Category Archives: In Your Community

Best Ways to Celebrate Cinco in Texas

FCP Texas-Cinco de MayoCinco de Mayo is a national holiday for people of Mexican heritage. The holiday commemorates the Mexican army’s surprising victory over an invading French army at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. The Mexican Army was led by General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín. Seguin was born in the state of Coahuila and Texas (near present Goliad, Texas). Not only did roughly 4,000 Mexican soldiers defeat the well-equipped 6,000 strong French force but they also proved that the Mexican Army could take-on and beat the frijoles out of a formidable European army (the French Army had not been defeated for almost 50 years). Every year, the victory at Puebla is honored with music, dance, food, and all sort of activities. While it would take another 5 years for Mexico to rid itself of the French, since the period from 1862 to 1867, the Americas has not been invaded by any other European military force! That’s reason enough to celebrate in your Texas community.

If you’re looking to celebrate Cinco de Mayo this coming weekend, here’s our suggestions for place with food, music, and fun for the whole family.

Austin
Austin has lots of food and music happening downtown. On Tuesday, May 5th, the 7th Annual La Condesa Downtown Block Party. Beer, tequila, and music starts at 5 pm and it’s free!

Saturday, May 2: Not far away, the Hays Fiesta kicks off in Kyle with food, music, fashion, dance, art and more. Admission is free.

Dallas
Saturday, May 2: Don’t miss The 27th Dallas Cinco de Mayo Big Parade and Festival with music on the Festival Stage from 10 AM to 3 PM and the parade stepping of at 11 AM from 223 W. Jefferson Blvd. Don’t forget the car show runing from 10 Am to 4 PM.

Denton
Saturday, May 2: Denton’s 28th Annual Cinco de Mayo Celebration lasts from 10 AM to 6PM, starting with a parade and festivities at the Denton Quakertown Park, located at 321 E. McKinney. 6,000 people attended in 2013. There’s games, a variety of food (the festival only allows allow three vendors to sell the same food item), traditional cultural music, dance, crafts, and a soccer tournament.

Houston
Houston has several celebratons going on throughout the metro area. Syd Kearney at the Houston Chronicle lists numerous restaurants and bars celebrating Cinco from Saturday to Tuesdays with food and music deals, including Doc’s Motorworks, El Cantina Superior, and Cinco de Midtown at Celtic Gardens, Pub Fiction and 3rd Bar.

Friday May 1 to Sunday, May 3: Head over to 2200 North MacGregor Way for the Houston’s three day Cinco de Mayo party.  Plenty of food, music, and rides. General admission tickets are $20.00.

Saturday, May 2: The 23rd Annual LULAC Cinco de Mayo Parade steps off in downtown Houston (at Texas at Hamilton) with over 100 colorful entries.

Sunday, May 3rd: Traders Village presents its 10th Annual Cinco De Mayo festival. Enjoy community service exhibits, games, live music, and activities for the kids, fresh fajitas and turkey legs on the grill, margaritas y cerveza, and more. Located on 7979 N. Eldridge Rd., Houston, not far from US 290 and the Beltway.

Tuesday, May 5: Out in the north Houston suburbs, there’s Cinco de Mayo at the Woodlands Children’s Museum, ideal for children 7 years of age and younger, there’s lot to do and see.

San Antonio
Saturday, May 2: San Antonio’s first ever TejasFest will feature Tejano music, cowboy culture, folkloric dancing, and great German and Mexican food — all free and all in the heart of downtown. the celebration runs from 10AM to 6PM and is followed by a special benefit concert from 7 PM to 10 PM by The Brave Combo. Tickets are $12.00.

Saturday, May 2: Los Patios is also putting on it’s own free celebration from 10 AM to 4 PM. Los Patios is a park-like setting along the Salado Creek. They’ll have juried artists, artisans, jewelry designers, and antiques dealers on the beautiful wooded grounds plus Mexican food,beverages, and entertainment for the children. Music by the Jefferson High School Mariachis.

Waco
Friday, May 1: The City of Waco’s Brazos Nights contiunes its Cinco de Mayo concerts this year with bands Los Hijos de San Juan and Conjunto Invicto. Om-nom-nom at some of Waco’s best Taco Trucks and enjoy Cinco de Mayo-inspired beverages. Begins at 7pm at Indian Springs Park. Admission is free.

