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November 21, 2014

On renewable energy politics in oil-rich Texas

Wind Coalition’s Jeff Clark clears a path

Wind and solar energy proponents polished their sales pitches this week as a Dec. 1 deadline neared for public comments on the EPA’s proposed Clean Energy Plan to battle climate change by cutting carbon emissions.

For Jeff Clark, executive director of The Wind Coalition, that meant fielding a burning question about how wind energy competes in a state so enriched by the oil and gas industry. Indeed, people in the rest of the nation are often surprised to learn that Texas leads, by far, in wind energy, too.

It’s no secret that, even though wind energy contributes 10 percent of the power on the grid run by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), it has nowhere near the clout of the state’s famed oil and gas industry.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


November 20, 2014

Environmentalists: Set 20 percent solar electric goal for 2025

Call for lawmakers to adopt sun-friendly energy policy

An environmental group urged Texas state government on Thursday to adopt policies to gain 20 percent of electric generation from solar power by 2025, making sun power key to complying or exceeding the EPA’s targeted cuts in carbon emissions.

In a report called, “Star Power: The Growing Role of Solar Energy in Texas,” Environment Texas Research & Policy Center also called for state officials to:

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By Polly Ross Hughes


November 19, 2014

Study: Clean Power Plan saves lots of Texas water

Power related water consumption could plunge 21%

Texas could slash power-related water consumption 21 percent under the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed carbon-cutting Clean Power Plan, according to a second study this week focusing on the plan’s implications for Texas.

Without the plan’s requirement that Texas shift coal-fired power production to renewable and natural gas-fueled generation, that water savings looks more like five percent by 2021, it says. Natural gas-fired generation uses about half as much water as coal, while wind, solar and energy efficiency use little to none.

The report, “The Impacts of EPA’s Clean Power Plan on Electricity Generation and Water Use in Texas,” also shows that Texas could largely meet its 38 percent cuts in carbon emissions by 2030 by continuing what it’s already doing, said the report’s author Paul Faeth, director of CNA Corp.’s Energy, Water and Climate Division.

“Twelve percent is where Texas has to go beyond what it would do anyway,” Faeth told Texas Energy Report. “Texas is already moving in the direction the Clean Power Plan calls for. We think, ultimately, modest adjustments will be needed.”

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By Polly Ross Hughes


November 18, 2014

Texas may weather oil price collapse better this time

More diverse economy lessens risk, but sudden jolts could hurt

Memories of economic calamity in Texas following the 1980s oil price collapse still haunt the halls of Houston executive suites and the Texas Capitol, but a new report says the state’s more diversified economy now is more resilient to cope with oil price swings.  

So says BBVA Compass, which notes that in July 2014, Texas was the sixth largest oil producer in the world.  

“Today there are striking differences with the 1980s – when Texas suffered one of the worst recessions ever – which suggest that the downside risks are relatively contained,” wrote BBVA Compass economist Boyd Nash-Stacey. “For example, greater economic diversification , increased trade openness, regional and national bank financing and absence of a real estate bubble, to name a few.”

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By Polly Ross Hughes


November 18, 2014

Quote du jour: On fracking’s new beneficiary in Middle East

“Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies are literally changing the global energy landscape. You are experiencing that yourself off the cost of Israel, with the Leviathan Field, in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Your citizens, and the companies which operate in Israel, will be much better off for it.”

--- Texas Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman in a video address to Israel’s 1st International Oil & Gas Conference and Exhibition, referring to the country’s large domestic supply of natural gas.

By Polly Ross Hughes


November 18, 2014

Climate change price tag: Rolling blackouts, 20% higher electric bills

ERCOT paints bleak picture of cleaner power plan’s cost

Texans could see more rolling blackouts and 20 percent higher electric bills by 2020 under a federal plan to cut climate changing carbon emissions, according to operators of the state’s main electric grid.

That bleak outlook for Texas under EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan is contained in an 18-page analysis released Monday by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which runs the grid serving 90 percent of the state’s electric load.

The grid’s reliability could be jeopardized by the loss of nearly half of the system’s existing coal-fired electric generating capacity, with up to 9,000 megawatts (MW) likely to be retired or put into mothball status by 2020 or 2022, explained ERCOT’s Warren Lasher, director of system planning.

“Given the ERCOT region’s market design and existing transmission infrastructure, the timing and scale of the expected changes needed to reach the CO2 emission goals could have a harmful impact on reliability,” the analysis predicts.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


November 17, 2014

Geologist Becky Berger interested in possible House race

Austin County Judge Carolyn Bilski also eyeing District 13 spot

Geologist and former Republican Railroad Commission candidate Becky Berger said Monday she’ll run for Texas House District 13 if state Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, wins a special election for the Texas Senate.

Berger, who is from Schulenberg, is the first potential candidate to announce interest in the job.  Several hours after her announcement Monday, Austin County Judge Carolyn Bilski said she also intended to run if a special election is held to replace Kolkhorst.  

Berger’s potential House bid is made possible by Kolkhorst running for Senate District 18 in a special Dec. 6 election to replace Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy. Texas voters elected Hegar to be the next Texas Comptroller earlier this month.  

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By Polly Ross Hughes


November 14, 2014

Freeport LNG gets final export approval

‘Another positive step toward strengthening America’s energy security’

The Department of Energy (DOE) on Friday gave Freeport LNG terminal on Quintana Island final authorization to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) to countries that do not have a Free Trade Agreement with the United States.

