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Texas Senate: Following the Bills, Where are we Now?

If you’re an avid reader of this blog, you’ve likely been following along as we attempted to analyze the events of the Texas winter storm in February, and what has been done to mitigate this from happening again in the future. If you need a quick refresher, feel free to check out the following links:

Texas SenateHaving read these posts, as well as a myriad of other news reports from February and the months following, you probably already know two main things: 1) that this winter storm was (hopefully) a once a decade type storm, though the intensity of winter storms, hurricanes, and other weather patterns may continue to intensify as the planet temperature continues to heat up; and 2) that the power outages, and resulting deaths from the winter storms, could have been prevented had the Texas grid been better prepared.

So what’s the government response to this issue?

“Texas natural gas companies will not be “weatherized” for the upcoming winter. Senators say they’re angry over the slow timetable and loopholes that allow the companies to opt out of improvements But those lawmakers OK’d the loophole in the law.” https://www.texastribune.org/2021/09/28/texas-power-grid-loophole/.

Unfortunately, very little is the answer. Weatherizing the grid for winter is expensive, especially when it’s already prepared to handle the extreme heat temperatures we see in the summer time, and thus the major issue Texans face is mitigated since we’re able to keep the air-conditioner on even in the sweltering temps of June, July, and August. However it seems that the price of winterizing that same equipment – which cost over 400 people their lives in February (https://www.forbes.com/sites/jemimamcevoy/2021/05/27/report-finds-hundreds-more-died-in-texas-winter-storm-than-state-says/?sh=7b3a86a352cc) – is just too high of a burden for Texas law makers to bear.

Instead, “some of the legislative moves are targeting renewable energy sources, like wind and solar, which experts and some lawmakers say seems more like a way to protect oil and gas interests than fix problems with the state’s beleaguered power grid” (https://www.texastribune.org/2021/04/19/texas-renewable-energy-oil-gas/).

Senate Bill 3, which was enacted and signed into law in June 2021, reads as follows (as it pertains to natural gas regulation and weatherization, for the full text of the bill, check out the following page, https://capitol.texas.gov/BillLookup/Text.aspx?LegSess=87R&Bill=SB3): 

Texas Congressional Bills

“Sec. 81.073. CRITICAL NATURAL GAS FACILITIES AND ENTITIES. (a) The commission shall collaborate with the Public Utility Commission of Texas 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. (b) The rules must:

(1) establish criteria for designating persons who own or operate a facility under the jurisdiction of the commission under Section 81.051(a) or engage in an activity under the jurisdiction of the commission under Section 81.051(a) who must provide critical customer and critical gas supply information, as defined by the commission, to the entities described by Section 38.074(b)(1), Utilities Code;

(2) consider essential operational elements when defining critical customer designations and critical gas supply information for the purposes of Subdivision (1), including natural gas production, processing, and transportation, related produced water handling and disposal facilities, and the delivery of natural gas to generators of electric energy; and

(3) require that only facilities and entities that are prepared to operate during a weather emergency may be designated as a critical customer under this section.”

Senate bill 3 (SB3) also states:

Texas Senate Chambers“(e) The commission may submit additional [subsequent] weather emergency preparedness reports if the commission finds that significant changes to weatherization techniques have occurred or are necessary to protect consumers or vital services, or if there have been changes to statutes or rules relating to weatherization requirements. A report under this subsection must be submitted not later than:

(1) March 1 for a summer weather emergency preparedness report; and

(2) September 1 for a winter weather emergency preparedness report.”

Full text for SB3 here: https://capitol.texas.gov/BillLookup/Text.aspx?LegSess=87R&Bill=SB3

Alas, natural gas and retail energy providers must provide reports on weatherization and energy generation, however there is still no mandate to actually enact said practices to protect the people of Texas. That decision will still be left to appointed individuals to oversee said reports and decide the appropriate course, much like they did in February – hopefully in the future, these appointed people will make a different decision about what’s needed to properly weatherize the grid ahead of any winter storms.

Hopefully you’re in an area deemed “critical” so that you may turn on your heat if temperatures should dip below freezing and remain there for days at a time.

