as an opportunity to improve the environment and economy.

To a time when lawmakers set audacious goals — to produce twice as much wind power as the nation — and jump-started a free market that blew past the mandates.

To a time when Texas was the pioneer in energy efficiency and two dozen states followed the example.

That was the late 1990s, when Texas was leading on clean energy, not lobbying or litigating against every environmental idea out of Washington or California or Paris.

“I’m so proud of Texas,” said Jim Marston of the Environmental Defense Fund, who’s been working on clean energy issues for three decades. “Now, it just breaks my heart.”

After President Donald Trump rejected the Paris climate accord this month, at least nine states and hundreds of mayors and businesses vowed to keep working toward the goals.

Not Texas. 

Blame it on polarization, the Koch brothers, the revival of oil and gas or the rejection of science and elites that Trump has championed. Whatever the reason, today’s Texas is nothing like the Texas of 20 years ago, when people could agree on inconvenient facts and hammer out ambitious ways to confront them.

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Wind Energy Takes Flight In The Heart Of Texas Oil Country

3.8.17

Georgetown, Texas, is a conservative town in a conservative state. So it may come as something of a surprise that it's one of the first cities in America to be entirely powered by renewable energy.

Mayor Dale Ross, a staunch Republican who attended President Trump's inauguration, says that decision came down to a love of green energy and "green rectangles" — cash.

When Georgetown's old power contract was up in 2012, city managers looked at all their options. They realized wind and solar power are more predictable; the prices don't fluctuate like oil and gas. So, a municipality can sign a contract today and know what the bill is going to be for the next 25 years.

That's especially appealing in a place like Georgetown, where a lot of retirees live on fixed incomes.

"First and foremost it was a business decision," Ross says.

City leaders say the debate over renewables never even mentioned climate change, a wedge issue in Texas politics.

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