So…How Did the French Get into Mexico?

On July 17, 1861, Mexican President Benito Juárez suspended the Republic of Mexico’s interest payments to foreign countries. The three biggest creditors were Britain, Spain, and the Empire of France. France was led by Emperor Napoleon III. That fall, these three governments signed the Treaty of London to unite their efforts to receive payments from Mexico even if that meant miliary action. On December 8, the Spanish fleet landed troops at Mexico’s main port, Veracruz. But, it soon became evident that Emperor Napoleon III wanted Mexico for its silver reserves and as a puppet state. Both Britain and Spain withdrew from the coalition, pulling out their troops on April 24, 1862. The Mexican Army defeated the invading French Army at Puebla on May 5, 1862 (Cinco de Mayo).

The Mexican victory was short-lived. By June 7, 1863 thirty thousand troops defeated the Republic of Mexico’s Army and captured Mexico City. Emperor Napoleon III’s puppet, Emperor Maximilian I, accepted the Impmerial Crown of Mexico on April 10, 1864. Maximilian was an archduke from the Hapsburg family, the Royal House of Austria. The war against the French would rage for two years. In 1865, the US began supplying Republic of Mexico’s forces and threatening to kick the French out by force of arms. Napoleon III reassessed his imperial ambitions. In 1866, he announced the withdrawal of French forces beginning May 31.

In May of 1867, Mexico City fell the Republic of Mexico’s forces and Maximillian was captured. Maximillian was executed by firing squad on June 19. His body was later shipped to Vienna where it lies in the Habsburg Imperial vault.

Green Energy & Texas—A Heavenly Earth Day Match

iStock_000004633733XSmallIn 2014, roughly 11.4% of electricity used in the ERCOT region of Texas came from green, renewable energy sources. While that doesn’t sound like a whole lot of electricity, the the actual generation amounts show something incredible:
• 7 million ERCOT consumers used 340 billion kilowatt-hours.
• green, renewable sources generated approximately 38 billion kilowatt-hours of that consumer demand.

That’s a HUGE amount of renewable energy being produced. Texas ranks second nationally after California in renewable energy production. While California has long been perceived as the renewable energy leader during the past 7 years, the output from Texas renewables has been catching up.

Texas is number one nationally for wind energy,  over 12,000 MW of operational wind capacity, and it has been setting new records for renewable production for the past three years. On March 26, wind generation in ERCOT reached 10,120 MW — about 38% of total load. But besides wind power, many other green and renewable energy projects are operational and more are still being developed. Texas green energy has been so successful that the state ranks #2 nationally in total renewable energy employment with more than 102,000 Texans are directly employed in renewable energy sectors. Still think it’s just a lot of wind? Here’s a quick summary of those other green renewable energy projects and how much they contribute the state’s energy. In fact, you could say that green energy and Texas is a Heavenly Earth Day match.

Texas’s Other Green Energy Projects

Hydropower

Hydropower is the largest source of renewable energy in the US —particularly in the Pacific Northwest. That’s not so much the case with Texas where fickle drought conditions cause water shortages and leave turbines sitting idle. Texas generates 1 gigawatt hour (gWh) of electricity directly from water through 675 MW of hydroelectric power capacity. In 2007, the state’s 23 hydroelectric dams provided only 0.3% of the total electricity generation — practically a drop in the bucket. Most water used for power generation goes toward cooling power plants. Hydrokinetics which relies on turbines placed in water courses without a dam to generate electricity, meanwhile, offers another avenue for both river and tidal generation. According to a 2012 report on US riverine hydrokinetic capacity, the Texas Gulf region has a capacity of generating 8.9 terrawatt hours (or 8.9 billion kilowatt hours) per year. While this remains a small amount of power for the entire ERCOT grid, distributed hydrokinetic may offer a resource for small communities looking to augment their microgrid.