Hopefully, we will not see massive outages and resulting deaths.

Hopefully, someone will do something this time, before it’s too late to do anything at all.

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Let the Camping Commence!

Camping MontanaROAD TRIP UPDATES: This weekend, we’ll leave Washington to go east towards Idaho and then onto Montana, and will not be staying in room with four walls again until we get back to Colorado in two weeks. It’s safe to say we’re anxiously awaiting the Great Outdoors, and all that we will see and learn while we venture off the beaten path. For months leading up to the trip, my mother-in-law strategized the menu for the trip, and after arriving in Seattle she let me in on the plan – or, rather, she relayed me the items she’d already cooked and I entered them into our itinerary in excel. We later packed them into the cooler adding the things we would eat last according to the schedule at the bottom of the cooler, and the things we would eat the first night at the top, as per an online blog post recommendation she had found at some point in her extensive camping research. We packed two cars full of coolers, tents, and cookware and set off east. There was a brief stint in Spokane, WA, and then onward to Dickey Lake, Montana! Please do enjoy the photos from this part of the trip – this lake ended up being one of the most beautiful spots we would visit in all of Montana, which is an extremely high bar already.

SUNTEX logoHOME IMPROVEMENT PROJECT UPDATES: While I still haven’t seen any official pictures of the updates to our house yet, my appetite for them is growing. Alejandra tells me the paint, windows, gutters, and back door repair projects have all been completed! I still cannot believe the pace they’ve been able to keep these past couple of weeks, particularly with the rain delays, but it’s safe to say I’m very pleased with the effort and the communication SUNTEX has provided thus far! Even without being completely plugged in all week she’s kept me up to speed on everything happening at the project site, and has kept her word on the overall schedule of repairs. This week there are only a few projects left, and given their speed so far, I have no doubt that Ally and Jose will be completely wrapped up this week:

  • Repair the Fence
  • Repair the Sliding Barn Doors in closet & bathroom
  • Clean up!

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Mr. and Mrs. Sims Go To Washington

WashingtonROAD TRIP UPDATES: We arrived in Seattle after another 14-hour drive in the car – refreshed by the mountainous and pine scenery, along with all of the incredibly diverse scenery in Idaho and Oregon – but once we finally all piled out of the car, we were ready to party! We get into town and catch up with family we hadn’t seen in over a year, since before the COVID-19 pandemic began; but once we finally all got together, we laughed until we cried.

Ever since mentioning the 4-week road trip to his parents, my husband’s mom had been preparing a small get together for anyone who might want to come and hang out with family again, post-vaccination. Of course, only a meager 30-40 people replied yes.

So, it’s safe to say the party grew in size and complexity from day 1. For starters, there would be an army of 3-8 year-old nieces and nephews to entertain, and plenty of food would be needed for the remaining adults at the party. Of course there was the added question of masking up or not, so it was decidedly held outdoors – which, for anyone who’s been to Seattle in July and August lately can tell you, it’s quite hot – in fact, it might even be reminiscent of Texas summers (see Climate Change) – which means we also needed to think about keeping everyone cool. Thus, all week long, Aaron and I were running around Seattle getting food, setting up the outdoor equipment and furniture (underneath the artistically placed shade awnings for the occasion), and scheming up the menu and planning for the event which would take place that Saturday.

Sherwin Williams

HOME IMPROVEMENT PROJECT UPDATES: Finally the rain in Austin has stopped! This certainly has been a crazy summer in Texas with all of the rain we’ve been getting throughout June and July – check out what I mean here: https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/june-2021-us-climate-outlook-wetter-and-cooler-average-start, and honestly I couldn’t be more grateful for it. My garden has never looked better.

Alejandra and Jose are working more quickly than I could have anticipated, but now that it’s finally dry, it’s time to to finish up the exterior paint and install the windows.

