Tag Archives: energy

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!

It’s Audit Time (Energy Audit, That Is)

Photo by USDAgov

Taxes done? Congrats! Here’s another item for your to-do list before the Texas heat starts blasting down on us full force. April is the perfect month for a home energy audit! Do you really want to wait till August to start thinking about putting insulation in your attic?  

Why Hire a Pro?

An unsealed house is kind of like a leaky air mattress – no matter how much air you pump into it, it keeps rushing out the holes. We’ve got some terrific energy-saving tips that can help you detect and correct energy leaks all over the house, and chances are that you can do many of the fixes yourself. But the pros have the tools and expertise to find lots more than your typical DYI-er can. Two or three hours with a professional energy auditor can save you thousands and thousands of dollars in the years ahead. And if you’re buying a house, an energy audit is an essential pre-purchase step.

Inspection Lite or a Full Physical?

Energy assessments tend to fall into two categories:

  • A home energy survey is a walk-through visual inspection without diagnostic tools.  Inspectors will examine your windows, doors, ductwork, insulation, HVAC systems, appliances and lighting. They’ll study your electric bills and ask you about your comfort levels. Your final report should include recommendations for action, including tasks you can take care of yourself.
  • For a more detailed picture of your home’s energy usage, you’ll need a full building audit. This is where it gets high-tech! Inspectors pinpoint and measure air leaks with diagnostic tools like blower doors that suck the air out of your house and measure the air pressure, infrared thermographic scanners, duct leakage testers and combustion analyzers.  You’ll get a software analysis and detailed reports that tell you how much air your HVAC is leaking, how effective your wall and attic insulation is, and what specific steps you can take to stop wasting energy.

How to Get the Most From Your Home Energy Audit

  • Hire a certified energy auditor. Before you hire someone, ask to see a sample report. You want a clear to-do list that’s easy to understand and easy to follow.
  • Have all your energy bills ready for inspection. Do you have a smart meter? That makes it easy to create usage reports by time of day, week or year.
  • Make a list beforehand of your comfort issues, questions and top concerns.

Have you thought about having a professional energy audit? What energy efficiency improvements have you been able to take care of yourself? Tell us about it in the comments below. And don’t forget to subscribe to The Current for more energy saving tips.

Powering the Future

Photo by Flickr User Andres Rueda

One of the things we love about being a retail energy provider is learning about exciting new advances in science and technology. That’s why we were excited to read a Bizmology article recently about a California start-up company that’s exploring gallium nitride as a substitute for silicon in converters, transistors and switches.

The chemical properties of gallium nitride make it more efficient than silicon in terms of speed, temperature and its ability to handle power. In simple terms, gallium nitride loses less energy. Scientists hope that someday soon, gallium nitride might be an energy-efficient alternative to silicon in things like solar panels, electric cars, and military applications. To learn more about energy advances and news visit our Learning Center

Tell us about your favorite technological advancement in the comments below (and yes, it could be sliced bread). And don’t forget to subscribe to The Current for information on everything from saving electricity to the latest energy news.

#EcoMonday: LED Lights Help Conserve Energy This Holiday Season

San Antonio River Walk (Photo Credit: PR Newswire)

The San Antonio River Walk is transformed during the holiday season, but this year’s presentation of lights is unlike any other before it.  San Antonio threw away more than 85,000 traditional lights and lit up 1.76 million multi-colored light emitting diode (LED) lights. These 1.76 million lights are wrapped around trees, strewn over bridges, and along the walkways of the historic River Walk (Source: Marketwatch).

The city may have added 20 times more lights, but they cut their energy consumption in half! How is that possible? Well, LED lights save the city something like 33,000 kilowatt hours of energy because they use 80 percent less energy than traditional lights. Plus, these lights are more durable – lasting for at least 10 years. HGTV says these lights are much friendlier for the environment  as well because they stay cooler, use less wattage, and conserve energy. San Antonio’s energy bill will be more manageable thanks to LED lighting, and so can yours!