Geothermal resources in Texas. Image courtesy of  State Energy Conservation Office (SECO)

Geothermal resources in Texas.
Image courtesy of State Energy Conservation Office (SECO)

Geothermal

According to the EIA, Texas has a unique geothermal reource that is largely untapped. Both oil and natural gas wells tap deep underground hot pockets of water. As much as 12 billion barrels heated to nearly 400°F. The trick is to convert that hot water into electricity. Research has identified 17,000 wells in Texas with bottom temperature ranges above 212 °F. The hottest well, located east of Victoria, Texas, was recorded at 510°F!

Southern Methodist University’s Geothermal Laboratory and the University of Texas at Permian Basin estimate that Texas could have 2,000 to 10,000 MW in geothermal generating capacity. There are three types of geothermal resources, hydrothermal (hot water), geopressured (or hot brine saturated with methane under high pressure), hot dry rock (heated formation). A geothermal power plant would use steam or heat directly from below ground to drive turbines. Generation capacity could be up to 250 MW and have ZERO fuel costs. Geopressured resources not only offer the thermal energy from hot water but also methane which can be used to drive a gas turbine, further electric generation.

Biomass

Logging in the Piney Woods of east Texas creates enormous amounts of waste wood. Instead of being left to rot, this renewable resource is shredded and used to feed 5 biomass generators, producing  200 MW of electricity:

Snider Industries in Marshall generates five megawatts with it biomass power generation facility.

East Texas Electric Cooperative’s Hilton Lively Renewable Power Project in Woodville generates 45 MW of electricity.

InventivEnergy’s Aspen Biomass Power Plant supplies Lufkin, Texas with 50MW of generation capacity.

Southern Power Company’s Nacogdoches Generating Facility, in Sacul is a 100-megawatt biomass-fueled base-load facility providing enough power to supply approximately 60,000 homes with electricity. It is the biggest biomass generation facility in Texas.

While Texas has limited amount of forest, cattle may provide a far more plentiful source of biomass fuel. Texas A&M is part of a nearly $16 million nationwide grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to purify waste water from cattle manure lagoons. The left over cattle manure will be allowed to dry and then be used as a biomass fuel for heat and electrical power.

Solar

Texas may rank sixth in installed solar capacity but in 2013, the state was reported by investment banker Ernst & Young as the “most untapped solar potential” in the US. That report might have helped stir up some action because Texas recently ranked eighth in states with the most new solar capacity added, 129 megawatts (MW) of newly installed solar brought the state’s total solar capacity to 330 MW. Not only is solar energy in Texas heating up, it’s been dubbed “the next wind power”.

Texas has three major utility scale solar projects underway: the 30 MW Barilla Solar Project in the Permian Basin, the huge 400 Watt Alamo Project servicing San Antonio, and the 30-megawatt Webberville Solar Farm near Austin.

And there’s more: Austin Energy just announced it will add 600 megawatts of solar to its generation portfolio in two years.

While Texas isn’t the most green energy state—yet— it is certainly making other states green with envy.

7 Top Texas Museums to Visit over Spring Break

With spring break quickly approaching, many parents are trying to make plans to fill the week up with activities, road trips, or other events to keep kids entertained. As it turns out, Texas is home to some fantastic museums located all around this great state. If you are looking for ideas on what to do, keep the learning going this spring break with these seven top Texas museums to visit.

Bullock Museum

Photo from thestoryoftexas.com

Bullock Texas State History Museum
1800 Congress Ave.
Austin, TX 78701
(512) 936-8746

Located in Austin, Texas’s capital, it’s no wonder why this Texas History Museum is one of the best. The museum is named after the state’s 38th Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, who played an essential role to the establishment of this museum. The museum tells the story and history of Texas with three levels of interactive exhibits, an IMAX theater and Texas Spirit Theater.
Tickets:
Adults – $12

Seniors/Military – $10
College Student – $10
Youth (ages 4-17) – $8

Photo from about.com

Children’s Museum of Houston
1500 Binz
Houston, TX 77004
(713) 522-1138

Voted the #1 Children’s Museum in America by Parents Magazine, this museum is a must for those in and around the Houston area. With 90,000 square feet of interactive exhibits and 14 hands-on galleries, there is plenty of fun and learning to be had. For families with little ones, there is a Tot Spot area for those tots 35 months and younger that is filled with age appropriate activities and toys to experiment and play with.
Tickets:
Adult – $10