“The development of U.S. natural gas resources is having a transformative impact on the U.S. energy landscape, helping to improve our energy security while spurring economic development and job creation around the country,” DOE said in announcing final export approvals for Freeport LNG Expansion L.P. and FLNG Liquefaction LLC.

“This increase in domestic natural gas production is expected to continue, with the Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasting a record production rate of 75.05 Bcf/d in 2014,” the DOE announcement continued.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


November 14, 2014

Midlothian liquefaction plant breaks ground next Thursday

Applied LNG plans to market to sectors now using diesel

Applied LNG announced Friday that it plans to break ground next week on a 31-acre liquefied natural gas production facility in Midlothian’s Railport Business Park.

The Dallas-area facility is the first in Texas for the Westlake Village, California-based company, the second largest producer and distributor of liquefied natural gas in the U.S.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


November 14, 2014

Keystone XL pipeline advances, 252-161, in House

Bill set for Tuesday Senate debate, possible veto

A bill directing the federal government to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline passed the U.S. House Friday 252 to 161.  

A vote is scheduled Tuesday in the Senate amid rumblings that President Barack Obama is poised to veto it, assuming the bill can pass in the upper chamber where Democrats still have a majority.  

The pipeline, set to carry petroleum from Canadian tar sands, needs approval from the Department of State because it crosses the international border between Canada and the United States. The issue is considered key in Louisiana Democrat Sen. Mary L. Landrieu’s Dec. 6 runoff against Republican challenger Rep. Bill Cassidy.

The New York Times report is here.

By Polly Ross Hughes


November 12, 2014

RRC names Rich Parsons communications director

Former TV reporter turned political spokesman starts today

The latest communications member to leave the office of departing Gov. Rick Perry is Rich Parsons who started a new job as communications director today for the Texas Railroad Commission.

Parsons, once a Texas Capitol reporter at Austin’s KXAN television station, has spent the past 10 years as a spokesman for various top state leaders. Before joining Perry’s office as deputy director of communications director in March 2003, he served as communications director for the Texas Secretary of State; vice president of public affairs at Hahn Public Communications and press secretary and senior advisor for outgoing Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


November 10, 2014

‘Unchartered territory:’ Natural gas production sets record

Forecasting firm says pace shows no sign of slowing

Natural gas production in the continental United States set a record monthly high for the 10th consecutive month, according to Bentek Energy, the analytics and forecasting unit of Platts.

Production in the lower 48 states averaged 69.9 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in October, up 7.9 Percent or 5.2 Bcf/d from the daily average production this time a year ago.

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By Polly Ross Hughes


November 10, 2014

Quote du jour: On bankruptcy and perceptions

“The media reported that Texas Public Utility Commissioner Kenneth W. Anderson Jr. cited data that showed Oncor’s spending on power line maintenance fell more than 20 percent between 2005 and 2013, despite two utility rate increases. When October windstorms interrupted power to more than half a million North Texas customers, officials started asking whether Oncor was feeding excessive profits to EFH (Energy Future Holdings) at the expense of the electric grid. Companies in reorganization, such as EFH, must take great pains to avoid even the appearance of impeding the operations of their subsidiaries during bankruptcies.”

--- Frances A. Smith, Dallas bankruptcy attorney at Shackelford, Melton, McKinley & Norton LLP.

By Polly Ross Hughes


November 7, 2014

Denton fracking ban fans say industry is desperate, scared

‘They are killing us. They are fracking us to death,’ says ban leader

Advocates of Denton’s fracking ban, approved this week by nearly 59 percent of the city’s voters, called the oil and gas industry desperate Friday for trying to frame the result as university student votes overwhelming those of permanent residents.

“If we had 5,000 90-year-olds in walkers protesting, the industry would have still said it was a bunch of radical college students,” Cathy McMullen, president of Frack Free Denton, said.  

“I just find it so crazy that industry cannot say that, ‘Maybe the Denton residents have a point. We have mistreated and abused them for five years. Maybe we need to look at what we’re doing and work with them’ instead of trying every single which way they can to discredit the vote,” she added.

The day after Denton’s 59-41 percent vote favoring a ban on hydraulic fracturing, fracking for short, the Texas Oil & Gas Association immediately filed a legal motion seeking to block it from taking effect. TXOGA, represented by former Texas Supreme Court Justice Tom Phillips at Baker Botts LLP, argued that the city’s ordinance is unconstitutional, invalid and unenforceable because it is pre-empted by state law.  

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By Polly Ross Hughes


November 7, 2014

College students key in Denton fracking ban victory, says analysis

Permanent residents voted 54 percent against ban, opponents say

College students from the University of North Texas and Texas Women’s University proved the deciding factor in passage of Denton’s historic ban against hydraulic fracturing within city limits, according to post-election analysis of voting patterns by opponents of the ban.

By contrast, “permanent” residents of the city voted 54 percent against the fracking ban, according to Bobby Jones, co-chair of Denton Taxpayers for a Strong Economy, which opposed the ban.

Fracking is a method that makes it possible for producers to extract oil and gas from shale formations by blasting gallons of water, mixed with sand and chemicals, deep underground to break up shale. The production method has moved oil and gas drilling into urban areas such as Fort Worth and Denton.

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By Polly Ross Hughes