Category Archives: In Your Community

Energy News in Your Texas Community

This month, our Texas Energy News is all up in the air with mining pollutants from the sky, the future of solar farms and if panels will be painted out, and why ERCOT and a pair of Houston generator companies are getting all strung-out over a transmission line to power Houston.

shutterstock_79940851Texas Company To Mine the Sky…?
On October 21, Skyonic Corporation opened the Capitol SkyMine. The world’s first “commercial-scale carbon capture and utilization facility”, the SkyMine captures CO2, SOX, NO2, and mercury and other heavy metals from generator flue gases and turns them into hydrochloric acid, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), and other byproducts. Designed to capture around 75,000 tonnes (82,673 US tons) of CO2, the $125 million installation scrubs flue gases from Capitol Aggregates cement mill in San Antonio and is expected to make $48 million in revenue and $28 million in annual earnings from greenhouse gases that otherwise would be released into the air. Skyonic’s mineralization technology is scaleable, allowing power plants to adjust the amount of CO2 scrubbing from 10% to 99% (depending on plant capability) and can be used to replace existing scrubbing systems and virtually eliminate their associated costs.

energy postTax Deadline Driving Texas’ Sunny Solar Future?
There’s been lots of recent talk about building more solar photovoltaic farms in Texas. Texas may be the US wind generation leader but has only about 75 megawatts of utility-sized capacity. Yet, financial services firm Ernst & Young recently ranked Texas 6th for solar energy potential, saying:

“Texas…has the most untapped solar potential in the country…That could change soon as ground was just broken on a project that will generate 400 MW of solar power by 2016 making it the largest municipal solar project in the US to date.”

Now, that 400 MW project (the Alamo project) AND the report has set a lot of chins wagging about the sunny side of Texas solar, including the Motley Fool and the City of San Antonio which intends on becoming a national leader in solar technology. Even Xcel Energy recently invited bids for its own 200 MW installation. But before you start thinking even flint-hearted investors have succumbed to the sunny charms of renewable energy, remember that the solar investment tax credit slams the door shut at the end of 2016.

IMG_2139Will Paint Make Panels Passé?
Lucelo Technologies, a Texas company based in Austin, has been busy developing solar paint. Instead of pigment floating in a solvent solution, Lucelo puts nano-crystals that absorb sunlight. While the actual process of collecting the electricity from a coated surface still needs to be worked out (the efficiency is only around 3%, panels run between 15%- 20%), it’s fun to think about the small current applications. House or car paints that power LED lights, clothing dyes that power personal electronics, and even new distractions on packaging.
Image IMG_2139.JPG By pedrojperez courtesy of Morguefile

shutterstock_64741621Texas Power Companies Wired Over Wires
Two Texas electric generation companies, NRG and Calpine, have been battling ERCOT and Centerpoint to stop the $590 million “Houston Import Project” since July. The 130 mile Limestone–Gibbons Creek–Zenith 345-kV transmission line project is designed to bring more electricity to the Houston metro area. Some have estimated that the area’s population will soon begin adding 100,000 new residents a year and all that new electrical demand will overload current capacity. ERCOT believes the project needs to be in place by 2018 to maintain reliability and prevent blackouts. NRG and Calpine, meanwhile are criticizing the methodology legitimizing the project and are arguing the added capacity isn’t needed. They maintain that more generators will be built in the Houston area once wholesale electricity prices rise. Lawyers for both sides debated the project before the Public Utilities Commission of Texas (PUCT) on October 17.

All ERCOT customer will pay a share of the project’s cost. CenterPoint estimates an extra 35 to 40 cents will be added to residential customers’ monthly bills. Meanwhile, the PUCT is expected to rule on the project November 14.

3 Must-See Fall Festivals across Texas

FallFoliageFestival2014Americans from all corners of our country can relate to a great fall festival. No matter how we experience the change in weather, there’s a universally understood sense of transition from the endless summer days into the excitement of the holiday season. Fall festivals are a great way to take part in time-honored traditions filled with live music, amusements, and the best food you’ll come across all year! Texans knows how to have fun, and autumn is no exception!  So, let’s have a quick look at a few of the big fall festivals taking place across Texas this October.