Seniors – $9
Kids – $10
Children 1 and under – FREE

Photo from menil.org

Photo from menil.org

Menil Collection
1533 Sul Ross St.
Houston, TX 77006
(713) 525-9400

A local treasure within Houston, the Menil Collection is one of the greatest private collections in the world (Frommers). The museum was opened in 1987 to preserve and exhibit the art collection of Dominique and John de Menil. With about 17,000 works of art such as paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings and photographs there is truly something for everyone to see. If time permits, be sure to stop by for a quick bite or beverage at the new Bistro Menil that will top off your museum experience.
Tickets:
FREE to the public

Photo from fortworth.com

Photo from fortworth.com

Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
3200 Darnell Street
Fort Worth, Texas 76107
(817) 738-9215

Also known as The Modern, this museum is the oldest art museum in Texas and is the nation’s second largest museum dedicated to contemporary and modern art (fodders).  The Modern’s collection is made up of almost 3,000 art pieces including paintings, sculptures, photographs and prints. Take in art pieces from artists such as Picasso, Warhol and Pollock. Also, if there’s time in your schedule, be sure to check out Cafe’ Modern for a savory bite or cool beverage.
Tickets:
General (13 years and up) – $10

Students/Seniors – $4
Children 12 and under – FREE

Photo from nashersculpturecenter.org

Photo from nashersculpturecenter.org

Nasher Sculpture Garden
2001 Flora Street
Dallas, Texas 75201
(214) 242-5100

Located in the heart of the Dallas Arts District, the Nasher Sculpture Garden is considered to have one of the finest collections of modern and contemporary sculptures in the world. The Nasher Sculpture Garden features rotating exhibits all from the private Raymond and Patsy Nasher Collection. Their collection consists of over 300 pieces of art from artists like Matisse, Picasso, Serra and more.
Tickets:
Adult – $10

Seniors/Military – $7
Students – $5
Children 12 and under – FREE

Photo from officialmuseumdirectory.com

Photo from officialmuseumdirectory.com

Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum
2503 4th Avenue
Canyon, Texas 79015
(806) 651-2244

Head to Canyon, a few miles from Amarillo, to visit Texas’ largest history museum filled with 14,000 years worth of history from dinosaurs to a life-size Pioneer Town. Best of all, many of the exhibits are hands-on like trying on a saddle or sitting in a Ford Mustang.  With beautiful floor to ceiling windows and a giant oil derrick at the entrance, this is truly a captivating museum.
Tickets:
Adults – $10

Seniors 65+ – $9
Children (4-12) – $5
Children under 4 – FREE

Photo from visitsanantonio.com

Photo from visitsanantonio.com

San Antonio Museum of Art
200 West Jones Avenue
San Antonio, Texas 78215
(210) 978-8100

If you’re in or near San Antonio for spring break then you should definitely check out the San Antonio Museum of Art. This museum has the largest and most comprehensive collection of ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman, as well as Asian, art in the southern United States. Plus it has an extensive collection of Latin American Art from Pre-Columbian times to now. Once visitors are done with inside the museum, they can stroll around the beautiful riverside grounds outside.
Tickets:
Adults – $10

Seniors (65+) – $7
Students and Military (with ID) – $5
Children Under 12 – FREE

Resources:
Frommers.com
HoustonMuseumDistrict.org

Powering the Lone Star State: the Energy Outlook for Texas in 2015

Powering the Lone Star State: the Energy Outlook for Texas in 2015Now that it’s midway through Winter 2015, many people wonder what the coming summer will be like. In particular, “How hot it will get, and what does this mean for electricity in my Texas community.” Well, back in December 2014, the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) released its energy usage forcast for this coming year (and beyond).

The good news is that the report states that there is plenty of capacity to meet demand during Summer 2015. However, there are still a few problems that could complicate service in parts of some cities. And if you’re living in one of those areas, you’ll want to know what those problems are and how they might affect you and your family.

Crunching the Numbers

ERCOT expects a possible peak demand of 69,057 megawatts (MW). For scale, 1 MW = the use of about 200 houses during peak summer demand (that’s 5 kw per house). In order to ensure there’s enough electricity, there needs to be extra capacity just in case generators are unavailable (due to scheduled maintenance or sudden technical problems) and demand is rising. That’s when so-called “peaker” generation can fire up to meet demand. That reserve margin for this summer is 15.7%, bringing the total generation capacity up to 77,000 MW. Part of that generation includes new 2,109 MW of capacity fueled by natural gas, 710 MW of wind and 38 MW of solar (both maximum rated or “nameplate” capacity) that has been installed since last May.