When we first discussed this project, I had some slight idea in mind of which colors would go naturally with our exterior brick, however wasn’t quite ready to take the leap in painting over it. Plus, I had hoped to keep the materials looking as natural as possible, thus deciding to go with a green and tan exterior. While I didn’t anticipate him being so passionate about this part of the project, my husband and I had a lot of fun doing some reconnaissance in the area to see which colors looked the best on different homes, so we could test out our theories, and agreed on this palate. From there, it was simple, according to the SUNTEX Quick Guide steps below…

SUNTEX

SUNTEX Quick Guide to Home Improvement Projects

The beauty of working with friends that you trust is that you can leave the creative problem solving completely in their capable hands, while sharing your inner-most dreams and goals for your home, because they genuinely want to know what you want to see in your home! Working with SUNTEX as a customer was a fun experience because I got to see our work first-hand, and feel the pride in knowing exactly what was happening along the way.

Alejandra, and the entire SUNTEX team, did an absolutely incredible job in setting aside time that was convenient for Aaron and I to meet (outside of working hours of course), and walked us through the project every step of the way – without the burden of too many meetings or being bombarded with emails. She understood that as someone with a busy schedule both in and outside of work-life, it was important to communicate in ways that were effective and insightful. For example, while choosing paint colors we hit a snag when learning that due to the winter storm, as well as a national shortage due to supply-chain delays related to the pandemic, there was a shortage of paint samples. Gone were the days when we could paint a few small squares on the outside of our house to test & see whether or not we liked the color.

To Sherwin Williams’s credit (sherwin-williams.com), they had some pretty cool work-arounds for this problem that Ally was happy to share with us:

  1. small stick-able squares that allowed you to see the color you wanted on your home, or
  2. you can upload a picture of your home online and test out random paint colors.

House Rendering - Front

House Rendering - Back

Note: If you have a couple of hours to kill and just want to have some fun, I highly recommend checking out the ColorSnap visualizer here: https://www.sherwin-williams.com/visualizer#/active/default.

We opted for solution #2, and were able to design a couple of simple renderings of what our house might look like with a splash of paint, specifically rosemary green (SW 6187) and netsuke (SW 6134) – check them out for fun (left, front of house; right, back of house). Alas, before even arriving, we had been able to detail online exactly which parts of the trim we’d like to paint tan, and which parts of the house we hoped would be green (of course, deferring to Ally & Jose’s discretion on site), and were able to come up with the perfect outline for them to follow when painting the house!

Hate Rainy days in Texas? Gotta have Gutters!

Rain in Colorado

Our very first Geocache in Colorado! Click on the photo to learn more.

ROAD TRIP UPDATES: Not much to say here regarding updates on the summer trip – though thankfully the rain in Colorado seems it’s behind us. For now, we’re just enjoying the mountains and beautiful ranches everywhere! Soaking in the scenery, we hiked the mountains near my parents new home in Colorado, and even discovered our very first Geocache (https://www.geocaching.com/play)!

See left for a photo, though I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll just say that this was certainly a highlight of the trip, and my nephew continuously begged to go and look for more! Because our youngest dog is a twenty-month-old pup with a ton of energy, Earl the Hound-dog (right), it’s important we take him out on an hour-long walk each day when we’re home – but here in Colorado, it wasn’t hard to wear him out. We wandered around the Sangre de Cristo Mountain range in search of wildlife and adventure, all the while he ran back and forth “beside” us. Benny the Dachshund

 

I think even our 12-year-old dachshund, Benjamin (right), enjoyed the fresh mountain air – though admittedly, not nearly as much as Earl seemed to.

 

 

HOME IMPROVEMENT PROJECT UPDATES: Ever heard the familiar song, “rain, rain, go away, come again another day?” Well, that was certainly the tune this week. One exciting thing about the rain in Texas is that generally it’s preceded by drought – leaving hard, impermeable ground underfoot – and then seems to drop a monsoon with a lightening storm on the side once it finally decides to precipitate.

The start to project week of course was no different, and Ally and Jose and the kids got to see first hand just why we were so interested in installing gutters! My make-shift wine-bottle operation – while an ingenious way to collect and store rain water after a storm (in my own personal opinion) – was a somewhat impractical solution given the need to drink the wine first, then set the bottle outside before the rain started; not to mention they would do nothing to protect our windows and doors from getting wet, nor the foundation of our home.

