Are you setting out to change the world? Here’s a stat you should know: nonviolent campaigns are 100 percent more likely to succeed than violent ones. So why don’t more groups use nonviolence when faced with conflict? Filmmaker Julia Bacha shares stories of effective nonviolent resistance, including eye-opening research on the crucial leadership role that women play.
The Lone Star state has added more wind-based capacity than any other, as part of an aggressive energy diversification that seeks to skirt ideological land mines
A truck rolls past a wind farm in Colorado City, Texas. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Aug. 28, 2016 3:54 p.m. ET
SAN ANTONIO—On a blustery February night, the Texas electricity market hit a milestone. Nearly half the power flowing onto the grid came from wind turbines, a level unimaginable a decade ago in a place better known for its long romance with fossil fuels.
The Lone Star state still embraces its oil and gas, leading a revolution in innovative “fracking” technology. Yet an equally startling energy bonanza here has gone almost unnoticed—the rise of renewables.
Texas has added more wind-based generating capacity than any other state, with wind turbines accounting for 16% of electrical generating capacity as of April. Now Texas is anticipating a huge surge in solar power.
At a time when debate is raging between political parties over climate change, and critics charge that “green energy” is little more than a government creation, Texas has taken an approach that works within the state’s free-market-based electricity system. State officials say wind and solar are almost certain to play a significant and growing role in the state’s energy future even when federal subsidies decline in coming years.
Sheep help keep grass trimmed at a solar farm in Haskell, Texas. Photo: Matthew Mahon for The Wall Street Journal
“We’re in chapter three of a 50-chapter book,” says Joel Mickey, director of market design and development for the state’s electric-grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT.
Elsewhere, most of the renewable growth is coming from blue states. California is the leader in solar power with more systems cranking out electricity, right now, than what Texas hopes to add in the nextfive to 10 years. New York finalized a plan Aug. 1 to get to half its power from zero-emission sources by 2030, with big goals for offshore wind turbines. And wind farms provided Iowans with nearly a third of their electricity last year—the largest percentage of any state. Texas remains one of the few reliably Republican states to jump on the bandwagon.
Its transformation hasn’t come without risks. In the early days, the state government charged electric-system users billions of dollars to build transmission lines needed to get power from windy West Texas to power-hungry cities. There was also a steep learning curve. Renewable power is only available when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. It can’t be dispatched precisely when it’s needed but just when it’s available, meaning grid officials have had to become obsessive about anticipating weather. Efficient battery-storage technologies remain elusive.
Then there is the issue of subsidies. Wind projects get hefty federal payouts whenever they generate electricity. At auctions, this means they can sometimes pay the state to take their electricity and still make money, undercutting the business model of fossil-fuel generators.
Some critics worry this could lead power companies to decommission fossil-fuel plants prematurely—even though some fuel sources such as natural gas and coal are arguably cheaper these days.
“How do we keep big plants online if wind and solar have eroded the economics to the point that companies want to close them?” asks Travis Fisher, an economist with the Institute for Energy Research, a conservative think tank.
The roots of Texas’ renewables boom go back to 1999, when then-Gov. George W. Bush and a Republican-dominated legislature overhauled the Texas power market. The free market-oriented deregulation broke the grip of most monopoly utilities that controlled generation, transmission and retail sales of electricity and introduced competitive auctions for wholesale power.
The deregulation plan, which Mr. Bush signed just days after announcing he would run for the presidency, also included a government-imposed requirement to have at least 2,000 megawatts of renewable generating capacity by 2009.
George W. Bush kicked off the Texas renewable-energy boom when he was governor.Photo: David Woo/Sygma/Getty Images
Texas blew past that goal in 2005. Then Gov. Rick Perry, also a Republican and no fan of government intervention, raised the goal to 10,000 megawatts by 2025. Texas hit that target in 2011 and kept going. In April, there was more than 19,000 megawatts of renewable capacity, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, cranking out enough power for nearly 4 million Texas homes.
Texas officials didn’t invoke global warming to sell the program. Instead, they touted renewable energy as a consumer-choice issue, a jobs producer and a way to pump more money into rural counties.
Jimmy Glotfelty, Mr. Bush’s gubernatorial policy director from 1991 to 1994, says his boss “grew up in Midland where the wind blew all the time” and it gave him a hunch wind power could be a huge asset for the state. “It wasn’t part of the climate-change revolution but a belief in free markets and entrepreneurs.”