However, if reserves are not available, customers will be asked to reduce consumption to reduce the load. This can include demand-response programs that allow the local utilities to control home air conditioning, pool pumps, and industrial usage. High demand and low supply can lead to rolling blackouts in order to prevent damage to the entire grid network.

The Influence of Renewable Energy

This year, contributions from renewable energy are being estimated differently: partly because there’s enough historical performance data and also because the new CREZ transmission lines have reduced congestion, allowing more power to flow.

Wind power is estimated to be at 12% nameplate capacity from non-coastal wind areas and 56% from coastal facilities during the summer, with those capacities changing to 19% and 36% respectively in the winter. The state’s only offshore wind farm was in its planning stage and lost its lease this past July.

Utility scale solar, meanwhile, is counted at nameplate capacity with the plan being that, once that capacity increases to over 200 MW of “commercial-scale,” there will enough historical data behind it to provide a more accurate estimation of performance. Current installed wind capacity is 11,000 MW while solar is 189 MW (about 0.2% of total capacity).

Powering the Lone Star State: the Energy Outlook for Texas in 2015

Future Demand Chart courtesy of ERCOT.

Some Complications Ahead

The ERCOT report lays out two problems that could lead to complications in the coming years. One is growing demand from reviving economy and increasing population. By 2020, Texas’s population is predicted to rise by about 2 million people with summer peak electric demand rising 1.5 % from 69,057 MW to about 74,000 MW. While not much of an increase, this ratio leaves less reserve power available. In the long term, growth is expected to continue while total capacity will likely remained pinned at 80,000 MW. Options include building more generation and opening up transmission access to other US grid systems (which would open up a reluctant ERCOT to more Federal oversight).

While the CREZ transmission project has been attracting more wind farm developers in the north and west, the second problem looms for southern part of Texas: the need for additional transmission capacity to the growing Houston metropolitan area. During 2014, the south side of Houston had the most frequent —and expensive— congestion problems in all of ERCOT. While Houston’s electrical demand has increased, there has been little generation development or transmission built to support it.

During the last few years, only 1,800 MW of new generation replaced 3,800 MW of old capacity that was retired. Add to this the anticipated 690 MW of load from a proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) project, and the growing concern over Houston energy prices as well as who’s going to pay for the line becomes palpable.

Powering the Lone Star State: the Energy Outlook for Texas in 2015

Unites States Map Image courtesy of NOAA.

Whither the Weather?

With all that in mind as we experience the rest of winter (predicted to be colder than the beginning) and head into summer, NOAA’s long term prediction is for “equal chance” (33.33% ) for above, normal, or below average temperatures for all of Texas from June through August 2015. Statistical equivocating aside, given that the West and East Coasts are likely to be warmer than average with a mostly neutral El Niño, Texas might simply be content with only normal-ish heat during the summer.

Thus, while it’s still mid-winter, perhaps it’s best to expect one sure thing about this summer’s Texas weather: change. At least it looks like ERCOT will be able to supply your Texas community with enough electricity to get you through it.

Happy New Year from First Choice Power!

Happy New Year from First Choice Power! Hooray for 2015! Celebrating the arrival of the New Year is always a grand occasion for gazing into the crystal ball to see what life holds in the 365 days that stand before us. It’s also a great chance to remember the events of 2014, wipe the slate clean, and start a new calendar with fresh perspective and plenty of hope.

Here at First Choice Power, we spent 2014 making strides to take care of you. This specifically included revamping our website to be more user-friendly and to present information about our services with more effective language. We also ramped up our activity on Facebook and Twitter so you can get in touch with us in formats that make sense to your life in the 21st century. Furthermore, we turned increased attention to our Refer-A-Friend program so that you and all the friends you bring to First Choice Power can be rewarded for making smart energy decisions! Finally, we restructured our MyAccount platform, which brings you the access you deserve to your electricity account information so you can make the right choices about your electricity for you, your family, and your home.