1) Perhaps the best place to start is the annual Fall Foliage Festival of Canadian, Texas, held this year on October 18th-19th. Few things are as quintessentially autumn as fall foliage, making this gathering in the Texas Panhandle particularly appealing for those of us in northern and western Texas who aren’t graced with a stunning autumn display. This two-day festival is full of activities including a fall foliage tour, nature activities, brisket lunch, art activities, and much more!

2) Hill Country in Texas has a proud and vibrant German-American community, and at the heart of the area sits Fredericksburg. It should be no surprise, then, that this picturesque town hosts an unbeatable annual 3-day Oktoberfest. Packed with German music, meats, and beers, this annual event is not to be missed, and don’t worry, it’s a great event for the entire family!

TMAF-logoThis picturesque town also holds two other fantastic fall-oriented events in October: the Texas Mesquite Arts Festival (October 10-13, 2014) and the Fredericksburg Food & Wine Festival (October 25th, 2014).  Whether you’re a resident of the Hill Country or looking for a great weekend getaway for the family (or just you and your significant other), there’s lots for you to enjoy!

WacoWineFestival3) In recent years, the Texas wine scene has really taken off. Similar to such notable American wine regions like Upstate New York, Texas likes to show off the fruits of its wine-making during the traditional harvest season.  If you are lucky enough to make your way to Central Texas during October, plan on visiting Waco, TX for Waco Wine Festival. Held this year on October 25th, this one-day event features live entertainment, food from more than thirty restaurants, and more than two hundred amazing wines from around the Lone Star State.

The holiday season is right around the corner and what better way to ease into the season than with some good old fashioned fall festival fun!

Are there any fall festivals around Texas that we missed here? Please share with us in the comments!

3 Must-See Pumpkin Patches in Texas

3 Must-See Pumpkin Patches in Texas

Barton Hill Farms Pumpkin Patch, Bastrop, TX

I love Autumn! It is probably my favorite season in Texas. The leaves begin to change colors, the weather finally cools down, and there are pumpkins everywhere! After a hot, Texas summer, our family welcomes the cooler temperatures and spends as much time outdoors as we can. I always look forward to visiting the pumpkin patches & corn mazes every fall – enjoying a hot cup of  apple cider while my son searches for the perfect pumpkin. Fortunately, pumpkin patches are plentiful in Texas!  However, there are a few pumpkin patches that stand out above the rest, and I am hopeful our fall travels will lead us to them!

3 Must-See Pumpkin Patches in Texas

Pumpkin Village in the Pecan Grove during Autumn at the Arboretum, Dallas, TX

1) Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, Dallas TX

I was immediately taken with the Pumpkin Village and knew that this pumpkin patch was definitely a Must-See! There are over 65,000 pumpkins, gourds, and squash, thousands of blooming fall flowers, storybook houses, & even Cinderella’s carriage! They have a  variety of fall activities including harvest tea, trick or treating, petting zoo, & live music. If you are hungry, try the “Oktoberfest Garten, “a traditional German lunch at  Café on the Green.

Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens
Autumn at the Arboretum
8525 Garland Rd
Dallas, TX 75218
(214) 515-6615

HOURS
: Daily 9am-5pm 

PRICES: Check website for admission, discounts, and parking information.

3 Must-See Pumpkin Patches in Texas

Texas Hayfield Maze at Sweetberry Farms, Marble Falls, TX

2) Sweetberry Farms, Marble Falls, TX

Sweetberry Farms is home to a 4-acre hayfield maze in the shape of Texas. Each year, visitors search through the maze for various cities of Texas on their game cards. If you succeed in finding all of the cities, you can win a prize! After tromping through the maze, you can make your own scarecrow to take home with you! Take a break and enjoy some delicious homemade ice cream or check out their other homegrown products.

Sweetberry Farms
Harvest of Fall Fun
1801 FM 1980
Marble Falls, Texas 78654
(830) 798-1462

HOURS:

  • Last weekend in September through the first weekend in November
  • 8:30am-5:30pm – Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday
  • 11am-5pm – Sunday (Fall Season only)
  • Closed all Wednesdays
  • Open all Holidays throughout the season

PRICES:

  • FREE entrance & parking
  • Activities & food range from about $1.50-$7, except for the Scarecrow Stuffing at $16.50
  • Cash or check only

Be sure to follow the directions on the Sweetberry Farms website as your GPS may get you lost.