As many likely already know, when rain pours down in a storm, without gutters, the sides of your house get wet, and windows are also likely to take on more moisture. Assuming everything is sealed properly, the windows and walls of your home will dry as soon as the sun comes out; unfortunately in our case, before SUNTEX came out to help us, we had no gutters and poor sealant around our windows (or at least this was what a third party reviewer told us when we reviewed bids initially); and, while it could take years to develop, the ground could also start to shift around our home – leaving us exposed to possible foundation cracks and erosion.

Thus, gutters for us were a must in order to protect our investment, and thanks to the rain early on in the week, it was easy for the SUNTEX crew to see why. All around our home, you can see divots and small pathways where the rain generally falls, and thanks to the square space on our roof, it collects quite a bit – we kept thinking, wouldn’t it be great to re-direct some of that rainfall? Particularly to our garden, perhaps?

If you’re curious to learn more about the benefits of gutters, please check previous SUNTEX blog posts, here:

As for the SUNTEX team this week, I just hope they had plenty of tortilla soup on hand that week! Which is of course, the perfect rainy-day soup in my humble opinion (don’t believe me? Check out this recipe the next time it rains, and let me know what you think! Though I would usually grill the chicken, and add carrots as well: https://dudethatcookz.com/authentic-chicken-tortilla-soup/).

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Texas Energy: Riding through Texas with my Woes

If you’re a Drake fan you’ve likely heard this line, but in all reality we were too excited about the month long adventure to focus on any ‘woes’. Since I promised Alejandra (my boss) I would relate these posts back to the energy grid somehow, today we’ll explore the energy make-up of Texas, and then we will focus on New Mexico, and finally the Colorado energy grid — with a particular emphasis on green energy production in each state.

TEXAS ENERGY PROFILE 

As a Texan working for a Texas-based energy company, we’ve focused a lot on the local energy grid and how it’s managed in previous blogs – see below links for reference:

Including where we currently stand and what updates (if any) have happened to improve the grid since the February freeze, here…

Texas Energy Grid Updates

 

However, today we’ll focus on the energy grid at large, and really highlight the major benefits of the Texas energy market as a whole.

For starters, say what you will about the climate crisis (and there is a LOT to say for sure), however since in the past century we’ve been collectively focused as Americans on mass production, much of the economic gains could not have been possible without the Texas oil and gas industry. For an interesting history of the oil boom, check out the following article from the Texas Almanac: https://texasalmanac.com/topics/business/oil-and-texas-cultural-history. To see a little more about oil production in the Lone Star state, I turn to our friends at the Energy Industry Administration, https://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=TX.

As stated before on this blog (), the EIA.gov website is an incredible useful source of information when it comes to US energy production and consumption rates, and there are a few bullet-points on the Texas Profile & Energy Estimates page that bear repeating (https://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=TX):

  • “In 2020, Texas accounted for 43% of the nation’s crude oil production and 26% of its marketed natural gas production.”
  • “The 31 petroleum refineries in Texas can process almost 5.9 million barrels of crude oil per calendar day, which was 31% of the nation’s refining capacity as of January 2020.”
  • Texas produces more electricity than any other state, generating almost twice as much as Florida, the second-highest electricity-producing state.”

While the “oil and gas state” is certainly an accurate trademark, Texas is starting to make waves in the renewable energy market as well, as EIA.gov will also tell you:

“Texas leads the nation in wind-powered generation and produced about 28% of all U.S. wind-powered electricity in 2020. Wind power surpassed the state’s nuclear generation for the first time in 2014 and produced more than twice as much electricity as the state’s two nuclear power plants combined in 2020.”

It goes without saying that I have to quote the most recent numbers for the amount of solar capacity in the state, however sadly I must report that while we are improving, the total solar energy production in the state is still pretty dismal (see photos to right and left, or check out the original charts in the following link: https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/solar/where-solar-is-found.php).