At The Current, our blog posts in 2014 focused on several key themes: Exploring Texas, Enjoying Texas Living, and Home Improvement. Let’s take a look at some of our most popular posts for each of those topics:

Happy New Year from First Choice Power! Exploring Texas

Enjoying Texas Living

Happy New Year from First Choice Power! Home Improvement

Whew! 2014 really WAS a busy year for First Choice Power. Luckily for you, dear customer, we have all sorts of great developments on the horizon in 2015 – and they’re all designed with you in mind. Here’s to a fantastic new year in the best state in the world!

Happy New Year from First Choice Power!

Enjoying Winter in Texas: 3 Fun Road Trips

Enjoying Winter in Texas: 3 Fun Road Trips People living in colder climates may not truly appreciate the winter road trip – no one really likes driving through snow and ice. Although the climate varies in Texas by region (parts of North and West Texas actually experience 4 real seasons), overall it tends to be fairly pleasant. Sure, the occasional storm might bring sleet, ice, and below-freezing weather to the Lone Star State, but in between these storms, we have long periods of mild, sunny, comfortable weather. Thus, when you factor in the weather with the general joy of the holiday season, the winter is a particularly good time to pack up the car and head out for a Texas road trip.

Enjoying Winter in Texas:  3 Fun Road Trips

Aerial View of Marktplatz in Fredericksburg, TX image courtesy of fbgtx.org.

1) Fredericksburg

Time to head for the hills! The Texas Hill Country, that is. Located approximately 258 miles from the Dallas area and approximately 240 miles from Houston, the small historic town of Fredericksburg features old-world German flavor and is filled with many activities. Tops on our list is the great combination of shopping, food, museums, wine, and the outdoors.

Start your visit by exploring Main Street and pop into the Fredericksburg Bakery, the oldest continuously running business on Main Street for a sweet German Pretzel. History aficionados will enjoy the National Museum of the Pacific War, formerly known as the Admiral Nimitz Museum, which has Japanese airplanes, tanks, guns, and a Veterans’ Walk of Honor. Those with a taste for wine will enjoy touring the many wineries in the area.

Enjoying Winter in Texas:  3 Fun Road Trips

Aerial View of San Antonio River Walk image courtesy of VisitSanAntonio.com

2) San Antonio

Only 274 miles from Dallas and a mere 197 miles from Houston, San Antonio is heavily influenced by Mexican culture. It’s also home to the Alamo, the best Tex-Mex (I might be biased, since I was raised there), the River Walk, and Six Flags Fiesta Texas.  My favorite time to stroll the River Walk is in the morning before it gets too crowded, followed by a lunch including Pollo A La Maria at Rosario’s in Southtown.

Visit the newly restored Pearl Brewery, which is now filled with restaurants, shops, apartments and a farmers market on Saturday. Those looking for a little Mexican flair will enjoy Market Square, the largest Mexican Market in the states which sells everything from hand-embroidered Mexican dresses to piñatas. Lastly, thrill seekers looking for an adrenaline pumping experience should head up to Fiesta Texas to ride the roller coasters.

Enjoying Winter in Texas:  3 Fun Road Trips

Bob Bullock Museum image courtesy of TripAdvisor.com

3) Austin 

Home to the second largest University in the nation, some would argue Austin is the artistic and musical hub of the state. The state capital of Texas is only 195 miles from Dallas and 165 miles from Houston.

Begin your day by walking or biking Town Lake, earning you a delicious lunch at one of the various Maudie’s Restaurants in the city. Then brush up on Texas history by visiting the Bob Bullock Museum. If you have kids with you, venture to North Austin to visit The Thinkery, a “hybrid science and technology center/children’s museum.”  Lastly, representing the “Keep Austin Weird” vibe that Austin is known for, South Congress has numerous independent retailers, food trucks, restaurants, galleries and fabulous people watching that you MUST visit.

Winter is a wonderful time to visit different Texas cities.  Are you thinking of planning a family road trip soon? If so, where are you heading?