3 Must-See Pumpkin Patches in Texas

Barton Hill Farms, Bastrop, TX

3) Barton Hill Farms, Bastrop, TX

The Fall Festival & Corn Maze at Barton Hill Farms has 118 acres alongside the Colorado River. In addition to their pumpkin patch and huge “Go Horns” corn maze, your family can also enjoy live music, a flashlight maze, farm animals, dummy steer roping, yard games, and more! Barton Hill Farms celebrate Texas heritage with a 50 foot maritime schooner replica (aka a Pirate ship!!!) and Fort Wilbarger, an 1800′s era Texas fort.

Barton Hill Farms
The Fall Festival & Corn Maze
1115 Farm to Market 969
Bastrop, TX 78602
(855) 969-1115

HOURS:

  • Saturdays and Sundays from Sept. 27 – Nov.9.
  • The hours are Saturdays from 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. and Sundays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

PRICES:

General Admission includes entry to corn maze and pumpkin patch.
Under 3 – FREE with a paying adult
Ages 3-10 – $8
Ages 11+ – $11

Adventure Pass – $5 upgrade – includes access to the jumping pillow, barrel train, pony hops, and trike track.
Additional costs for a few other activities.

Discounts available for online purchases.

Honorable Mentions 

These pumpkin patches also came across as a fun, unique place to visit this fall with your family!

Looking for more pumpkin patches in your area?

Where is your favorite pumpkin patch? Do you have a “Must-See” pumpkin patch that needs to be added to our list? Leave a comment below!

3 Great Texas Weekend Trips to Take in the Fall

While New England is known to most people as “the place” to go to see fall foliage, it turns out that Texans don’t have to travel that far to see the leaves change. We can stay right here in the Lone Star State to take in some beautiful fall sights. In fact, there are a number of weekend trips Texans can take to really embrace the fall season. So, here are just a few of the great Texas weekend trips to take in the fall.

3 Great Texas Weekend Trips to Take in the Fall

The front entrance at Lost Maples State Park.

1) Lost Maples State Natural Area
For those who are into watching the leaves change, then visiting the Lost Maples State Natural Area. Located in the Texas Hill Country, this state park should be at the top of the list of places to visit this fall. During the months of October and November, the park puts out a Foliage Color Change Report.  The report is updated weekly and puts current pictures and information about where the leaves are in the changing process.

3 Great Texas Weekend Trips to Take in the Fall

The Wyler Aerial Tramway at Franklin Mountains State Park.

2) Big Bend Area
While getting here is quite a bit of a drive, it is worth it! Located way out west, Big Bend is one of the most beautiful areas of Texas, and the fall is one of the best times to visit. With more than 150 miles of breathtaking trails, a variety of geologic backgrounds like fossils and hot springs, and over 450 bird species, there is much to do and see (nps.gov).

Also don’t miss out on one of the best views in Texas by riding on the Wyler Aerial Tramway at Franklin Mountains State Park. It’s a gondola that takes visitors to the top of Ranger Peak, which is 5,632 feet above sea level. In addition to the Franklin Mountains, be sure to visit Big Bend National Park and/or Davis Mountains State Park for a diverse Big Bend experience.

3 Great Texas Weekend Trips to Take in the Fall

The Tyler Municipal Rose Garden.

3) Tyler, TX
If the west isn’t for you, then head the opposite direction…to the east, more specifically Tyler. While driving though East Texas, visitors can enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Piney Woods that surrounds Tyler. The peak season for the changing foliage in the area is late October to early November.

For a little more entertainment during September 19-28, head to Tyler to enjoy the East Texas State Fair. There is plenty to do for everyone with live concerts, the carnival, live shows, contests, livestock and so much more! For those taking in the fall foliage in October, don’t miss out on “Texas’ most beautiful event,” the Rose Festival in Tyler. Held October 16-19, visitors can enjoy charming events like the Queen’s Coronation, the Rose Show, the Queen’s Tea, the Rose Parade, and more. Here, everything really is coming up roses.

Where are your favorite places to visit for a fantastic Texas weekend trip? Share them in the comments!

The Top 4 Fall Festivals in Texas

The Top 4 Fall Festivals in Texas

Fried food in the shape of Texas at the Texas State Fair. Photo from bigtex.com.