If you have been following along with this blog for some time, you already know the capacity this state has for solar power. Why aren’t we achieving that yet? Feel free to post your ideas below, and hopefully together we can find the solution to getting more solar installed in the state of Texas! In the meantime, I’ll continue to support solar growth by: 1) working for a reputable solar company with a drive towards superior products and outstanding customer service, i.e. SUNTEX, and 2) continue my civic engagement by contacting local and state representatives to help support solar policies that help home owners like myself go solar. I hope you do the same, so that we can continue to support the nations’ energy demand as we move into the next phase of the Texas energy future.

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Summer Vacation: Week 1

ROADTRIP UPDATES: August 1st has finally arrived, and it’s time for us to take off for our summer vacation! While I truly enjoy passing through any part of this great state, there’s not much to see from today’s journey since we’ll be in Texas for 8 hours straight. Did someone say everything’s bigger in Texas? Well, they were exactly right. Once we get to the border, we’ll then a brief stint in New Mexico, before heading just beyond the Colorado border for the night. It amazes me on these journeys just how quickly the landscape changes — from the rolling hills and oak trees of central Texas, to the large swaths of farmland and mesquite trees in west Texas, and onto the deep valleys and steep plateaus of New Mexico.

Summer Vacation: Texas

Texas / New Mexico border, photo credit: Megan Brannen

While the two states have a similar climate, almost immediately when you leave New Mexico and arrive in Colorado, the temperature drops and the Mountains rise up all around you! The entire trip my husband and I were singing Blake Shelton’s “God’s Country” as it seemed so fitting of a land so beautiful and vast. We were lucky (especially since we’d had conflicting opinions about the necessity of the tarp on all of our camping supplies in the bed of the truck) that we had good weather for the most part — only light showers here and there in West Texas and New Mexico, but we avoided the looming black and blue clouds off in the distance — however about an hour into Colorado the sky finally let loose and poured onto us. There were a couple of dicey moments where we could barely see the red taillights in front of us since the rain was so dense. Because the sun had already set, we decided it was best to pull off to the side of the road to wait it out (adding another half-hour to our 14-hour drive). We weren’t alone in this though, since several of the cars ahead of us decided to do the same thing, it seemed as though we made the right decision — to pull off anyway, we definitely failed to make the right decision concerning the tarp!

HOME IMPROVEMENT PROJECT UPDATES: Ally and Jose and the SUNTEX team arrived at the house that evening and unpacked for their three-week stay. With the 4-hour drive from Dallas to Austin with the kids, it’s safe to say we hoped they would be able to relax right when they got in – the hope is that they got to Netflix and chill that night, since I know the weeks ahead will be extremely busy!

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Travel Prep: Preparing for Home Repairs

Given our tendencies towards a more nomadic lifestyle, when we moved into our first home back in 2018, I made my husband promise me we wouldn’t sell it for at least 10 years. The market has fluctuated wildly since then, and even though we’ve mulled over the idea of renting it out from time to time, we are still just really grateful to have a place we call home. We have come to love our neighborhood haunts, and have made some good friends here as well.

As you might have guessed however, there are still a few things we would like to change about the place, and have even done a few DIY projects to get some practice. The first thing we changed about the home were the doors — there were several that opened into a room, drastically cutting down the space by almost half. We knew that if we put sliding barn doors in the main bedroom we would gain tons of space in our bathroom and closet; we also decided on a glass door that opened outwards from the kitchen, instead of the solid brown door that open inward originally. While we did a pretty good job for beginners, it was clear there were a few details we were desperately lacking in our construction projects, and we had waited over a year to finish them!

The next item I was desperate to change on our home was the outdoor paint, and if you take a look at the picture below, I think it’s easy to see why.

House: Before

When we first moved into the home, I remember asking the inspector what type of energy qualifications homes needed to meet in order to be ready for sale. He nearly laughed, and simply said, “None?” Since our house was built in the early 2000s, there wasn’t anything too outdated to be a major red flag, however we knew the thin window panes might not hold up for much longer. We had been gathering quotes for some time, however after the winter freeze when our windows started to fog up on a sunny day, we knew it was time: we needed to replace our windows.

