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According to an article in The Texas Tribune, senators on the Senate Business and Commerce Committee were frustrated that the Railroad Commission had not done more to require natural gas producers, processors and pipelines to winterize their systems. In a committee hearing on Tuesday, they castigated Commission Executive Director Wei Wang for not moving faster. They did not seem to realize that the Commission was following the timeline set out in Senate Bill 3, passed in the last regular session to address the power loss across the state last February.

As I’ve posted, the Commission has proposed a rule requiring the gas producers, processors and pipelines to designate whether they are critical infrastructure, but the statute allows the industry to opt out of that category if they want to, a loophole that seemed to surprise and frustrate the senators. Wang pointed out that the Commission’s proposed rule mirrors the language of Senate Bill 3, which seemed not to mollify the senators, who demanded immediate action from the Commission.

The statute provides that a committee will map out the state’s energy infrastructure by September 2022, after which the Commission will have 180 days to finalize weatherization rules, a timeline the senators also criticized.  As the Texas Tribune reported, “Energy experts said lawmakers have themselves to blame if they wanted the state’s natural gas infrastructure, which sends fuel to many of Texas’ largest power plants, to be weatherized quickly — or at all. ‘The Legislature left this loophole open,’ said Doug Lewin, an Austin-based energy and climate consultant.”

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Katmai National Park on the Alaska Peninsula is the most remote of our national parks, accessible only by boat or plane. It is also prime habitat for bears.Katmai-map

Fat Bear Week is September 29 through Tuesday, October 5. The bears in Katmai are fishing for salmon to fatten up for the winter, and this week the are at their most rotund. Rangers create a bracket pitting indivudual bears against each other for the honor of being named champion Fat Bear, and the public then votes. Last year’s winner was the bear identified as 747, weighing in at 1400 pounds.747You can see the contestants and vote here: https://explore.org/fat-bear-week. Here is the bracket (click to enlarge):

Bracket
You can get before-and-after photos of the contestants, along with their biographies, here.  You can also watch live cams of bears feasting on Katmai’s website, here.

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Commission Shift, a non-profit advocacy organization formed “to hold the Railroad Commission of Texas accountable to its mission,” has issued a detailed report on conflicts of interest policies at the Texas Railroad Commission and the need for reform. The report examines Commissioner Christi Craddick’s ties to the industry regulated by the RRC. Future reports will focus on the other Commissioners.

Commission Shift previously issued a critique of the RRC’s annual monitoring and enforcement plan for FY 2022, and a report on the growing orphan well problem in Texas, “Unplugged and Abandoned.” House Bill 3973, passed in the last regular legislative session, created a committee to study abandoned wells.

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A recent report from Deloitte provides a good perspective on the prospects for wind and solar electricity.

Some takeaways:

Costs of wind and solar are now competitive with coal and gas. “Power purchase agreement (PPA) prices for wind and solar power are also competitive with other resources. The weighted average US price for the first half of 2021 from auction and PPAs for solar PV is US$31/MWh, while for onshore wind it is US$37/MWh. This compares to a weighted average wholesale electricity price of about US$34/MWh across US markets during the same period.” It now costs less to build new solar and wind plants than to continue operating existing coal-fired plants. Wind and solar costs are projected to fall by half by 2030.

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After the Texas freeze last February that resulted in loss of electric service to millions of Texans, the Texas Legislature passed laws requiring the Texas Railroad Commission and the Public Utility Commission of Texas to address the issues raised by the systems’ failures. One of those issues was the failure of natural gas supply to electric generators. Senate Bill 3 and House Bill 3648 require the RRC to collaborate with the PUC “to adopt rules to establish a process to designate certain natural gas facilities and entities associated with providing natural gas in this state as critical customers or critical gas suppliers during energy emergencies.” In response, the RRC has proposed a new rule, 16 TAC Section 3.65. The purpose of the new law is to let the PUC know what gas infrastructure is critical to continued delivery of gas to electric utilities during an electric supply crisis so that gas supply won’t be disrupted because gas suppliers don’t have the electricity necessary to operate their systems.