Fall is almost here, which means the weather will soon be getting cooler and the leaves will begin changing colors. It’s one of the most enjoyable times of the year to be outside in Texas. With the Lone Star State being so large, Texans enjoy countless opportunities and activities, especially all of the upcoming fall festivals. They’re always entertaining and are the perfect way to enjoy the fall weather. Though there are many to choose from, we’ve narrowed down the list to the top fall festivals in Texas.

1. Texas State Fair – While it’s not technically a festival, the Texas State Fair is definitely worth mentioning, as its one of the most popular events in Texas. It’s a three week af”fair”(had to say it) during the month of October featuring a carnival, art competition, auto show, livestock show, live music, and above all, the “Red River Shoot-Out,” an intense rivalry football game between the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma.

Key things not to miss: The infamous “corny” dog that is one of the best corndogs you’ll ever eat, deep-fried treats like deep fried Oreos and Twinkies, and the winners of the Big Tex Choice Awards, which is an annual contest where contestants battle it out for the Best Tasting and Most Creative fried food.

  • When: September 26 – October 19, 2014
  • Where: 3921 Martin Luther King Jr., Blvd., Dallas, TX 75210

2. WurstFest – Head to New Braunfels for WurstFest, which is a “10 day salute to sausage”.  Here, thousands of visitors can enjoy great German food, carnival rides, and games, German, Texan and domestic beer, special events and entertaining Alpine and Bavarian Style Entertainment.

Key things not to miss: Buy tickets in advance (more of a warning), the annual polka competition and try the sausage!

  • When: November 7 – 16, 2014
  • Where: 120 Landa St., New Braunfels, Texas 78130
The Top 4 Fall Festivals in Texas

Jousting at the Texas Renaissance Festival. Photo from texren.com.

3. Texas Renaissance Festival – To me, nothing says fall like heading to the Texas Renaissance Festival. Once you pass through the entrance gates, you go back into time to the 16th century (and earlier!).  With over 3,000 professional actors who never break character, live entertainment (over 200 daily performances), 60 delicious food and wine shops, and so much more (Go Texas), there is literally something for everyone!

Key things not to miss: People watching, the jousting competition, fireworks at the end of the day, and embracing the experience and having a good time!

  • When: Weekends October 11th – November 30th, 2014
  • Where: 21778 FM 1774, Todd Mission, Texas 77363

4. Fredericksburg Food and Wine Festival – For over 23 years, this festival has taken place in downtown Fredericksburg to celebrate the food and wine from around the Hill Country. It’s one of the largest of its kind, featuring over two dozen Texas wineries. In addition to wine, there are cooking classes, live music, beer tastings, and much more.

Key things not to miss: The Gargantuan Great Grape Toss, the Live and Silent Auction, and sampling as much as you can!

  • When: October 25, 2014
  • Where: 100 W Main St., Fredericksburg, TX 78624 (Fredericksburg’s Market Square)

What are some of your favorite fall festivals in Texas? Do you have any memories from any of these festivals? Share them in the comments!

5 Tips for Enjoying Texas High School Football

5 Tips for Enjoying Texas High School Football

Roosevelt High School Football (San Antonio, TX) image courtesy of StuSeeger. https://www.flickr.com/photos/stuseeger/

“Football is life.” While this quote sounds a bit extreme, it’s not far from the truth for many towns around Texas. There is so much heart and excitement that goes into Texas football, it’s no wonder why so many shows and movies have been based on Texas football, especially Texas high school football.

While Thursdays and Sundays are dedicated to the NFL and Saturdays to college, it’s Friday night where spectators can see some true, grassroots football. No fancy stadiums (Editor’s Note: Eagle Stadium in Allen, TX did cost nearly $60 million to construct) or players with multi-million dollar contracts – just two competing groups of kids eager to play some football. If you are new to the Lone Star State (or just looking for some great suggestions for the Fall 2014 Season), here are 5 tips for enjoying Texas high school football.

