Kate Galbraith Reporter

Kate Galbraith 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.

Recent Contributions

Energy Boost

Energy is never far from the agenda at the Legislature. This year, Sunset Advisory Commission reviews of oil and gas and electricity regulators will keep the sector in the spotlight, as will renewed clamor for legislation — however unlikely to happen in a tough budget environment — to aid clean energy.

John Nielsen-Gammon: The TT Interview

John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas's state climatologist
John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas's state climatologist

The Texas state climatologist on the reasons for rising temperatures, why international science on climate change is fundamentally sound (no matter what state officials say), what he thinks of our fight with the EPA and how long the drought in Central Texas is likely to continue.

Pining for Power

This woody debris will fuel a biomass power plant in Lufkin, the first of its kind in Texas, which is expected to begin full operations this spring.
This woody debris will fuel a biomass power plant in Lufkin, the first of its kind in Texas, which is expected to begin full operations this spring.

East Texas has none of the wind-power potential of West Texas. But it does have plenty of pine trees. And so, 40 miles apart, two first-of-their-kind power plants are going up near Lufkin and Nacogdoches. They will burn the woody debris to make steam, and that steam will turn generators to make electricity. But environmentalists, pulp mills and locals have concerns about the plants — which could also take an economic hit, because they are coming online during a slump in energy prices.

The Greening of Houston

The sprawling capital of the oil industry — the fourth-largest city in the U.S. — has embarked on a range of green initiatives in an effort to keep up with the times and, hopefully, save money. The local-food craze is the most visible of these efforts, with the opening of a weekly farmers market and the planting of Michelle Obama-style vegetable gardens tended by city hall staff. But it is also transforming itself into an electric car hub, a national leader in wind-power investment and an advocate for energy efficiency. It even has a sustainability director hired away from, yes, San Francisco.

Water, Water Everywhere

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Next legislative session, during the few minutes not taken up with the budget, redistricting and immigration, an old stand-by of an issue — water — could creep onto the agenda. Observers say proposals on groundwater rights are probable, given that Texas is just wrapping up a process for planning the allocation of water from aquifers, while environmentalists will be pushing measures for water conservation.

On the Ball

John Graham, director of UT's Frank Erwin Center.
John Graham, director of UT's Frank Erwin Center.

For five years, the director of UT's Frank Erwin Center has been on a crusade to save energy. Fans may not notice the changes, but athletics officials on campus and around Texas are paying heed — and going green themselves.

Bullish on Batteries

The impoverished border town of Presidio is home to the largest battery system in the country: a $25 million contraption that's the size of a big house. That's not as weird as it seems. Partly because of an affinity for wind energy, the state has a number of experiments going in "energy storage" — often referred to as the "holy grail" of energy technology, because it can modernize the grid by more efficiently matching people's demand for power with the generation of electricity.

Red November

Rick Perry won his third full term as governor of Texas on Tuesday, defeating former Houston Mayor Bill White by a convincing double-digit margin and positioning himself for a role on the national stage. And he led a Republican army that swept all statewide offices for the fourth election in a row, took out three Democratic U.S. congressmen and was on its way to a nearly two-thirds majority in the Texas House — a mark the GOP hasn't seen since the days following the Civil War.

The People's Courthouses

Since 1999, dozens of county courthouses — some dating to the 19th century — have been spruced up with the help of state funding, and workers have uncovered old artwork or other historic features. But advocates fear that the renovation program will be yet another casualty of the coming biennial budget shortfall.

Coal Comfort

So what if coal, the dirtiest of the fossil fuels, faces tightening air-pollution standards from federal regulators? Texas is aggressively building new coal plants. An air-pollution permit recently approved for a plant in Matagorda County is one of six granted to projects that are not yet up and running, and four more projects — near Abilene, Odessa, Sweeny and Corpus Christi — have sought permits. Texas, which consumes far more coal power than any other state, already has 19 operating coal-fired power plants, the majority of which are in East Texas.

Drilling Down

Whoever wins the governor's race in November will face a variety of pressing questions concerning one of the state's biggest industries: energy. Texas is a top producer of natural gas, oil and, more recently, wind power. As things stand now, the state is coping with a federal moratorium on new deepwater oil drilling, bracing for federal action on climate change and other air pollution, preparing for an influx of electric cars and debating whether to enact a mandate for renewable energy sources other than wind. How do Rick Perry and Bill White come down on the issues?

American Idle

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Each year in the United States, idling trucks and cars burn several billion gallons of fuel, emitting various pollutants without driving a single mile. The Texas Legislature passed legislation in 2005 limiting big trucks to five minutes of idling time, but local governments aren't obligated to enforce the law, and the debate over exemptions continues to roil.