29 Aug


Texas Industrial Electricity Users Want to Opt Out of Energy Efficiency Cost Recovery Factor fee


More commercial electricity customers in Texas are seeking the ability to opt out of the states controversial Energy Efficiency Cost Recovery Factor fee.  The fee is designed to fund energy efficiency programs in the state of Texas; paying for such things as weatherizing homes and demand response programs which, ironically, means paying commercial electricity users to cut back on electricity usage during times of peak demand.

Many industrial users are already exempt from the fee thanks to a law passed in 2007 based on the reasoning that electricity is already such a big part of doing business in Texas there is already a strong incentive for energy efficiency for businesses..

Those opposing the rule change include the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association.

Read More: http://stateimpact.npr.org/texas/2012/08/28/paying-for-energy-efficiency-programs-texas-industry-opts-out/



07 Aug


Texas Officials Warn Texans to Cut Back on Electricity Usage


Texas electricity officials are asking Texans to conserve electricity to avoid power disruptions as the state struggles to keep up with electricity demand during the summer months.  On July 31st the state set a new usage record of 65,790 megawatts; eclipsing the old record set about the same time last year.

Power to choose electricity in Texas is now 10 years old.  After spiking along with natural gas prices several years ago prices are now near multi year lows.  But this has lead to a lack of supply in the grid because power producers aren’t making enough money to build new power plans.

Read more: ERCOT recommends electric conservation

Image credit: http://images.onset.freedom.com/odessa/gallery/m8czfw-m8czfmercotmap.jpg




21 Jun


Texas Electricity Market Could Have a Rough Summer in 2012


The Texas grid is operated by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) and is separate from the other North American power grids.  ERCOT is battling on multiple fronts to maintain enough power to meet demand as weather extremes, economic pressures and environmental regulations conspire to tip the often delicate balance between the demand for electricity and the available supply.

After a difficult year in 2011, the challenges on the grid have not abated in 2012. The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center is forecasting a 40% chance of a hotter than normal summer this year. Based partially on this data ERCOT has raised its estimate for peak demand on the grid this summer.  The Texas grid did not have the wiggle room for this.

Source: noaa.gov

The Weather

In February of 2011 Texas was slammed with unprecedented winter storms.  In the Dallas/Fort Worth area in North Texas the average annual snowfall is about 2.5 inches.  A single storm in February dropped almost a foot of snow in some places.  In Texas where people are not accustomed to heavy winter weather the response is to hunker down, stay home with the heat running, and wait for the thaw.  Though certainly a reasonable response, this can put strain on the grid when all of the heaters, hot water units and televisions run at the same time.  This simultaneous surge in demand brought the grid to the edge of capacity.  When the frigid cold caused mechanical failure at certain key power nodes the grid exceeded capacity leaving grid operators with no option but to institute controlled blackouts to maintain the integrity of the system as a whole.

The summer months in Texas again brought record temperatures at the other extreme. The months of June through August in Texas were officially the hottest 3 months ever recorded in the United States eclipsing the infamous Dust bowl of the 1930’s.  Electric companies in Texas struggled to provide enough power to meet demand during a string of 100° days that lasted the entire summer. Another round of rolling blackouts was narrowly avoided only by calling on the public to voluntarily undertake conservation measures and avoid certain activities during peak demand times of the day.

The Regulators

Texas has been engaged in a very public standoff with the EPA over the new Cross-State Air Pollution Rule which ERCOT claims will close down power plants at the very time when electric supply is already short.  Texas was one of several entities to seek relief from enforcement of the rules in federal court.  In the 11th hour the court gave grid operators temporary relief by blocking enforcement of new rules schedule to take effect January 1st which would have immediately led to some power plants closing down.  Other plants would have likely closed down due to the expensive upgrades that would have been required to comply with the rules meant to reduce emissions from coal powered electric plants.

The EPA is standing by both the new rules and the timing of their implementation claiming that thousands of lives will be saved by the new guidelines and asserting that Texas had ample time to prepare for the new rules and account for them in their planning.

The Economy

Cheap electricity rates in Texas have been a mixed blessing.  Due in large part to the natural gas boom and subsequent plunge in natural gas prices electricity rates in Texas are currently at multiyear lows. This has been welcomed by consumers in Texas. But, electricity regulation can sometimes create a cutthroat environment among retail electricity providers.