  1. Bring a Folding Stadium Chair or Cushion. While this isn’t a must, it’s a pretty nice option to have, as many high school stadiums have only bleachers to sit on, which get very uncomfortable. Usually the booster club sells them, or you can purchase one from Walmart or Academy.
  2. Attend a Rivalry Game. If you want to see an intense and exciting game that stands out above the rest, then find out which game is the team’s big rivalry game. When a team plays their rivals, it brings out an even higher level of competition, making it more thrilling to watch (unless they get blown out).
  3. 5 Tips for Enjoying Texas High School FootballFind a Good Seat.  Where you sit can make all the difference when watching football, so there are two things to consider when finding a good seat. One: You want to be close to the 50-yard line so you can see what’s happening on both sides of the field. Two: Sit close to the field so you can be near the action. This will help you see what’s going on and will keep you interested so you won’t miss a great play. Remember, there is no instant replay in high school football, so if you miss it, that’s it.
  4. Watch the Halftime Show. OK – it won’t feature a superstar performer like the Super Bowl, but halftime shows are pretty entertaining in high school. Usually, the high school band will play and march to a few songs and then the drill team and/or cheerleaders will take the field for a performance.
  5. 5 Tips for Enjoying Texas High School Football

    Odessa Permian Football image courtesy of http://www.permianpanthersfootball.com.

    Watch a Game in Odessa, TX. At some point in your life, make plans to travel to Odessa to watch an Odessa Permian High Panthers football game. This town has so much heart and soul  poured into their high school team, it was the inspiration for Friday Night Lights: the book, movie, AND TV show. At any given game, there will be 20,000 spectators clanging cowbells and pounding bleachers to show their support.  (collegestats.org)

What are your recommendations for enjoying Texas high school football? The state is packed with super-fans of all stripes, so we know that some of our readers can help us enjoy Friday Night football in style!

The FCP Roundup: 4 Top Activities in Small Town Texas for Fall 2014

The FCP Roundup: 4 Top Activities in Small Town Texas for Fall 2014

Junction, TX Street View image courtesy of TexasExplorer 98. https://www.flickr.com/photos/texasbackroads/

Texas summers are hot and humid, so when fall arrives with some reprieve from the heat, Texans welcome it with open arms. Autumn in the Lone Star State is great because of all the outdoor activities for people to enjoy. In fact, there is so much to do during the months of October and November, it’s hard to do it all. And while the larger Texas cities have a lot to offer, it’s the small towns offering entertainment-packed activities that top the list of things to do during the fall.  Thus, we wanted to share some of our favorite activities in small town Texas for Fall 2014.

1) Czhilispiel in Flatonia

Czhilispiel takes place in Flatonia, a Czech settlement in between Schulenberg and Luling on I-10. While it seems like a small-town festival, the event actually draws some of the best chili and BBQ cook-off teams across the state. From continuous live music, a chili and BBQ cook-off, and jalapeno eating contest to a margarita contest, pie competition, grand parade, children’s games, and more! this festival is sure to have something for everyone.

  • When: October 24-26, 2014
  • Where: Downtown Flatonia, TX
The FCP Roundup: The Top Activities in Small Town Texas for Fall 2014

German Food Served at Oktoberfest in Fredericksburg image courtesy of oktoberfestinfbg.com

2) Oktoberfest and the Food & Wine Festival in Fredericksburg 

Oktoberfest is a festive celebration of Fredericksburg’s German heritage. Oktoberfest offers family entertainment that features “oompah” music, local artisans, children’s fun area, Oktoberfest and German Bier Tents, Oktoberfest Vineyard, delicious food, and more! Also worth mentioning, Fredericksburg hosts their annual Food & Wine Festival later in October. It’s a celebration of Texas food, wine, and beer, along with music, specialty booths, and a food court.

Oktoberfest

  • When: October 3-5, 2014
  • Where: 100 W Main St., Fredericksburg, TX 78624 (Fredericksburg’s Market Square)

Food & Wine Festival

  • When: October 25, 2014
  • Where: 100 W Main St., Fredericksburg, TX 78624 (Fredericksburg’s Market Square)

3) Texas Rice Festival in Winnie 

Come celebrate a tradition that dates back to 1969. The Texas Rice Festival began as a  celebration of the rice harvest – a major driving force in the Southeast Texas economy at that time. The festival has since has grown and features a carnival, parades, livestock show, live music, dances, rice cooking contest, and more. So head down to Winnie for some good ol’ fashioned fun.

  • When: October 1-5, 2014
  • Where: Winnie-Stowell Park, 307 E Leblanc Rd, Winnie, TX 77665
The FCP Roundup: The Top Activities in Small Town Texas for Fall 2014

Birdseye View of WurstFest image courtesy of http://www.wurstfest.com

4) WurstFest in New Braunfels
It’s a 10-day celebration, German-style in New Braunfels. At WurstFest, thousands of visitors can enjoy good food; music; carnival rides and games; German, Texan, and domestic beer; special events; and entertaining Alpine and Bavarian Style Entertainment.

