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A Hearing for Water, and Growth for Wind

A landmark water case pitting North Texas against Oklahoma goes to the U.S. Supreme Court next week. The Tarrant Regional Water District, which serves Fort Worth and the surrounding area, has sought more water from Oklahoma, but the Sooner State isn’t selling.

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A landmark water case pitting North Texas against Oklahoma goes to the U.S. Supreme Court next week. The Tarrant Regional Water District, which serves Fort Worth and the surrounding area, has sought more water from Oklahoma, but the Sooner State isn’t selling.

The case could have impacts far beyond the Texas-Oklahoma border, experts said. The Tarrant Regional Water District, eager to supply a growing population, is arguing that Oklahoma must make more water available for sale to Texas. Oklahoma says that under the Red River Compact, signed in 1980, it does not have to sell the water to Texas.

Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, a water-focused nonprofit based in California, said that he and other water experts across the nation are watching the outcome. “Every state-to-state dispute sets a precedent for other states that are having these kinds of challenges,” he said, noting that water disputes are becoming more common.

“The bigger, broader context is that the dispute between Texas and Oklahoma is symptomatic of a growing number of border water disputes — between Georgia and Tennessee, between Georgia and Alabama and Florida, all along the [western] Colorado River,” Gleick said.

The case could have implications on interpretation of the Constitution’s interstate commerce clause, and also on whether Oklahoma’s efforts to stop or discourage out-of-state water sales would be trumped by a multi-state compact.

This plays out against the backdrop of continued severe drought. As of April 18, the vast majority of Texas is experiencing drought, with 12 percent of the state  experiencing "exceptional" drought, the worst category. Major water legislation continues to wend its way through the Legislature, meanwhile. House Bill 4, creating a revolving fund for water projects, has passed the House, and HB 11, which would provide $2 billion in funding for the water bill, was heard in House Appropriations this week.

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Texas, the leading wind-power state, continues to add turbines. Developers of nearly 21,000 megawatts of capacity — roughly double the amount currently on ERCOT, the Texas power grid — are seeking interconnection agreements from ERCOT. There is no guarantee the projects will be built. Still, “there are the makings of a very busy wind build over 2013-2014,” Andy Bowman, president of Austin-based Pioneer Green Energy, said in an email.

The federal government approved the extension of a key wind incentive, called the production tax credit, at the beginning of the year. The incentive lasts until the end of 2013, and this week, the Internal Revenue Service came out with much-anticipated rules governing how companies can qualify for the credit. The rules allow developers to receive the credit if they have started significant construction or have spent 5 percent of the project’s cost already and are making good progress.

“There really aren’t many places you can move quickly enough on to qualify for the [production tax credit] this year, except ERCOT,” Bowman said. “This is because we have limited permitting risk and a pretty quick grid queue to move through, in comparison to other areas.”

A major build-out of wind-power transmission lines, which are costing ratepayers nearly $7 billion, is on course to be completed by the end of this year.

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Monday, April 22, is Earth Day. RSVP for the TribLive event first thing that morning in Austin, featuring Bryan Shaw of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Jim Marston of the Environmental Defense Fund and Laura Huffman of the Nature Conservancy.

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