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The Brief: Denmark’s district energy encourages Texas environmentalists

While this is a familiar concept in Texas, environmentalists and energy efficiency advocates said they hope that state officials can take steps to encourage similar investments in the Lone Star state.

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The Big Story

In Marstal, Denmark, a concept known as district energy — a community-owned nonprofit solar heating plant — has encouraged a shift from fossil fuels. While this is a familiar concept in Texas, environmentalists and energy efficiency advocates said they hope that state officials can take steps to encourage similar investments in the Lone Star state. Here’s how it works:

•  Marstal’s project stores energy in an insulated tank that holds sun-heated water. The plant only generates heat — not electricity — but by meeting the town’s heating needs efficiently, it keeps a significant portion of the energy demand off of the electricity grid that stretches to Aero — the island Marstal is located on — where wind generates 120 percent of the island’s electricity demands.

•  The plant is made possible through a concept called district energy, which involves heating hot water at a centralized source and sending it directly to homes through underground through pipes. As a result, Denmark has slashed carbon dioxide emissions by 37 percent since 1990. This concept is familiar in Texas, but homeowners rarely get the chance to share in the savings, partly because of a lack of incentives in the state’s competitive energy market.

•  While environmentalists and energy efficiency advocates say they hope the Lone Star state can utilize district energy, the concept may not work as well in sprawling Texas communities. Also, the state doesn’t incentivize such projects because Texans buy energy from companies that compete with one another and don’t necessarily benefit when homeowners use less power.

•  Some municipal utilities in Texas have dabbled with the concept, however. That includes Austin Energy, which delivers water chilled at two downtown cooling plants to 32 customers that have hooked up to its underground pipes. And in the coming legislative session, energy efficiency advocates will pitch legislation that they hope will help Texans overcome still-existing barriers to using less energy.

What We're Reading

(Links below lead to outside websites; content might be behind paywall)

Dallas Stares Down a Texas-Size Threat of Bankruptcy, The New York Times 

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Pipeline protests put Kelcy Warren in the spotlight and bull's-eye, Houston Chronicle

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San Antonio man charged in killing of police detective, San Antonio Express-News

Today in TribTalk

"The Democratic Party already possesses a path to victory in Texas, but only if it assembles an unabashedly liberal, multiracial coalition that connects high politics with robust social movements."

— Max Krochmal, Texas Christian University assistant professor of history 

Trib Events for the Calendar

•   A Symposium Previewing the 85th Legislature on Nov. 29 at The University of Texas - Texas Union Ballroom

•   A Conversation with Michael K. Young, President of Texas A&M University on Dec. 1 at The Austin Club

•   San Antonio & the Legislature: A Preview of the 85th on Dec. 2 at University of Texas at San Antonio – Downtown Campus

•   A Conversation with Sen.-elect Dawn Buckingham & Rep.-elect Hugh Shine on Dec. 8 at Temple College – Arnold Student Union

•   Health Care and the 85th Legislature on Dec. 15 at UT Health Science Center San Antonio - Pestana Lecture Hall

•   Trivia Night on Jan. 8 at The Highball 

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