Feb 01

Electricity Provider Austin Energy Seeks a Rate Increase

Consumers are pushing back as Austin electricity provider Austin Energy seeks an increase in the base electricity rate charged to Austin area consumers.

Unlike elsewhere in Texas, customers of Austin Energy don’t have a choice in electric providers. The rate hike is meeting opposition from many who are asking why rates in Austin are going up while electricity rates in Texas have been going down substantially in deregulated areas.

Many Austin Energy customers who live outside of the city are also asking why they are subsidizing the city of Austin who receives payment from Austin Energy for non-energy related expenses.

Jan 22

Biofuel and Texas Electricity

Electricity rates will only continue to head north for a lot of years to come making alternative forms of energy all the more important for meeting our future power needs. Our will need for fossil fuel derived electricity has come at a big cost to our ecosystem. Thankfully in recent years funding from governments, universities and forward-thinking power firms has led to breakthroughs in energy technologies that could bring about the implementation of highly efficient, environmentally friendly methods of powering our electricity needs. One of the promising technologies currently being studied is algae energy. Algae is grown all any place on the planet and there’s no practical limit to the quantity which will be grown.

Roughly half of algae’s weight is comprised of lipid oil which can be converted into biodiesel a fuel that burns clean and more effectively than petroleum. The key to generating energy from algae lies in the lipid oils that comprise almost half of the algae’s biomass. These oils can be converted to biodiesel which is cleaner and burns more efficiently than petroleum. This could replace any fuel that is burned to produce electricity. Algae can be grown anywhere provided it has access to carbon dioxide water and sunlight. There’re thousands of types of algae but it’s the pond scum form of algae that shows the most promise for being converted efficiently into biodiesel. Even better, the parts which might be not converted to biodiesel are suitable to produce fertilizer and feedstock.

Big corporations are slowly beginning to get on the bandwagon in researching algae’s possibilities as an energy source. A lot of the present research into algae as a fuel source is being funded by private corporations, not by governments or universities. Many proponents of algae as a bio-fuel source are frustrated in the lack of funding and attention directed at this by public institutions. For many the pace of research is frustratingly slow. They believe that there is an underappreciated opportunity to get out from under the heavy weight of oil dependence. Unfortunately oil is a big industry and it is still profitable for big oil companies to squeeze every last drop of profit from this venture before leaving it entirely.

Current shortages have driven oil prices up and continue to do so. Any business that has the opportunity to earn the same or more profits from having to handle less product will do so. The past century has been one of tremendous prosperity for human society. Such prosperity would not have been possible without the discovery and exploitation of fossil fuels. But this period in human history must eventually transition to one fueled by sustainable energy technologies. Because algae can be grown in every corner of the globe it has the potential to be a great equalizer when it comes to the geopolitical implications of energy. Today’s model of extracting fuel from one place in the globe and shipping it thousands of miles across oceans could be transformed to one of local production of algae to produce electricity and transportation fuel. This would mean more jobs in places where economic opportunity may be lacking today.

Using algae as biodiesel would have positive benefits for everyone.

Jan 09

A challenging year is predicted for the Texas electricity grid

Texas electricity rates

Texas electricity

ERCOT recently warned that a shortfall in the amount of electricity needed to support Texas electricity consumers in times of highest demand is likely. There are two trends leading to the anticipated troubles of the grid. There are multiple electricity plants that will be closing down in the near future and still others who will be delayed in coming online for the first time. The demand-side, on the other hand, will continue to increase particularly if the Texas economy continues to improve.

Texas consumers have already felt the impact of a loss in electricity capacity. In 2011 some 6 MW of electricity capacity was lost due to plant closings. The result was rolling blackouts in February. The problem was made worse when freezing temperatures caused mechanical failure at several power stations. Texas had to take the unusual step of importing electricity from the Mexican electricity grid.

ERCOT has taken steps to try to prevent a repeat of February 2011 when the grid was unable to meet demand and was forced to implement targeted blackouts. Working with the PUC they are seeking to update rules to allow for greater participation of contingent electricity sources in the event of an electricity demand emergency.