Celebrate Texas with the 2014 Christmas Wish Lists of First Choice Power Employees

Celebrate Texas with the 2014 Christmas Wish Lists of First Choice Power EmployeesHooray for Christmas! We really enjoy this wonderful holiday here at the First Choice Power offices, so we wanted to spread the holiday cheer by sharing the Christmas wish lists created by a few of our wonderful employees. Hopefully, you can use these ideas to kick-start your own lists!

Monica

My Wish List to Santa contains lots of great items from Texas-based artists and companies.

Brooke

Dear Santa,

Christmas is almost here – which means parties have been attended and the shopping for others is almost complete. Now it’s finally time to think about what I want for Christmas!

  • A new Smartphone. My contract is up, so it’s time for a new phone – yay! But which one do I choose? Do I join the masses and opt for a super-sized iPhone 6 or go for a Samsung product with Android?
  • Workout clothes from Lululemon and Athleta. Hopefully if I wear them, it will subconsciously make me actually work out.
  • Wine. Just in case you aren’t aware of my preferences, might I suggest Kim Crawford, Nickel & Nickel, A. Rafanelli, or a nice Sauvignon Blanc from Merry Edwards?
  • Instacart gift card. There’s not one ounce of me that enjoys grocery shopping, so this would be a wonderful gift!
  • Personal Chef. In addition to my dislike for grocery shopping, you can imagine my level of enthusiasm for cooking. So, someone to take care of dinners every night for the whole family would be THE most wonderful thing!

And, last but not least, world peace.

Adam

I want to spend 2015 exploring the great state that is Texas, so my wish list embraces that challenge (along with my desire to spend money in some of my favorite stores in the Lone Star State).

Celebrate Texas with the 2014 Christmas Wish Lists of First Choice Power Employees

Texas State Parks image courtesy of Texas Parks & Wildlife Department

Wow! It looks to be a really great Christmas for those three! What do you have on your wish lists this year? Share with us in the comments!

3 Destinations for Fall Foliage in Texas

3 Destinations for Fall Foliage in Texas

McKittrick Canyon Fall Foliage image courtesy of Celebration of Our Mountains (http://www.celebmtns.org).

Having been brought up in the Northeast United States, fall foliage means stunning vistas of rolling hills filled with a breathtaking array of colors – for several weeks and months. Moving to Texas was a bit of a shift with regard to the seasons, and I honestly thought the beauty of autumn would be lost for me. Much to my surprise, Texas possesses some of the post-pumpkin color spectacles that signal the gradual approach to Christmas – if you know where to look. To help with your search for the yellows, reds, and oranges of the season, we’ve collected 3 places you can find autumn in the Lone Star State.

1) Looking out west, one favorite location is Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and more specifically McKittrick Canyon.  Deceiving though it may be, this desert area comes alive in late autumn with astonishing vibrance due to the concentration of ash, maple, juniper, oak, and walnut trees. For any outdoors enthusiast, this is not only a fall destination, but an opportunity to really connect with nature as there is little more than open country in this rugged but beautiful area.

3 Destinations for Fall Foliage in Texas

Tyler, TX Fall Foliage image courtesy of Tyler Texas Online (http://www.tylertexasonline.com).

2) On a drive from Fort Worth to Florida, I was shocked to find such lush woods throughout East Texas. It just so happens that this gorgeous region is also host to many pockets of fall colors. Pick your favorite search engine and search for destinations like Tyler, Athens, Winnsboro, and Palestine. You should be able to locate some amazing routes and stops in this forested part of the state. Don’t forget to sample local food and drink as you go!

3 Destinations for Fall Foliage in Texas

Lost Maples Fall Foliage image courtesy of Texas Parks & Wildlife (http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/).

3) Of course no Texas fall foliage list would be complete without a mention of Texas Hill Country. Points south of the Austin and Fredericksburg regions are famous for many things, fall colors being just one of them, so it’s easy to say that a visit to the area will give you a lot of bang for your autumn buck. Venture a little south and west of these iconic Texas destinations and you’ll find yourself in the quintessential fall foliage center of Texas, Lost Maples State Natural Area. Here you’ll find a myriad of colors indicative of that time of year also known for hot apple cider and hoodies. A road trip around these parts is a must!

I’m happy to say that Texas has a lot to offer the autumn lover, and the fall colors aren’t far from any corner of our proud state.  Get in your cars and go find those leaves changing color!

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!