Tag Archives: geothermal

Humans vs. Earth’s Climate: Preparing for Battle

When I first heard the phrase “climate change”, I, like many others, was undecided on the matter and really didn’t have a clue what that phrase was supposed to mean. Should I be scared? I hope the daily climate would change all the time over here in Texas. This confusion led to a trip to the internet, where ignorance is optional, and over time I read a lot about it, trying to avoid opinionated rants while relying on credible sources of information to mold my perception of the truth. I found myself studying the carbon cycle, reading those really long and uninteresting scientific papers, and watching documentaries such as Chasing Ice, where a scientist captures glaciers in motion through time lapsed photography as they recede and disappear. I really dove in. The deeper I dove the more evidence came to support the notion that earth’s climate system is changing and our planet is slowly warming in a way that will likely be detrimental if not dealt with.

the blue marble

Home Sweet Home

What a massive and complex force to have to deal with. Trying to mitigate a change in the Earth’s climate seems like a pretty daunting feet. So, how do we solve this problem? I guess the default answer would be, “to find the solution.” However, I believe “the solution” needs to be rephrased with “many solutions, collaboratively recognized and implemented worldwide.” A major part of this solution needs to face one of the most influential causes of climate change, such as our current escalated contribution of greenhouse gases (GHG’s), namely carbon dioxide and methane, to the atmosphere.

Explanation of Green House Gases (GHG’s):

GHG’s, when in higher concentration in the atmosphere, cause the atmosphere to trap more and more of the sun’s energy, resulting in the warming of our planet.

Nasa's explanation of GHG's

Nasa’s explanation of GHG’s

This process becomes worrisome when you consider that the carbon dioxide concentration in our atmosphere has increased by more than 35% since 1975 and is at an 800,000 year high. Even more worrisome is the fact that, according to the National Research Council, “the average temperature of Earth’s surface increased by about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit  over the past one hundred years with 1 degree of this warming occurring over just the past three decades.”

So if this is really happening, how do we stop it? Well, one could start with the major source of this greenhouse gas concentration increase, which can be attributed primarily to the growth in carbon dioxide emissions from rapid expansion of fossil fuel burning. Other attributing factors include deforestation and land use and land cover changes.

Explanation of fossil fuel burning’s role in the carbon cycle:

Previous plant and animal remains trapped within geological structures in places all over the world, along with millions of years of heat and pressure, have created reservoirs of natural gas, oil, and coal. These reservoirs, in the form of hydrocarbons (long chains of Hydrogen and Carbon), have been stored sources of Carbon for a great amount of time. When these reservoirs are extracted and undergo a combustion reaction, they produce energy in the form of heat with new chemical species being formed, such as carbon dioxide (a green house gas).

I’m fascinated by our capability to discover these remains of ancient life forms and even more so at our ability to use them to meet the present day needs of our energy-reliant society. However, with a global oil production of 83.6 million barrels a day in 2011, this Carbon which has been stored underground for an extremely long amount of time is now being released into our system at a rapid rate… so would the statement, “too much of a good thing, is a bad thing” apply here?

I understand that the burning of fossil fuels is integral to our way of life and energy needs. The intricacy and complications of making rapid emission cuts would have great impacts for our infrastructure and societies. However, the likely effects of climate change/global warming could have even greater, more damaging, impacts on our infrastructure and societies. This is why it is necessary to confront this issue now and progress towards a greater reliance on renewable energy for our present and future energy needs.

This progression is much easier said than done and will undoubtedly be met with great opposition, especially by those involved in fossil fuel energy production (people like my mom). However, I like to perceive it as simply as one of my favorite environmental quotes, “if you get to the cliff, you can take one step forward or turn 180 degrees and take a step forward”.

For one, we’ve already discovered, engineered, and implemented many new means of capturing energy (wind, solar, hydroelectric, geothermal, biomass), all of which are readily available in specific regions, produce nearly no emissions, and are, except for hydroelectric, far less water intensive. We already have a large part of the solution, all we need is implementation. More positive progression was initiated this week as President Obama, leader of a nation that ranks as a close second place behind China in GHG emissions and energy consumption, made a speech that presented some bold, progressive goals: using full authority of the clean air act of 1970 to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, accelerating the implementation of more renewable energy that will “power 6 million homes by 2020”, and reducing energy waste through new energy efficiency. He also is trying to push congress to end the tax breaks for big oil companies to invest in  “the clean energy economies that will fuel our future” and is calling for initiatives to prepare for the inevitable future effects of climate change.