A recent poll conducted by the Texas Clean Energy Coalition, a nonpartisan group that supports the growth of gas as well renewable energy, found that despite strong distaste for federal environmental regulations aimed at reducing coal, 85% of Texans favored expanding renewables while 9% were opposed. Among Republicans and those who described themselves as ideologically conservative, nearly 80% favored those sources.
Residents of Houston currently can pick from 107 different rate plans offering 5% to 100% renewable power. In general, they are willing to pay a bit more to go green. Top-rated Reliant, a unit of NRG Energy Inc., charges 7.1 cents a kilowatt-hour for the plan that’s all renewable versus 5.9 cents for one that’s 5% green.
Federal subsidies are scheduled to shrink in coming years. An equally big driver of renewables has been the falling costs of solar and wind technology. Solar costs are down 48% since 2010, including a 6% drop last year, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group. Those reductions are likely to continue as solar-panel manufacturers achieve economies of scale and new technologies cut costs and increase efficiency.
“[Texas] wants to have a diversity of resources because no one knows what gas prices will be in the future,” says Joel Cohn, at CohnReznick, an accounting tax advisory in New York that advises on renewable projects.
The state’s grid operator, ERCOT, expects explosive growth in solar. One analysis suggested the recent extension of the federal solar tax credit could lead to as much as 19,000 megawatts of solar capacity being built within 15 years, up from roughly 500 megawatts today. Texas is poised to vault from 10th place among states in solar capacity to second in the next five years, behind only California, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
Wind projects, including construction of power lines, created jobs in rural counties and gave landowners new sources of income. The state now has more than 100,000 people working in renewable energy, according to the Texas Workforce Commission, which is responsible for jobs creation.
Two sites in San Antonio operated by the city’s utility, CPS Energy, embody the change. The J.T. Deely generating plant, where smokestacks loom over piles of coal, is being retired. A few miles away, CPS’s two-year-old Alamo 2 solar farm, nestled between a pair of suburban neighborhoods, turns sunlight into electricity. As a few dozen sheep and a llama keep the grass in check, solar developer Randy Jenks notes the appeal.
“It’s clean. It’s quiet. People want it here,” he says, standing beside a few of the 17,920 solar modules that make up the 45-acre facility. When all phases of the Alamo solar venture are completed, it is expected to exceed 450 megawatts, or more solar capacity than existed in the whole state a couple of years ago.
Randy Jenks, a solar developer for Korea’s OCI Energy of Korea, used to work in the oil-and-gas business. Photo: Matthew Mahon for The Wall Street Journal
Mr. Jenks started out in oil-and-gas exploration in the 1980s, then moved into wind power in the 1990s. Now he’s pursuing what he and his employer, OCI Solar Power, which is part of OCI Company of South Korea, see as the next big thing for Texas.
Back in 2010, CPS started thinking about solar. By 2012, it was ready to bet big. The utility signed deals with OCI Solar to build what would eventually be 450 megawatts of solar generating capacity—50% more than in all of Texas even now—on the condition OCI set up its manufacturing operations nearby and create at least 800 local jobs.
Now the city boasts its own solar industrial base, with all of the solar panels for its facilities manufactured locally. OCI and suppliers it brought to San Antonio are now lining up orders from developers in Mexico and other parts of the U.S.
Renewables are still a tiny part of CPS’s business, but its leadership expects them to grow rapidly.
“The cost has come down to the point where people can really see the value,” said Cris Eugster, the chief operating officer for San Antonio’s utility, CPS Energy.
The Unpromising PROMESA
At the end of June, U.S. President Barack Obama signed the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), creating a seven-member federal oversight board tasked with bringing Puerto Rico’s $70 billion public debt under control. With appointees chosen by U.S. congressional leaders and the president, the board has broad powers to reconfigure Puerto Rico’s financial and economic policy. It will be able to initiate binding negotiations with creditors and, if needed, a court-supervised restructuring. A board will be announced in the coming weeks and will begin operations in September.
That is, if anyone will take the job. The board will serve until Puerto Rico achieves “fiscal responsibility and access to the capital markets”—both likely years away—and its members will not be compensated. And the first thing on the to-do list will be fending off attacks from a broad spectrum of groups contesting its claim to authority. Would you throw your hat in the ring?
How Smilodon and other ice age carnivores changed the world around them
The huge herbivores of the Ice Age were ecosystem engineers. Wherever they went, mastodons, sloths, bison, and their ilk changed the landscape by eating, defecating, trampling, and otherwise going about their plant-mashing business. But they were not isolated agents. Following out the engineer analogy, Ice Age megaherbivores had managers. These were the sabercats, hyenas, wolves, and other predators past.