  • When: November 7 – 16, 2014
  • Where: 120 Landa St., New Braunfels, Texas 78130

What recommendations do you have for great events and festivals to attend in Texas during Fall 2014? Share them in the comments or on Facebook!

Energy News in Your Texas Community – Summer 2014

Good morning! Welcome to the first installment of “Energy News in Your Texas Community” for First Choice Power. We hope to provide this quarterly recap of all things energy occurring across Texas so you can stay informed on important events and developments that might interest you or impact your life in the Lone Star State.

Wiring The Wind

CREZ April 2014 Map

Image CREZ April 2014 Map.jpg image courtesy of ERCOT.

For a price tag of $7 billion, Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZ) work (ironically) to reduce energy prices. The Energy Information Agency (EIA) reported in late June that the CREZ transmission project has reduced instances of curtailments and negative pricing. Curtailments occur when there’s too much electricity for the transmission lines to handle. Negative pricing occurs when local generators are willing to pay for the opportunity to continue generating electricity.

While CREZ does add dollars to Texan’s monthly electric bill, the project brings more reliability to the ERCOT grid, and this means LESS chance for line congestion — electric demand outstripping the capacity of the grid to send power to meet that demand. It also means that West Texas wind power can be transmitted from Amarillo eastwards to meet high demand for cooling in Dallas, Waco, and San Antonio. This keeps your Texas electricity prices lower.

On June 16, wind supplied over 7,000 MW of power. Spot power prices across ERCOT fell 48 cents, or 1 percent, to average $46.09 a megawatt-hour during the 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. trading period.While 7,000 MW was about 10%, it shows that wind power does reduce the wholesale price.

More Wind Farms Coming to Lubbock and Amarillo

windmills 2CREZ has also fanned investment in more wind farms. Two major projects (about 200 MW capacity each) are in the works: one by Tri Global Energy in Crosby County northeast of Lubbock and the other by General Electric and the German company E.ON in Carson County just a few miles east of Amarillo. Tri Global Energy’s Crosby County Wind Farm will build the Pleasant Hill Wind Energy project, a 20 MW addition, that apart from power will bring in $6.0 million in landowner and community royalties as well as tax revenues to the county and school district. GE’s Grandview Phase I project near Amarillo will create about 250-300 construction jobs and 10-12 permanent positions.

More Natural Gas Powered Generation To Fire Up

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Image PA222237.jpg By mconnors courtesy of Morguefile.com.

Current natural gas prices make investment in natural gas generation more attractive for investment in Texas. These past few weeks have seen announcements for five new natural gas generation plants: three by Navasota Energy and two by FGE Power and Starwood Energy Group. Navasota Energy plans on building three identical 543-megawatt, natural gas-fired, peaking power plants. Peaking plants are called in to generate power to fill in peak demand. Of the three plants, one will be located in Grayson County near Dallas, and the other two in Guadalupe County and Wilson County, both outside of San Antonio.

The two plants by FGE Power and Starwood Energy Group are planned as two identical 747MW combined-cycle gas turbine (CCGT) facilities near the communities of Westbrook and Colorado City in Mitchell County, Texas. Combined-cycle gas turbines generate electricity first with a gas turbine and then the waste heat is used to make steam for a steam turbine. Both projects will come online in 2017 and will be capable of generating up to 3,000 MW of electricity.

Austin’s Smartest Homes

iStock_000011995165SmallTime Magazine has called it, “America’s Smartest City“. Well, they weren’t talking about all of Austin. Instead they were talking about the energy smart homes in the Mueller neighborhood, a planned urban redevelopment on the grounds of Austin’s former municipal airport. Homes here have a yearly energy bill that totals about $600. Not too shabby at all. But it’s not just the extra insulation, distributed (rooftop) solar cells, electric vehicle use, and home energy management that’s making a big difference – it’s the usage data.