Implementation of these plans will take time, will require governmental initiatives to speed up the process, and will require specific measures to alleviate the negative impacts such change will have on certain individuals. An example of governmental measures to take would be to reduce the massive amount of money that is used to subsidize fossil fuel production and to allocate that money to renewable energy implementation. To alleviate this energy production shift on individuals, retiring fossil fuel companies will need to provide a just transition for its employees: examples include a large preliminary warning, new training, and good retirement packages.

It’s very exciting that the willingness and need to change has been stated by one of the world’s most influential people, but the battle has only yet to begin and many other solutions will need to be presented and implemented if we hope to come out on top. However, optimism is reborn from the depressing ashes of climate change talk as I reflect on how incredibly smart we are as a human race, how much we already know about the issue, and our amazing problem-solving abilities and can’t help but think, this is going to be a good fight.

Written by: Chase Cobb

Clean Energy Works for Texas Campaign Launches Effort to Boost Solar and Geothermal Power in Texas Coalition Asks for New Public Utility Commission Rules

DALLAS, TX – A coalition of environmental, public health, and labor groups launched the Clean Energy Works for Texas campaign today with a filing to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) of Texas.  The expanded Texas Renewable Portfolio Standard passed in 2005, helping launch the booming Texas wind industry that is currently providing 10% of the state’s electricity. Importantly, the law also intended for a portion of the mandated renewables to come from non-wind sources, such as solar and geothermal. To date, the PUC has taken no action to implement this portion of the law. Today’s filing by the Coalition asks the PUC to open a rule-making process within 60 days to help kick start utility scale solar and geothermal energy in Texas.

“While wind energy has taken off and provided thousands of jobs to Texans, the PUC has so far taken no action to implement the non-wind provisions, which leaves solar and geothermal power behind. Solar and geothermal power are clean, abundant, and don’t rely on our precious water resources to generate electricity. With a push from the PUC, the rest of the state could experience the same economic boom that wind energy has brought to West Texas. Our filing today asks the PUC to take the final step in fully implementing  the renewable portfolio standard. Solar and geothermal are important to meet Texas’s reliability needs and protect our water resources,” said Dr. Al Armendariz, Senior Campaign Representative with Sierra Club.

The Sierra Club, Public Citizen Texas, Progress Texas, the SEED Coalition, and the Texas BlueGreen Apollo Alliance jointly filed the petition to the Public Utilities Commission, which will now require the PUC to open a rulemaking docket within 60 days. For the law to be fully implemented and for utilities and small businesses to begin developing solar and geothermal resources, the PUC Commissioners must approve a rule that requires those selling energy to invest in these clean energy resources. Under the RPS, utilities are required to develop 500 megawatts of non-wind renewable energy by 2015, but without the PUC, the law is not fully implemented and utilities are not moving forward.

“Texas can’t rest on the laurels of our success in the wind industry,” said Cathy Chickering of the SMU Geothermal Laboratory.  “Just like a financial portfolio, our energy portfolio must take advantage of Texas’ wealth of renewable energy sources – geothermal energy can power our homes and businesses reliably around the clock, while building on the very real synergy that the oil and gas industry can bring to the table.  Leveraging their existing investment and expertise for geothermal projects will bring new clean energy employment opportunities to Texans.”

Renewable energy is creating jobs and growing the economy in Texas. Texas wind has created more than 7,000 jobs with more than $140 million in local tax revenues, and the development of solar and geothermal resources can create more. While publicly-owned utilities like CPS Energy and Austin Energy have made significant progress in pursuing solar projects, research shows that a statewide goal of 2,000 megawatts of solar will create more than 21,500 manufacturing and installation jobs.