Many Pleistocene carnivores certainly look menacing enough. The long fangs of Smilodon have made it a staple of museum halls as well as schlock horror, and the thought of staring down a giant hyena is enough to send a shiver down my spine. So given that some prehistoric predators had such impressive weapons it’s not surprising that we’ve often imagined them setting into mammoths and other Ice Age giants. Bigger prey requires bigger cutlery, right?
Well, not quite. Many of the most iconic Ice Age herbivores were simply too big to kill. It’s the same reason why lions don’t often chase after adult elephants. Clawing into a pachyderm is a high-risk scenario, even considering the fleshy reward, and fossil evidence has suggested the same pattern held in the Pleistocene. Smilodondidn’t take on adult mammoths and Megatherium, for example, but often targeted camels and bison instead. Large size was a refuge was most Pleistocene giants. But their offspring were a different story.
In a new study surveying the effects of large carnivores stalking the Ice Age landscape, University of California, Los Angeles paleontologist Blaire Van Valkenburgh and colleagues found that the young of many large Pleistocene herbivores would have been right in the sweet spot for hungry carnivores.
Part of the analysis involved sizing up the predators themselves. For starters, Van Valkenburgh and coauthors point out, not only were many extinct Pleistocene carnivores significantly larger than the predators that survived them, but each carnivore guild in the sample included a greater number of species in the past than comparable ecosystems today.
Even just looking at the felids, the researchers write, “nearly all Pleistocene predator guilds found outside of Australia included at least one and often two species of large sabertooth cat.” This pattern is directly related to the number of big herbivores there were to eat. Even in modern ecosystems, Van Valkenburgh and colleagues point out, the likelihood that three or more large carnivores might be present steadily increases. In addition to the herbivores creating more open habitat that give predators the opportunity to hide along the forested margins, there’s simply more meat to carve up.
Despite already low costs, the installed price of solar fell by 5 to 12 percent in 2015
The installed price of solar energy has declined significantly in recent years as policy and market forces have driven more and more solar installations.
Now, the latest data show that the continued decrease in solar prices is unlikely to slow down anytime soon, with total installed prices dropping by 5 percent for rooftop residential systems, and 12 percent for larger utility-scale solar farms. With solar already achieving record-low prices, the cost decline observed in 2015 indicates that the coming years will likely see utility-scale solar become cost competitive with conventional forms of electricity generation.
A full analysis of the ongoing decline in solar prices can be found in two separate Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Reports: Tracking the Sun IX focuses on installed pricing trends in the distributed rooftop solar market while Utility-Scale Solar 2015 focuses on large-scale solar farms that sell bulk power to the grid.
Put together, the reports show that all categories of solar have seen significantly declining costs since 2010. Furthermore, larger solar installations consistently beat out their smaller counterparts when it comes to the installed cost per rated Watt of solar generating capacity (or $/WDC).
In retrospect, it’s clear that Barry Goldwater had a lot to gain by cynically playing the race card. It was 1964, and jittery Southern Democrats had fought in vain to prevent the historic Civil Rights Act from being signed into law. The South, solidly Democratic for a generation, was there to be won: Nationwide, a white backlash was already brewing.
Instead, Goldwater lost in one of the most lopsided elections in the history of the presidency. It probably could have been closer, except that he had a conscience.
On July 25, 1964, just over three months before Election Day, Goldwater visited the White House to privately talk to his opponent, President Lyndon B. Johnson. When he left, it was with a mutual promise not to exploit race for campaign purposes.
Now, with Donald Trump’s campaign flailing amid accusations of bigotry, it’s worth remembering a moment when a similarly hyperbole-prone candidate worked to reign in the fringe elements that could have easily overtaken his campaign.
In 2016, many observers have suggested similarities between Trump and Senator Goldwater. In some ways, they are analogous: Both were outsiders who won the nomination of a deeply divided Republican Party after defeating the preferred, more moderate candidates of the GOP establishment. And Goldwater, like Trump, had a habit of impolitic comments, as in his clarion call that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” It was a central part of Goldwater’s appeal: He tells it like it is, political correctness be damned—“In your heart, you know he’s right,” just like his campaign slogan said.
Stephen breaks down the reasons why the Wielder of the Flame of Anor would never stoop low enough to officiate weddings in Silicon Valley.