The downside of cheaper electric rates for wholesale electric producers is the lack of economic incentive to develop more power plants.  While the Texas economy was not left untouched by the recession it has fared better than most other parts of the country.  This has created a situation where electric demand has remained strong while supply has not kept pace.  With regulatory and economic pressure causing the Texas grid to skirt on the edge of capacity there is less and less fault tolerance within the system.


To encourage power producers to invest in new capacity the Texas Public utility commission is working on a plan to increase the cap on wholesale electricity rates.   Retail electric providers who are not well hedged could find themselves in trouble if wholesale prices spike.  Longer-term fixed rate contracts with customers could prevent them from passing the costs along immediately.  However, in the long term this will inevitably lead to higher electricity prices for consumers.

Rough Summer Ahead

ERCOT is implementing several measures to survive the summer including potentially bringing old power plants that are currently idled back online.   They are also working with the PUC to update rules related to who can participate in emergency demand response programs.  There are concerns that Texas lags the rest of the country in the implementation of a more robust demand response program.  According to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Texas could add up to 19 GW in capacity by 2019 with a more aggressive demand response program.  Potential rule changes include increasing the required response time of 10 minutes for participants to react to a DR signal. Such a change could greatly increase the pool of participants in the program.

Source: FERC

ERCOT is warning that generation capacity is “expected to be tight” this summer with projected capacity uncomfortably close to expected peak demand.  ERCOT warns “there is a significant chance that ERCOT will need to declare an Energy Emergency Alert (EEA) on multiple occasions during the summer of 2012 and issue corresponding public appeals for conservation.”


This report reprinted with permission from the Texas Chamber of Commerce Energy Association

06 Jun


TXU Asks for Permission To Break Fixed Rate Contracts With Consumers


TXU Asks for Permission To Break Fixed Rate Contracts With Consumers

Texas electricity officials are considering raising the current cap on wholesale electricity rates that electricity providers pay. Some providers including TXU energy are setting the stage with the Texas Public Utilities Commission to be able to break fixed rate  contracts with consumers in order to be able to pass along their additional costs to consumers.

Excerpt from TXU letter to the Texas PUC:

“TXU Energy believes that, as a matter of policy, the Commission could reasonably interpret P.U.C. SUBST. R. 25.475 to allow REPs to increase the price of existing fixed-rate contracts for residential or small commercial customers to the extent that the REP’s actual costs increase due to an increase in the cost of wholesale power caused by

the change in the SWOC.”


See full filing here: http://interchange.puc.state.tx.us/WebApp/Interchange/Documents/37897_149_727044.PDF

09 May


No Deposit Electricity Plans For Poor Credit


There is a good piece on Yahoo voices that points out that bad credit can cost you a lot when you are shopping for electricity.  It points out that people with decent credit will usually get a good cheap rate without having to put down a deposit.  But if you have no credit or poor credit you will probably be rejected by electric providers or asked to provide a deposit. No deposit electricity plans offered by some companies usually have higher rates but they have the benefit of requiring no credit check as part of the signup process.  These are often prepaid electricity plans.


Full Story: Electricity Bills: Yet Another Reason to Maintain Good Credit

09 Apr


Compressed Air Electricity Storage Comes to The Texas Panhandle


The Statesman has a piece about a plan to build a compressed air electricity storage facility in the Texas panhandle.  Essentially, the facility will make use of wind electricity that is produced overnight when wind turbines generally produce the most electricity even though demand is much lower generally than it is during the day.   This is one of the main complaints about wind power.  That’s why technology that could store this otherwise wasted electricity capacity overnight and feed it back to the grid when it is really needed is so important to growing renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

This will ultimately lead to lower electric rates for consumers.  Electricity providers in Dallas and Houston usually sell fixed rate electric plans to consumers.  As a result,  the provider takes on the risk of wholesale price spikes.   However, even though these prices aren’t immediately passed to consumers this risk is ultimately baked into the retail price Texans pay for electricity.

28 Mar


Electricity Rates and Local Politics in Houston


Fans of local politics might want to check out the fireworks at a recent Houston  city council meeting in a debate over an electricity rate increase.   An electric provider in Houston, Entergy Corporation, is proposing a 13% rate increase for a small number of Houston residents who fall within Entergy’s service area.  Unlike most Houston residents,  these roughly 1,500 customers don’t have the option to switch providers because they fall under the Entergy service area which isn’t open to competition.


Houston electricity rates have fallen over the past several years for customers who are in deregulated areas and are able to compare Houston electric providers and chose the best deals.