The Pecan Street Organization, a University of Texas-based research organization, tracks Mueller residents’ electricity usage at the “granular level.” Data is kept anonymous, but every milliwatt used is tracked in relation to time of day, weather patterns, and fluctuations in power price. Some of the results are surprising – for example, solar panels facing west catch the most sunlight and generate the most electricity during late afternoon when power usage for cooling is highest and most expensive. Pecan Street plans on bringing what it learns about energy efficiency and locally generated renewable energy to more Texas towns by expanding its operations.

Recycling is Finally in the Bag!

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Image kr051308_011.jpg By krossee courtesy of Morguefile.com

Back in November 2013, Ziploc announced that their bags were recyclable. But it seems to be taking a while to get people to recycle their waste polypropylene film – other wise known as plastic wrap. Fortunately, www.plasticfilmrecycling.org can tell you the convenient places (like Target and Walmart) in your part of Texas that accept clean and dry plastic baggies and wrapping.

What happens to recycled plastic baggies? They are turned into composite lumber that can be used for decks and fences, as well as energy efficient windows and doors. Yes, by recycling, you can have home energy efficiency in the bag!

Do you have any other big energy industry news from Texas to share? Please let us know in the comments!

Reviewing 5 Top Parks in East Texas

Texas abounds with vast amounts of parks for families to enjoy throughout the year. In this series, we’re going to look at some of the best parks the Lone Star State has to offer, from small local parks to sprawling state and national park facilities. Let’s get out and explore this great state of ours. First up: East Texas!

The Children's Park in Tyler Texas. JUNE 9-10, 2011. Photo by Jill Johnson

The Children’s Park in Tyler Texas. JUNE 9-10, 2011. Photo by Jill Johnson

1) The Children’s Park of Tyler

“There is no foot so small that it cannot leave an imprint on this world.” After the death of their middle child at birth, the Carson family helped create a place of both peace and fun for others in memory of their son, Braden. The park was completed in 2004 without raising a single tax dollar and was generously donated to the city of Tyler.

Today, The Children’s Park not only offers a place of solace for those that seek comfort but also gives a place of celebration from family picnics to bigger events such as weddings. Every year The Children’s Park hosts an annual Teddy Bear Picnic where families enjoy face-painting, music, story time, and of course a picnic complete with their favorite teddy bear. Mrs. Carson holds a Day of Remembrance celebration once a year, and once a month holds a support group called Glory Babies at The Children’s Park.

One thing noticeable at first is the lack of playground equipment. The Carsons believe that natural play is a lost art, and that children need to be given an opportunity to explore and use their imagination.

The park has grown so much since 2004 that the City of Tyler has donated additional land as well as matched funds to help with the park’s expansion. The new expansion of the park features a secluded meditation garden, an additional play place, and an additional indoor and outdoor space that will allow the community to hosts larger events. Even if it isn’t on their annual Teddy Bear Picnic, you and your family can always enjoy an impromptu teddy bear picnic or tea party of your own!

Canoeing on Caddo Lack image courtesy of http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/caddo-lake

Canoeing on Caddo Lack image courtesy of http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/caddo-lake

2) Caddo Lake State Park

This hidden gem nestled in Karnack, TX was the only natural lake in the state until it was artificially dammed in the early 1900s. Visitors can now enjoy an array of outdoor activities from boating, fishing, and camping, to hiking, general nature study, and enjoying the rich history of the area at the park’s headquarters.

Caddo Lake covers over 26,000 acres of swampland. The natural inhabitants that call Caddo Lake home include 71 different species of fish, making this a top vacation spot for your avid fisherman. The naturalist in your family will enjoy being able to spot beavers, minks, white-tailed deer, raccoons, snakes, alligators, and many other wildlife. The cabins, originally built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, make camping easy and fun for the whole family. While the park is open daily, the busiest time of the year is March through November. The cost for adults is $3 a day, while children 12 and under are free.

Park Playground image courtesy of Michael Cavazos.

Park Playground image courtesy of Michael Cavazos.

3) Spring Hill / Neal McCoy / AMBUCS Too Universally Accessible Playground in Longview

Country music and playgrounds don’t normally go hand in hand unless you are Neal McCoy. As the founder of East Texas Angel Network, McCoy picked Longview to build a new playground, after winning the Home Depot Humanitarian Award in 2005. AMBUCS Too Longview, a local group, raised more than $350,000 to help expand the Neal McCoy Park. The expansion makes the park one of the largest approved by the Americans with Disabilities Act in East Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. The 5,605 square foot playground allows all children to play together with a fully accessible playground. The Spring Hill Park also includes a splash pad and pavilion for the family to enjoy.

