Vol 29, Issue 22 Print Issue

Heat in Texas Will Spark New Battles

Summer has officially started in Texas — and that means more strain on the electric grid powering all those air conditioners.

"Resource adequacy" is the perpetual watchword at the grid operator, ERCOT. The Massachusetts-based Brattle Group is releasing a highly anticipated study on how to keep the lights on in Texas in the future. ERCOT expects to get through this summer with calls for conservation and without rolling blackouts, but the real question is how to make sure there is enough power going forward for Texas' growing population — at a time when low natural gas prices discourage companies from building more power plants. The Brattle Group report promises a supply-side and a demand-side look at the issue. 

Things will also get a little hot for Al Armendariz, the recently departed regional head of the Environmental Protection Agency. On June 6, Armendariz is scheduled to appear before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee (specifically the subcommittee on energy and power), whose Republican members are no doubt looking forward to a televised grilling. Armendariz resigned in April after comments from 2010 surfaced comparing his approach to oil and gas regulation to a "crucifixion" of violators. The Hill has reported that Armendariz is appearing voluntarily.

Oil and gas awaits another big development this month involving the dune sagebrush lizard. By June 14, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must decide whether to list the species as threatened or endangered. The lizard's habitat includes the booming oilfields of West Texas, and that industry has made no secret of its stands against a listing. In a visit to Midland last month, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar hinted that a listing could be avoided if enough voluntary agreements to preserve lizard habitat came through. If a listing occurs, look for an explosive reaction from the oil and gas industry — not to mention the four Republican candidates still competing in runoffs for two Railroad Commission seats. 

Speaking of oil and gas, the Texas House Committee on Energy Resources is expected to hold a hearing on fracking in late June (the schedule is not yet set). Word is that the committee will look at water issues; probably economic development and regulations will also be covered. And the Texas Railroad Commission will be reviewing its rules on natural gas flaring, which has been an issue in the Eagle Ford Shale, where natural gas pipelines have not been laid fast enough to keep up with the drilling, and also in West Texas.

Finally, in other news, a big solar confab is happening in Austin June 3-8, and a major building-systems group called ASHRAE, which covers energy efficiency, is holding a conference in San Antonio June 23-27. And on June 24, the Natural Resources Defense Council will release its annual report on the nation's beaches — so we'll see how Galveston et al hold up.