Tag Archives: energy

Texas Catches a Tax Break on ENERGY STAR Appliances this Memorial Day Weekend!

woman with dishwasherBarbeques, relaxing with friends and family, an extra day off and most importantly, remembering our veterans who served this nation, are all reminders that Memorial Day is just around the corner.

Along with the three day weekend often comes big sales from retailers and if you’re in the market for new home appliances, you’re in luck.

This year the state of Texas has issued a 2015 ENERGY STAR sales tax holiday over Memorial Day weekend that begins at 12:01am on Saturday, May 23 and ends at 11:59pm on Monday, May 25. High energy usage products with the ENERGY STAR label like clothes washers, dishwashers and air conditioners priced at $6,000 or less will be tax free! Other products that qualify include:

  • Ceiling fans
  • Refrigerators priced at $2,000 or less
  • Dehumidifiers
  • Programmable thermostats

Internet and catalog sales of qualifying products are included in this special tax-free holiday, given that the item is paid for and delivered to the customer during the tax-exempt time frame. Customers also have the option to order and pay for the item, given that the retailer accepts the order, even if the item is delivered after Memorial Day weekend.

If you are purchasing larger items, please keep in mind that the delivery fee counts toward the rules for the tax exemption. If you purchase an air conditioning unit for $5,950 and delivery is $100, you won’t be eligible for the tax exemption as it places your total above the $6,000 or less requirement.

Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend and good luck finding that new ENERGY STAR appliance!

 

Texas Summer 2015 Energy Outlook

NOAA predicts May-June-July temperatures for Texas will be below normal.Image courtesy NOAA.

NOAA predicts May-June-July temperatures for Texas will be below normal.
Image courtesy NOAA.

It’s almost May and for Texas, that means it’s practically summer! If you’re trying to plan your summer budget, you know that summer brings those often expensive summer cooling costs. But in Texas, electricity costs are driven by more than just the weather. The electricity industry itself can complicate things, and this year is no exception. So, to help you get a feel for what’s coming, here’s our Texas Summer Energy Outlook.

Texas Weather Forecast

The good news is that the state can expect a cooler summer. NOAA predicts that Texas temperatures will remain below average for May, but become less widespread below-normal across the state from June through August. NOAA’s seasonal forecast is for elevated chances for below normal temps throughout the southwest and southern plains. This is partly the result of the late-arriving weak El Niño strenghthening over time and continuing through autumn. El Niño typically brings more rainfall to Texas. Texas temperatures during El Niño tend to be somewhat cooler during the winter months and spring months. Cooler than normal temperatures are also forecast into the October-November-December season for now —but that’s also six months out. How cool is “below normal”? Though based on statistical norms, broadly speaking, it can run anywhere from 2°F to 10°F depending where you are in the state.

Cooler temperatures this summer not only mean lower air conditioning bills, but they also mean less natural gas will be needed to generate electricity —which may help continue keeping that fuel price low.

New EPA Regulations

The EPA Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS) took effect on 16 April 2015. Several companies and 20 states filed suit against the EPA regulations which was heard before the US Supreme Court on March 25 saying the costs are too high. The North American Electric Reliability Corp (NERC) also said that the US electric industry isn’t ready to meet the requirements of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP). The court is not expected to announce a decision until June. About 600 powerplants could be affected and most of them in the south and midwest.

Meanwhile, Texas has been adding more generation capacity with 1.7 gigawatts of new natural gas generation and this past year wind power supported over 10% of demand. This past March, coal only generated about 5 gWh due to planned outages of about one third of the coal fleet.

ERCOT’s Summer Forecast

Even before the Supreme Court took up the recent MATS matter, ERCOT released its Seasonal Assessment of Resource Adequacy (SARA) for this summer back in the beginning of March. In spite of the EPA regulations, ERCOT does not expect “changes to available generation capacity for the summer season due to compliance with the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) or Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS).” ERCOT expects a peak demand this spring of about 62,000 MW with the tightest capacity occuring towards the end of May when the highest number of generating sources will be shut down for maintenance. Preliminary summer estimates expect a peak demand of 69,000 MW. Last summer was expected to be hotter than it actually was and had a peak demand of only 66,454 MW on Aug. 25. Both spring and summer on-hand capacity is ample, rated at over 76,000 MW.

Your Summer Energy Bill

With NOAA forcasting “below normal” seasonal temperatures, ERCOT’s summer peak demand will probably have revised data when it’s finally released. The EIA projects that natural gas storage injections during this coming summer will the the fourth highest, ending in a net injection of 2,310 Bcf by October with total stored amounts for winter totalling 3,781 Bcf.  All this points to a Texas summer with reliable electricity supply, inexpensive fuel for generation, and temperatures that will help you economize on your home cooing costs without making you or your family break into a sweat.

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.

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!