ERCOT is so concerned about the capability of the electricity system in Texas to handle peak demand that they have taken some unusual steps. They have approached the state’s transmission operators and asked for a thorough top-down review of current projects that are expected to be plugged into the grid over the next year. They need to have assurances that the assumed completion dates for projects that will begin feeding the grid are accurate. ERCOT’s chief executive cited new EPA rules among other factors as reasons why there is no margin of error when it comes to planning out the available capacity of the grid over the coming year.

ERCOT is being squeezed from all directions right now. The Texas electricity grid is being impacted by unusual weather conditions, new EPA rules, and a challenging economic background. 2011 will be remembered in Texas for weather extremes the likes of which have not been seen in living memory. Weather challenges faced by the Texas electricity grid started early in the year as February saw an ice storm that effectively shut down transportation and kept Texans in their homes where they switched on their heaters and demanded record electricity output from the grid. The record demand along with weather-related failures at certain key points in the power generation infrastructure forced ERCOT to implement controlled blackouts.

The pressure on the gird didn’t let up as the summer brought a near record string of 100 degree days. Once more, the Texas electric system skirted on the edge of capacity. In addition to the extreme temperatures, 2011 is also notable for the continuation of an historic drought in Texas as wells as unrelenting wildfires.

The troubles brought about by this unprecedented string of weather hardships are only compounded by the impact of EPA rules that have recently been announced. Many electricity plants will be closed down because the operators will not find it economically viable to update them to meet the new EPA rules. As the electricity grid struggles to meet demand these otherwise operational plants will be going dark. This is far from just a Texas problem. Concerns about how the rules will affect the reliability of the North American grid are being raised by the very group who is in charge of maintaining the reliability of the grid, NERC. The logistics of closing down many hundreds of plants even temporarily over a short time span are problematic.

Nov 25



A summer heat wave alerted TXU to just how willing Texas were to reduce electricity usage during peak hours to voluntarily relieve strain on the state’s power grid. With that in mind, Nancy Perry, senior vice president of sales and marketing assessed that residential customers would be very willing to change their energy habits in exchange for financial savings.

With that in mind they instituted a new Electricity Plan called TXU Energy PowerSmart PM 24(SM), which is three-tiered and centered around the structured usage of
electricity during nighttime, peak, and off-peak hours. The plan implements
deep discounts for nighttime electric use. The plan even makes sense for solar
paneled homes, which typically produce their own electricity during peak hours.

However, with nighttime being the most advantageous for working class America, greater savings for the consumer would come from altering their basic behaviors and
doing electricity-rich activities such as running the dishwasher, doing
laundry, running swimming pool pumps, and charging electric vehicles at night.

“We’ve structured the new plan so that more than 90 percent of the hours in a year are
off-peak or nighttime hours, and we’re giving customers a lower rate for using
electricity at those times. “ This according to Nancy Perry, senior vice
president of sales and marketing.

The TXU PowerSmart PM 24 (SM) plan is available to residential customers who have a smart meter installed at their residence, and who live in Oncor or CenterPoint
service areas. Marketing reps stress that only a change in law or regulatory
changes can alter the guaranteed price protections built into the 24-month

Electric Vehicle owners will find this type of plan to be of enormous benefit, as deep discounts on nighttime electrical dollars when most consumers end their work day will
make perfect complimentary sense and savings.

The TXU plan also makes electric powered vehicles much more economical and therefore accessible to the American consumer. Since most owners would charge electric vehicles at night anyway, a plan such as PowerSmart would greatly increase the vehicle owners savings on the electrical dollar. That information comes from
Russ Kenne, president of Plug-In Texas coalition.

Any incentive that spurs EV adoption is a win all around. In addition to curtailing an
individuals gasoline expenses, electric vehicles can improve the state’s air
quality and reduce the nations dependency on foreign oil.”

Thus as Texans we can see that this type of new deal plan when implemented statewide would benefit everything from the residential dollar to the state environmental
and oil exports. Texans should give it a careful glance.