Windows: Before

The final and likely most significant piece to all of the changes we wanted to make to the home was adding gutters. If you’ve ever been in Texas during a rainstorm, you know just how quickly a light rain can turn into a flash flood, and our home had started to show some of the tell-tale signs of the rain. See photos below for greater detail, however we had water stains on the brick in the front where water would flow off of the rooftop, and the foundation for the back yard porch had started to move slightly — something we were told would continue to happen with the heavy rains each spring. In order to protect our house, we knew it was time to add gutters — and of course I knew just who to call to help me out.

With just a few phone calls, a down payment on the project, and some carefully coordinated planning, we hired SUNTEX to help us out with all of the repairs.

 

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Energy Preparedness: Does your house miss you when you’re gone?

Even though my mind is consumed by the possibility of seeing bears, moose, and geese (oh my!) very soon, there is still plenty to do to prepare our house for being vacant for at least a short time while we’re away. Lucky for us, we’ll have some very dear friends of ours staying in our home for the first few weeks, but after that it will be left to the demise of August and the ravaging heat that ensues at this time of year. Since I’m sure I’m not alone in this activity, I’ve created a short list of what to do when you’re leaving your home for an extended time, and want to make sure you don’t come home to a giant energy bill!

To reduce your energy usage inside the home while you’re gone, you can:

  • Close the curtains and blinds (if you have plants, make sure to leave the blinds open slightly so they’re still getting plenty of sunlight while you’re gone)
  • Seal up any large cracks or crevices in your door-ways with a towel or blanket for some added insulation
  • Turn your thermostat to 78+ degrees (or off, if you’re not concerned about plants or humidity levels indoors)
  • Close all of your doors inside, and make sure you turn off all overhead lights/fans
  • Unplug any devices you won’t need access to while you’re gone (except for your refrigerator since your food will spoil while you’re gone, even if you don’t open it!)
  • Don’t forget to lock up!

Summer TravelAs for outdoor plants, your approach can vary based on 1) how much you’re willing to spend on an irrigation system, 2) how friendly your neighbor’s kid is, or 3) how many plants you’re willing to replace if needed. We tend to be pretty laissez faire when it comes to our lawn — long story short, we use a local ground-cover that requires very little water to survive: horse herb, so we are okay just letting it bake under the Texas sun while we’re gone. Of course if you have a lawn full of grass you’ll need to decide whether or not you want to water it, and if so, how much. There are tons of garden watering timer systems you can buy online, or at your local hardware store, so just be sure to set it up a week before you leave so you can test it out before you go. We do however also have a few plants that like a lot of sunlight, but may not fair so well under 8+ hours of Texas sun. Since these plants are potted, and are often indoors during the winter months, we can either move them inside to a southern-facing window and hope for the best, or we can set up watering timers for those plants as well (see garden irrigation systems online, or ask your local hardware store rep for details). I generally opt for the cheaper, and more sustainable option — and so far replacing my very temperamental gardenia each year is winning out, though I fear that won’t be true for too much longer. The rest of the yard should be just fine since we were careful to only plant native, drought-resistant species in the back yard, and while I’ll miss my tomato plants while we’re in the woods, I know they’re going to love that August sunshine until we get home!

There are plenty of additional blogs to check out on this subject that contain some useful tips on summer travel, so don’t take my word for it — check out Toucan Smart Home to hear what they have to say as well: https://toucansmarthome.com/blogs/news/home-security-tips-summer-traveling.