Playground image courtesy of www.victoriachamber.org.

Playground image courtesy of www.victoriachamber.org.

4) Riverside Park & Rose Garden in Victoria

Enjoy a multitude of outdoor activities at the 562-acre park that shares its borders with over 4 miles of the Guadalupe River. Riverside Park is a great choice for a small family outing or a much larger gathering since they offer 200 picnic areas.

At Riverside Park you can spend the day playing baseball, disc golf, or just wandering the trails. If those aren’t up your alley, you can use one of the canoe or kayak paddling trails instead. See over 1,000 rose bushes at the Rose Garden weaving around a gazebo and water fountain. The smaller members of the family will enjoy the duck pond and the adventurous playground.

Splash Pad image courtesy of http://parks.longviewtexas.gov/spray-pads.

Splash Pad image courtesy of http://parks.longviewtexas.gov/spray-pads.

5) Jack Mann Splash Pad in Longview

During the summer months of Texas, there is only one way to get relief from the sweltering heat: splash pads! Jack Mann Splash Pad is a Texas-sized pad at 10,000 sq. ft.  of summer wonder, and it’s the largest splash pad in East Texas! The park boasts two pavilions, tons of water spouts, restrooms, parking lot, and 3 themed areas.  It costs $1 per child and $2 per adult for Longview residents to enter, and $1 more for non-residents. What says Texas more then getting water dumped on you by a giant Dr. Pepper water sprayer?

What are your favorite parks to visit in East Texas? Share with us in the comments!

3 Top Texas Vacation Destinations for Summer

Summer is here, and that means hot and humid days for Texans. Rather than spending the summer days stuck indoors, we suggest heading to one of the top destinations in Texas for some fun and excitement. Here are our top 3 recommended Texas vacation destinations for the summer. Enjoy!

3 Top Texas Vacation Destinations for Summer

Photo from Air Padre Kiteboarding.com

1) South Padre Island – This is a great place to spend those hot Texas summer days. South Padre Island offers its visitors pretty beaches and water, a variety of water sports, exciting night life, restaurants, and more. In addition to the beach life, there is the famous Schlitterbahn Waterpark and Resort South Padre Island - an indoor-outdoor waterpark that features almost two dozen attractions, 13 fun indoor and outdoor water slides, and floating on one of the multiple river systems.

3 Top Texas Vacation Destinations for Summer

San Antonio River Walk image courtesy of StuSeeger. https://www.flickr.com/photos/stuseeger/

2) San Antonio – San Antonio is one of the most popular vacation destinations in Texas mostly because there is so much to do especially for families.

  • Booking a hotel room overlooking the San Antonio River Walk is a must. It’s a great location, there’s plenty of dining and shopping around it and its fun to stroll along.
  • Next, there is Sea World San Antonio, which has rides, shows, and exhibits sure to keep everyone entertained. Not to mention they have a few water rides to help keep cool as well.
  • Also don’t miss out on Six Flags Fiesta Texas, it’s a theme park and waterpark combo with thrilling rides, rides for the kids, and water rides to keep cool.

In addition to these attractions, San Antonio is great for history buffs too as it’s home to the renowned Alamo.

3 Top Texas Vacation Destinations for Summer

Austin, TX Downtown image courtesy of StuSeeger. https://www.flickr.com/photos/stuseeger/

3) Austin – Deemed “the Live Music Capital of the World,” Austin is one of the hottest places to visit in Texas.

  • Visitors can hear live music almost every night at places like Continental Club, enjoy amazing restaurants that will channel their “inner foodie,” and experience exciting night life.
  • In addition, there are some fun water sports to do like kayaking, canoeing and paddle boarding on Town Lake (also known as Lady Bird Lake).
  • Since Austin is the state’s capital, you can tour around the Capitol Building and learn about the state’s history at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum.

If that isn’t enough, visitors can enjoy a hike up Mount Bonnell and after, be rewarded with an ice cold beer and a beautiful view at the rustic yet awesome dive bar Dry Creek Saloon (4812 Mt. Bonnell Rd.; 512/453-9244).

Where are your favorite summer vacation destinations across Texas? Share them with us in the comments! We’d love to know what you love about the Lone Star State!