14 Mar


Common Sense Electricity Conservation


In a refreshing display of common sense this commentator asks why given that we are in an electricity crisis in Texas and with electricity rates in Texas about to go up are we not allowed to do something as practical as hanging our clothes out to dry.

Most home owners associations won’t allow people to put up clotheslines.   The commentator points out that 6% of the average homes electricity usage is goes to the clothes dryer.


Full Article Here:


30 Jan


Electricity Rate Hike Not Going Over Well in Austin


There is a storm brewing in Austin Texas over Austin Energy’s proposed electricity rate hikes. 400,000 homes and businesses in the Austin area rely on the electric provider as their only source of electricity.   Although many parts of Texas such a Houston and DFW are deregulated, most of the Austin electricity market is not among the deregulated parts of the state.  Some are pushing for electric choice in Austin as well.

Electricity rates in Dallas have fallen by more than half since 2008. The same has happen everywhere else in Texas where there is deregulation.   There are dozens of electricity providers in Dallas who compete to keep rates lower.   Austin Energy is proposing a 12% base rate hike in Austin.

22 Dec


Can Biofuel Power Texas Electricity?


Electricity from Biofuel

Electricity from Biofuel

Gas and electricity rates will only continue to head north for several years to come. Because of that, developing alternative fuels becomes all the more important for meeting our future energy needs. Our need for fossil fuel derived electricity has come at great expense to our ecosystem. Thankfully scientists are hard at word studying potential alternative fuel sources that may be practical to implement and kinder to the environment. While it may not receive the same media attention as other alternative energy sources algae is one surprising possible fuel source that is showing real promise. Algae grow naturally worldwide in almost infinite quantities.

Scientists are perfecting procedures that can allow up to half with the biomass of algae to be converted to bio-diesel which is often burned to power engines or produce electric power. Algae grow rapid and grow virtually anyplace. Algae calls for very little to grow. Sunlight, moisture and CO2 is about all it wants. There is a large number algae types but it is the pond scum kind of algae that shows the most promise for biodiesel production. As opposed to other types of crop-based fuel production, algae will not reduce food supply. In fact, algae byproducts that are not converted to fuel are made into fertilizer.

The promise that algae represents for electricity production is gaining the attention of big corporations. At present, the private sector pays for the bulk of investigation into algae-to-energy technology. Numerous proponents of algae as a renewable energy source are frustrated at the lack of funding and attention directed at study in this area by public institutions. Many people feel strongly that algae could be the key to altering our energy mix away from fossil fuel and that algae could create most of our electrical power and fuel our vehicles if only more funding were put into the necessary research to perfect the technologies for processing algae into fuel. Skeptics feel the deck may be stacked against algae; at least in the short term. There is a feeling that big oil companies have an economic incentive to realize every last bit of profit from oil even as the asset depletes.

As oil supply continues its inevitable steady decline oil companies will be able to realized ever increasing profits from their product. This means that big oil companies are making a killing on far less product. Many people vilify fossil fuels. It’s true that they have had a damaging impact on the environment as well as social harmony. However the fact remains that ever since the first ox was yoked by a man society has relied on some source of energy other than our own bodies to sustain us. As the industrial revolution took hold fossil fuels met that need for energy and helped fuel and amazing century of human achievement. However, the world’s fossil fuel reserves were a onetime endowment. They don’t replenish themselves on a practical timescale. Renewable energy sources such as algae will not be an optional energy choice forever. The current word political and power structures is driven in large part by the need to produce and trade in fossil energy. This means that algae energy technology has the potential to be disruptive in the short term yet stabilizing in the long-run. Entire nation’s credit their political standing and wealth in very large part to the oil found within their borders. Algae, by contrast to fossil fuels, can be grown and refined into electricity and other energy by essentially any nation on earth. That shift in political and economic power structure on a global scale would be seismic. However, in a world where almost every nation on earth is energy independent a major cause of political and economic strife would be removed from the world dynamic. Wealth currently being funneled into the ever-increasing coffers of oil-rich nations would instead be retained by local economies creating local jobs and opportunities where previously none existed. This could be a free market based counterbalance to the growing wealth gap that is increasing becoming a source of tension in both developed and undeveloped nations.

The promise of an algae driven electricity grid and transportation system is truly encouraging. Although lab results and early field test have shown promise, the technology has a long way to go to be perfected.

Filed Under: Alternative Energy