“The clean energy economy presents Texans with our modern day Spindletop moment,” said David Cortez, with the Texas BlueGreen Apollo Alliance, a partnership between business, community, labor, and environmental organizations. “We’ve named our campaign Clean Energy Works for Texas because that is a true statement – Texas workers will power this state with clean energy. The non-wind RPS doesn’t pick winners and losers, instead, it provides a clear market signal for much-needed investments in reliable, affordable energy generation. Investors from all over the world will see the potential in investing in clean renewable Texan energy with action by the PUC.”

According to a report by the Brattle Group, adding 1,000 to 5,000 megawatts of solar photovoltaic power would reduce wholesale energy prices, which result in savings for the retail consumer. Wholesale prices are highest during periods of peak demand, when sources like solar photovoltaic are most productive.

“Renewable energy will be critical for making sure Texas is energy-secure,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith with Public Citizen Texas. “Coastal wind made the difference when record-high temperatures in August 2011 sent electricity demand through the roof and fossil fuel generation couldn’t keep up. More and more, we’re seeing clean, renewable energy serve peak demand. Renewables will only become more important to meet Texas’s energy needs – the PUC needs to take the first step to implement the state Renewable Portfolio Standard.”

“The PUC, ERCOT, and other agencies take reliability concerns seriously. Implementing the non-wind portfolio standard will be critical to protecting electric reliability,” said Cyrus Reed, Acting Director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. “In addition to solar and geothermal, demand response is the critical third piece. We can tap our resources to generate more electricity, but reducing our demand through smart technology must happen too. This is about giving energy customers more choices and opportunities to reduce their demand and move toward cleaner forms of energy. “

Organizations signed on to the legal petition include: Sierra Club, Public Citizen, Texas Bluegreen Apollo Alliance, Clean Water Action, North Texas Renewable Energy Group, North Texas Renewable Energy Inc., Progress Texas, Environment Texas, Seed Coalition, Solar Austin, Solar San Antonio, Texas Campaign for the Environment and Texas Pecan Alliance.

The Case is Made for Energy Efficiency.

“The Good News About Coal” by Lester R. Brown:

Closing coal plants in the United States may be much easier than it appears. If the efficiency level of the other 49 states were raised to that of New York, the most energy-efficient state, the energy saved would be sufficient to close 80 percent of the country’s coal-fired power plants. The remaining plants could be shut down by turning to wind, solar, and geothermal energy. ”

A few great sentences to start your morning.

Read more here.

– Lydia Avila, Conservation Organizer

Clean Energy Coming to Texas

Tuesday morning, the Public Utilities Commission of Texas listened to public comment regarding Project #35792, a.k.a. the “non-wind renewable energy rule.”

Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director of the Sierra Club, and I gave separate comments after a rousing declaration of support for “poor” Texans by a local nuclear energy advocate. I was most intrigued by the gentleman’s matrix for explaining how nuclear was the most affordable and accessible energy source available to these “poor” Texans, while solar, specifically, provided an overwhelming financial burden and is simply unaffordable to most Texans.

Take a moment to vent, laugh, and curse under your breath…

In the comments I submitted on behalf of the Texas Apollo Alliance, we make it clear that by simplifying the registration process for distributed on-site energy generation, by strengthening Texas’ Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to include more MWs produced by non-wind sources, and by implementing these modifications by 2015, ALL Texans will benefit.

Stronger standards will directly lead to more investment in the solar, geothermal, and biomass sectors. If we, as advocates for the people, collectively continue to advocate for strong renewable energy standards, and advocate for low-interest loans with on-bill financing, we can help make clean energy affordable to thousands of Texans, poor and wealthy alike.

Which leads me to the sexiest thing about stronger non-wind renewable energy goals: Jobs.

Investment in clean energy markets = jobs. There is no doubt about that. A 2009 report by Blue-Green Alliance estimated that a 20 percent renewables target by 2020 would generate over 60,000 jobs in Texas, including 20,000 in solar development. By taking action, the PUC can spark a renewable energy rush to Texas that will not only help curb our state’s outrageous levels of toxic emissions, but help put our people back to work.

The Texas Apollo Alliance will work aggressively to promote clean energy and safe, good-paying, green-collar jobs for Texans. For more information on our work and our members, head on over to our website.

Dave Cortez
Texas Apollo Alliance
512-736-7600 (cell)
512-477-6195 x21 (office)
512-477-2962 (fax)

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