has covered energy and environment for the Tribune since 2010. Previously she reported on clean energy for The New York Times from 2008 to 2009, serving as the lead writer for the Times' Green blog. She began her career at The Economist in 2000 and spent 2005 to 2007 in Austin as the magazine's Southwest correspondent. A Nieman fellow in journalism at Harvard University from 2007 to 2008, she has an undergraduate degree in English from Harvard and a master's degree from the London School of Economics. She is co-author of The Great Texas Wind Rush, a book about how the oil and gas state won the race to wind power.
What happened yesterday to cause the rolling power blackouts across Texas? A chain reaction of problems involving the state's coal and gas appeared to be the cause — and wind plants were having trouble, too.
No secession ball will mark the day. But 150 years ago today, on Feb. 1, 1861, a state convention voted overwhelmingly to secede from the Union, against the fervent wishes of Gov. Sam Houston. Caught in the mess was one Robert E. Lee, a federal officer in what had become a rebel state.
From the highways of Texas to the San Jacinto Battleground, state agencies now aim to maximize the use of native grasses rather than opting for whatever was cheapest or fastest-growing, as they did decades ago.
When Texans turn on lights or plug in iPads, they are getting an increasing amount of power from the wind — and from coal plants. Last year, nearly 8 percent of the power on the state's electric grid was generated by wind, far above the national average. And coal plants produced more power than any other electricity source. The big loser was natural gas.
At the heart of Texas' wind-power boom lies a conundrum: Plenty of ranchers are eager to host wind turbines but few want to allow the unsightly high-voltage transmission lines needed to carry the power to distant cities. But state regulators are moving forward — and yesterday they approved a contentious project that runs through the Hill Country.
The politics and rhetoric of the Environmental Protection Agency's multi-front battle with Texas make for a grand spectacle. Behind the scenes, however, there are signs that big industrial plants are trying to move past the stalemate on their own, talking with federal regulators and, in some cases, preparing to meet the demands of the agency.
In Texas, the largest oil producer in the United States, the demand for carbon dioxide is soaring, because it can help squeeze oil out of formations deep in the earth. That's why the idea of of capturing it and pumping it underground is gaining traction in the power sector. It sounds like an exercise in environmental idealism: Take the heat-trapping gas — belched prolifically from coal plants, which generate 45 percent of the nation’s electricity — and bury it, benefiting the atmosphere and combating global climate change. Of course, it is something of an environmental conundrum that stowing the greenhouse gas underground can also help to produce more fossil fuels.
The executive director of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department discusses the acquisition of a large piece of remote and rugged land along the Devils River; next steps for the bighorn sheep released in Big Bend Ranch State Park; the threats posed by invasive species like the giant salvinia, an exotic, rootless fern, and zebra mussels — and what the state's budget shortfall might mean for his agency and for the state's lands, waters, fish, wildlife and parks.
Come January, as Texas lawmakers begin work to pass bills and tackle the yawning budget gap, they will go up against a simple but implacable barrier: time. Texas is one of a dwindling number of states whose legislatures hold scheduled meetings only every two years. Just three other, far smaller states — Montana, North Dakota and Nevada — still have biennial legislative sessions. Lawmakers differ on whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, especially for budgeting. Regardless, Texas seems unlikely to change anytime soon.
Over the next several months, hundreds of electric and plug-in hybrid cars will arrive in Texas cities. They will emit little pollution and be cheaper to operate than conventional vehicles. For the state government, however, the advent of alternative-fuel vehicles creates a long-term concern: They will generate little or no gas tax revenue — a key funding source for keeping the state's roads and bridges in good repair.