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Energy Preparedness: Summer Travel

One of my favorite things about traveling — besides the views and the food, of course — is learning about local weather patterns. Perhaps this seems dull, but I’ve been surprised on more than one occasion by the weather, and in the worst case scenarios, it can be quite uncomfortable to say the least. A funny example of this was when I visited the Oregon coast a few years ago for Independence Day weekend. My husband and our dog, Benny, packed up the car and drove to the beach for the weekend! Naturally, as I was going to the beach in the summer-time, I packed all of the beach-essentials: two swim suits, breezy cover-ups, a couple of maxi dresses, and some flip flops — only to find once we got there that I couldn’t wear anything I packed. It was freezing cold! The only people that were in the water (all 2 of them or so), were in full-length wet suits, and most people just hung out on the sand all day long. I don’t believe the temperature rose above the sixties (Fahrenheit), and it’s safe to say I was lucky there were stores open in town where I could buy sweat pants and fleece jackets. While I was a little disheartened that we wouldn’t be doing any swimming this trip, the entire thing felt like a great adventure — and certainly a learning experience. Word to the wise: check the weather before you go!

This year, since we’re planning to go camping all over the country, diversity in packing will be crucial to surviving the trip. One thing we learned while researching the National Parks websites was that almost none of these areas allow open-pit fires anymore. There might be another time during the year when this is more feasible, but with the August fires from Colorado to Montana, we won’t be taking any chances. Instead, we read that only propane-fueled stove-tops are allowed — and since some of the areas we’ll be staying in might be 40 degrees Fahrenheit at night, it’s important we don’t forget the fuel!

Now that we’ve got clothing and cooking in any condition out of the way, another important part of planning ahead for the trip will be deciding which tools to bring to set up our campsite and really enjoy the outdoors. One of my personal favorites includes our solar-powered flashlight and usb charger. Even though a full day of sunshine isn’t always guaranteed, generally these flashlights will last us days and days, and can charge fairly quickly in the early morning sunlight. Even though I usually go to bed pretty early when camping, they’re certainly nice to have out during dinner, or on trips to the restroom and back. Mostly we use them to illuminate our card or domino games, but no matter what you use it for I would always recommend having at least two flashlights on-hand when camping (and extra batteries as well). Then, all we have to pack is the bedding and the tent and we’re all set! Just two more weeks before we’re off — please add your favorite camping hacks in the comments section — since you never can have too many survival tips.

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Energy Preparedness: Summer Edition

Summer Travel  Summer is a fantastic time to escape the rigor of daily activity. You can go to any number of lakes to swim or jet-ski, head to the beach to build sandcastles and catch waves — or for the really adventurous spirit, you can even go camping or hiking in the great outdoors! This year, my husband and I have decided to take a month-long road trip, camping along the way, in order to explore all that this beautiful country has to offer! Or, at least we’ll get to see quite a bit of the West. We’re heading to Colorado first, then through Utah and Oregon and onto Seattle, Washington where we’ll get to see some family we haven’t seen in a while. Then, it’s off to Glacier National Park in Montana (https://www.nps.gov/glac/index.htm), Custer Gallatin National Forest (https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/custergallatin/home), Yellowstone (https://www.nps.gov/yell/index.htm), the Gran Tetons (https://www.nps.gov/grte/index.htm), and finally back home!

While we’re both anxiously counting down the days until we’re sleeping under the stars and cooking s’mores, one huge reason we also decided to take this trip during August is to escape the August heat. Every year in Texas this seems to be our highest energy bill — no matter what we do to mitigate it.Glacier National Park

This is a common theme in August in Texas, as any Texas resident will tell you, however with the effects of climate change more prevalent now than ever before in our life times, and with more and more people moving to this great state every day, the peak energy demand season is sky-rocketing. It’s no wonder that as the heat index moves above 95 degrees Fahrenheit, people want to escape inside an air-conditioned building as quickly as possible — but what people don’t realize is that the short spurt of increased demand must be managed by Grid operators — similar to the reports we read in February during the winter storm. Just take a look at what the Texas Tribune reported about summer energy outages this past June: https://www.texastribune.org/2021/06/19/texas-power-grid-ercot/. The good news is that because we’re in Texas, engineers have designed these systems to withstand the heat (so it’s very likely that you won’t have any of the natural gas plants freeze up during this time of the year like we saw this past winter), however any time there is increased demand on the energy Grid, the additional loads must be managed. This week, we’ll explore what to do if your power is interrupted or even goes out during the hottest days on record — and hopefully you live near a body of water if so! For those of you with solar + battery storage, you can tune out for now.

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