As explained in the RRC’s explanation of its proposed rule, the RRC proposes to designate all gas infrastructure as “critical.” The proposed rule therefor designates as critical gas suppliers and critical customers all wells producing gas and casinghead gas, gas processing plants, gas pipelines and facilities, compressor stations, local distribution company pipelines and facilities, gas storage facilities, natural gas liquids transportation and storage facilities, saltwater disposal facilities and pipelines, and “other facilities under the jurisdiction of the Commission the operation of which is necessary to operate any of the facilities” listed above. In its comments to the proposed rule the RRC explains that all of these facilities are “necessarily critical customers of electric entities during an energy emergency.”

The Commission chooses to include these facility types, located up and down the entire natural gas supply chain, because the statistics from Winter Storm Uri reveal that during the storm, every molecule of natural gas was important. … Each piece of the supply chain included in [the list of critical customers] contributes to the delivery of gas downstream. If one piece of the supply chain cannot operate, then the gas cannot be delivered for electric generation or other important uses. Further, daily gas production alone many not be adequate for peak demand during a weather emergency, which makes gas storage an important source of natural gas. Thus, natural gas storage facilities are included ….

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Here’s a novel idea: use gas that would otherwise be flared to generate electricity in the field and use it to mine bitcoin. Believe it or not, it is being done. In North Dakota, Equinor and Enerplus are among the operators using the process. New companies like Crusoe Energy have sprung up to provide the in-the-field equipment. Crusoe has some 40 mobile generating units in oil shale basins and plans on increasing that number to 100. A recent conference in Houston on the subject saw 200 oil and gas execs and bitcoin miners in attendance.

Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency or digital currency, created in 2009. There is no physical coin, only a balance kept on a public ledger. It can be used to purchase goods and services, for those companies that accept bitcoin as payment. Mostly, bitcoin are bought and sold as a type of investment. As of this writing, one bitcoin sells for $47,706.80. Bitcoins are not backed by any hard asset or any government.

So what is “mining” bitcoin? See explanation here. “Bitcoin mining is performed by high-powered computers that solve complex computational math problems; these problems are so complex that they cannot be solved by hand and are complicated enough to tax even incredibly powerful computers.” One with a computer that solves the problem is given a “block reward,” currently 6.25 bitcoins. The amount of electricity being used to run computers mining bitcoin is enormous; the global bitcoin industry’s consumption of electricity is causing emissions of 60 million tons/year of CO2. That’s the equivalent of about nine million cars.

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Excellent post by Tiffany McDowell of Texas A&M Ag Extension on what landowners should know about hunting leases. Find it here. For example, did you know that landowners leasing their property for hunting must obtain a Hunting Lease License (different from a hunting license) from Texas Parks & Wildlife? There are three types of Hunting Lease Licenses. Also good information about liability waivers. Check it out.

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“Electric power markets in the United States are undergoing significant structural change that we believe, based on planning data we collect, will result in the installation of the ability of large-scale battery storage to contribute 10,000 megawatts to the grid between 2021 and 2023—10 times the capacity in 2019.”

EIA Report “Battery Storage in the United States: An Update on Market Trends.

How much is 10,000 megawatts? What is a megawatt?

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Abbott said the legislature’s response to the breakdown of Texas’ electric grid “fixed all the flaws.” News media reports and experts are questioning that conclusion.

A UT Austin study concludes that lawmakers did not do enough to prevent future power failures and recommended 20 additional policy changes. It is estimated that as many as 700 people died from the freeze.

At least part of the blame lies with the Legislature’s deregulation of the state’s power sector in 1995 that was supposed to save ratepayers money. According to a Wall Street Journal analysis, customers in deregulated areas have paid a surcharge of $28 billion over the last two decades, whereas customers in areas that remain regulated–including El Paso Electric, Austin Energy and CPS Energy in San Antonio–enjoy cheaper electric rates than those in deregulated areas.

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