#EcoMonday: Smart Meters Are On the Rise

(Photo Credit: pikeresearch.com)

Black Friday is over, but holiday shopping has just begun. Sitting atop most holiday wish-lists are smart items: smart phones, smart tablets, smart cars, even smart refrigerators!  But you may already have a pretty nifty smart gadget in your home; if not, you may be getting one sooner than you think. A new report by Berg Insight says more than 50 percent of North America will have smart meters by 2016! The installed base for smart meters will continue to grow at 22.5 percent per year, bringing the grand total of smart meters in North America to 87.4 million by 2016.

North America is at the “forefront of metering innovation” according to Tobias Ryberg, a senior analyst at Berg Insights and author of the report. Furthermore, North America is “embracing the latest smart technologies that improve grid performance.” Find out how First Choice Power is using the newest technology to your advantage by offering a Prepaid plan (a service that would not be possible without smart meters).

So, what’s this buzz about smart meters? How smart can they really be? Well, unlike traditional meters, smart meters provide information about your energy usage on a very detailed level – they can report your energy usage in as little as 15-minute increments. Using this information, you will be able to see when and where you are using the most energy in your home (hour by hour, day by day, or week by week)…no more waiting for your monthly energy bill or counting on accurate meter readings.

Smart meters communicate three ways. They talk to you, through in-home energy monitors or online portals, telling you how much energy you’re using. They talk to your poles and wires company, letting them know when there are outages so the company can get your power on faster. They also talk to your retail electric company (that’s us!), giving us better information about your energy usage so we can serve you better (and maybe even save you money!).

It’s easy to find out if you have a smart meter! Just call Customer Care, and they will help you out. If you don’t have one yet, don’t worry. Santa can’t install one for you, but your transmission and distribution service provider (a.k.a your poles and wires company) has the schedule for smart meter installations.

Looks like smart products are even more popular than you thought!

#EcoMonday: Revisiting the Extreme Home Energy Makeover Web Series for Winter

Jerold Davis from TexEnergy Solutions explaining DIY home energy audit tips to First Choice Power's LaShanda Babbs

As we prepare to give our homes a holiday makeover, it’s a great time to take another look at First Choice Power’s Extreme Home Energy Makeover series about the home energy audit held at Marie Weise’s home in Wallis, Texas. Weise won our Extreme Home Energy Makeover Sweepstakes; the prize being a free home energy audit and $5,000 to use on energy-efficient upgrades. 

Although the Extreme Home Energy Makeover series was posted over the summer, home energy audits are just as important with winter just around the corner.  

Interesed in knowing how much air leaves your house, or how much air comes in? What about the spots in your house that have little or no insulation? Schedule a home energy audit, and be more prepared for winter! Watch this video to become more familiar with the audit process, more specifically the blower door test. Or, if you aren’t in the market for a full home energy audit, check out this video to learn about the no-cost, no-hassle, DIY steps you can take to make your house more energy-efficient.

More information on energy audits may be found by clicking, here!

Fun Friday Energy Saving Tips

 

(Photo Credit: visualphotos.com)It is finally Friday, and the weekend has [almost] officially started! Whether you plan to lounge around the house or go out on the town, we have some fun tips to help you save energy.

Are you doing some early holiday shopping online? Or maybe you’re streaming your favorite television shows you missed this week, or keeping track of your fantasy football. Before you fire up that laptop, make sure your AC adapter is on a power strip that can be turned off (or will turn off automatically). EnergySavers reports the transformer in the AC adapter continuously sucks in power, even when the laptop isn’t plugged in! Talk about wasting energy!

In fact, 20 percent of the energy we use at home goes to powering electrical appliances, like our TVs, DVD players, coffee makers, toasters, and microwaves…even when they are turned off! To learn more, visit GetEnergyAware.org.

Did you know that hair dryers reach temperatures higher than the temperature required for water to boil? Hair dryers also use almost 1200 watts of electricity each time we dry our hair, according to EnergySavers.gov. Add the Silence HP to your Holiday Wish List! It’s the energy-efficient AND quiet hairdryer!

What better way to relax than a long shower? Don’t worry about wasting water, buy a water-efficient showerhead. For a family of four, it can cut water usage by as much as 280 gallons/month, without making a noticeable difference in water pressure. Learn more by clicking here.

Now get out there and enjoy your weekend! Happy Veteran’s Day!

Taking the Guesswork Out of Your Energy Bills

The weather, especially right now, is absolutely unpredictable in Texas – The Examiner reports that utility bills for Texans in summer months can range from $75 to $500. Furthermore, RSS Weather reports that daily temperatures can fluctuate by as much as 30 degrees between the months of October and April! Not only does this make dressing for the weather difficult, it also creates a stressful monthly guessing game for energy bills.

First Choice Power makes energy bills predictable with their new Average Billing program. This program averages customer’s energy usage, so monthly bills don’t fluctuate as dramatically. Sound too good to be true? It’s easy! (Take a look at the graph pictured to see your potential savings)

Each month, First Choice Power will average the customer’s energy usage with their usage over the past 11 months. That average amount will then be multiplied by the rate on which the customer agreed upon when signing his or her contract. Finally, we will add or subtract 1/12 of the accumulated difference between the customer’s average bill and his or her actual bills. This difference will fluctuate over time, making monthly energy bill payments as predictable and consistent as possible. 

Call us now to get more information on Average Billing at (866) 469-2464.

#EcoMonday: ‘Tis the Season… for Winter Weatherizing

How do you plan to prep your home for winter? (Photo Credit: roweandesign.com)

We all know a thing or two about Spring Cleaning – but what about “Winter Weatherizing”? It is just as, if not more, important for homeowners. Preparing your home for winter is an easy way to help out the environment—and your wallet.

Here are some tips to increase your home’s energy efficiency this winter:

  • Each degree you raise your thermostat increases your energy bill by three percent. Don’t sweat it – try “winterizing” your wardrobe and bundling up! Before you touch the thermostat, throw on a warm sweater, comfy socks or fuzzy boots while you’re sitting around at home. Also, keep in mind last week’s post about using a programmable thermostat.
  • While you’re up in the attic retrieving holiday decorations, take a minute and check your insulation. Insulation wears away over time, becoming thinner and less effective. It allows heat to escape through the ceiling, forcing heat up and out of your home. Energy Savers reports adding another layer of insulation to the attic dramatically helps improve energy efficiency, and can save you up to 20% on your energy bills!
  • Preparing to roast your Thanksgiving turkey, bake a savory Pumpkin Pie, or cook other delicious holiday treats? Consider investing in energy-efficient appliances like refrigerators and freezers, which are typically considered the top energy users in your home. Click here for more tips on saving energy all throughout the house.
  • Shopping is one of the most popular activities of the holiday season, right? Why not do a little “window shopping” around the house and purchase some high-performance Energy Star-labeled windows! Significant heat escapes through single-pane windows, so purchasing this special kind can cut heating costs by as much as 30 percent!

Have any energy-saving tips of your own? Tell us about it by leaving a comment below!

#EcoMonday: First Choice Power’s President Discusses Smart Meters At UTPA Conference

Our Commander-in-Chief, Brian, speaking at the event (Photo Credit: Sonia Lopez)

By Guest Contributor: Monica Rodriguez

Last Wednesday, the Office of Sustainability at the University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA) hosted its fall workshop, “Creating Sustainable Economic Growth Through Energy Conservation Behavioral Change.” 

About 80 people—from industries located both in the United States and Mexico—attended, and I was one of them. It was so exciting to see so many folks working together to promote energy conservation!

First Choice Power President Brian Hayduk opened the conference with his presentation on Smart Grids through the use of Smart Meters. Did you know: energy demands are expected to grow more than 10 percent in the U.S. and 24 percent worldwide? Smart meters are best equipped to measure actual consumption – the Department of Energy could save as much as $100 billion!

The biggest message we took away from Brian’s presentation was that through the gathering of information, innovation is created resulting in value for consumers.

Other topics discussed: the impact of lighting on energy conservation, solar panel technology and Continuous Commission®. 

Overall, I’d say the conference was very successful. Everyone was able to take the lessons learned back to their companies, and I’m confident First Choice Power will remain at the forefront of such discussions in the future.  I am excited to learn more about new technologies in energy conservation! 

Interested in learning more, or attending future conferences? Click here!