Friday, July 27, 2012

Obamacare surprise in Mason County, TX: A $400 rebate check from medical insurance company

In Texas . . . 92 percent of consumers who purchased individual policies are expected to get rebates because insurers spent too little of their premium dollars on medical care

"This alone is not going to make health insurance affordable for large numbers of people, but it is getting excess administrative cost out of the system," says Larry Levitt, a study author

Send us a comment if you (or somebody you know) has received a medical insurance rebate check or letter

Note: From the Mason County News, Letters to the Editor, July 25, 2012. Rebate checks from health insurance companies are dropping in the mail all over the country due to requirements of the Affordable Care Act. A report from the Kaiser Family Foundation says Texas consumers and businesses will be receiving an estimated $186 million in rebates – $1.3 billion nationally. So far, the media is otherwise reporting no major complaints coming from pooh-poohers of the health insurance reform law.

Dear Gerry,

I received a shocking letter last week—along with a $400 check. From, of all places, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas. It said: “The Affordable Care Act requires the BCBSTX to issue a rebate to you if BCBSTX does not spend at least 80 percent of the premiums it receives on health care services such as doctors and hospital bills, and activities to improve health care quality…no more than 20 percent of premiums may be spent on administrative costs such as salaries, sales, and advertising.”

My husband and I are self-employed and pay for our own health care; some years we have insurance, some years not. In 2010, because I had promised my mom I would get a mammogram and colonoscopy when I turned 50, I signed us up for a Blue Cross Blue Shield high deductible plan, figuring that I would at least get the cheaper insurance-negotiated prices for those procedures (and if any problems were diagnosed, then future treatment would be covered). Turned out that BCBSTX was already implementing some of the requirements of the Affordable Care Act (known also as ObamaCare), including one that directed insurance companies to pay for certain preventative tests regardless of the deductible. That provision alone saved me several thousand dollars, which made it less painful to pay for the quarterly premiums. And now the rebate check.

Finally I feel like I am getting something for my money. This letter is to pass on word of my experience with President Obama’s health care overhaul. Basically, I approve.

Carey Burkett

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Chicken on a June bug! Big, powerful fast food business versus the t-shirt dude

Note: We're on summer break of sorts, so use this space to report on, comment on, or start a discussion on any other hot topic in Hays County or the Universe that grabs you. Have fun. Be nice. Try to be as factual as you can. And remember to eat more watermelon.

Note note (from the youtube video): T-shirt artist Bo Muller-Moore defies Chick-fil-a, a multi-billion dollar fast food chain, when they lay claim to his 'Eat More Kale' t-shirt design and website. This is a trailer for the documentary in the making. Learn more at

Related news:

Boston Mayor to Chick-fil-A: Stuff it

Boston Herald | Full Story | By Greg Turner (Fri July 20, 2012) – Mayor Thomas M. Menino is vowing to block Chick-fil-A from bringing its Southern-fried fast-food empire to Boston — possibly to a popular tourist spot just steps from the Freedom Trail — after the family-owned firm’s president suggested gay marriage is “inviting God’s judgment on our nation.”

“Chick-fil-A doesn’t belong in Boston. You can’t have a business in the city of Boston that discriminates against a population. We’re an open city, we’re a city that’s at the forefront of inclusion,” Menino told the Herald yesterday.

“That’s the Freedom Trail. That’s where it all started right here. And we’re not going to have a company, Chick-fil-A or whatever the hell the name is, on our Freedom Trail.”

Chick-fil-A did not respond to multiple requests for comment. But the company released a statement yesterday saying it has a history of applying “biblically-based principles” to managing its business, such as closing on Sundays, and it insisted it does not discriminate.

In other news:

Early voting in Texas' primary runoff elections begins Monday July 23 and runs through Friday July 27. Election day is Tuesday July 31. Click on the links for the ballot listings and early voting locations in Hays County for the Democratic primary runoff election and the Republican primary runoff election.

Note: This comes via an old and recycled email chain letter (from 2009) that has been making the rounds lately. Its message is simple and makes more sense than all the claptrap emanating from Washington. If you're voting in the upcoming primary elections, or even if you are not planning on voting, you might want to contact your favorite congressperson or candidate and ask if they would support at least the spirit of the purported "Congressional Reform Act of 2012 (USNews 3-13-12)." The email that ties Buffet to the letter and the Act was actually a hoax (urbanlegends Oct 2011), but it nevertheless offers a pretty effective 'quick kill' alternative to the status quo.

Blowin' in the wind: Why the Act will never pass – The Congressional Reform Act isn't a real piece of legislation. Even if it were, what are the chances members of Congress would vote to eliminate perks and jeopardize their own job security?

Email: Warren Buffett (left in photo), in a recent interview with CNBC, offers one of the best quotes about the debt ceiling:

"I could end the deficit in 5 minutes," he told CNBC. "You just pass a law that says that anytime there is a deficit of more than 3% of GDP, all sitting members of Congress are ineligible for re-election."

Congressional Reform Act of 2012

1. No Tenure / No Pension.
A Congressman/woman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they're out of office.

2. Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security.
All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress participates with the American people. It may not be used for any other purpose.

3. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do.

4. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.

5. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.

6. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.

7. All contracts with past and present Congressmen/women are void effective 12/1/12. The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen/women.

Congress made all these contracts for themselves. Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should serve their term(s), then go home and back to work.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Texas Voter ID law goes to trial

Related stories:

Pennsylvania Voter ID Law May Bar 9% From Presidential Election
Voter ID Laws Could Deter Would-be Voters
Pennsylvania Republican Admits Voter Suppression Is All About Electing Mitt Romney

From | Full Story | By Henry C. Jackson | WASHINGTON (Mon July 9, 2012) – The state of Texas and the Justice Department gave opening statements Monday in a trial over Texas' new voter ID law, setting the stage for a legal battle over the federal Voting Rights Act.
Image courtesy
At issue is a 2011 law passed by Texas' GOP-dominated Legislature that requires voters to show photo identification when they head to the polls.

The state argued Monday that the law represents the will of the people and does not run afoul of the Voting Rights Act, passed in 1965 to ensure minorities' right to vote.

"Texas Democrats, like their national counterparts, have been wholly out of step with their constituents," said Adam Mortara, a lawyer representing Texas. "Voters want photo ID."

Lawyers for the Justice Department strongly disputed Texas' view.

Elizabeth Westfall, in her opening for the Justice Department, said the evidence would show as many as 1.4 million voters lack any form of acceptable identification under Texas' new law. She also stressed Texas wouldn't be able to prove there was no intent to discriminate against minority voters when it passed the law.

Westfall noted the law was passed in the Texas Legislature under "the uniform objection" of minority lawmakers and that the Justice Department would show evidence it does in fact discriminate against minority voters.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Texas Land Office looking at building desalination plant possibly near Kyle

With most of Central Texas' river and aquifer water spoken for, desalination has special appeal to meet the growing demand for water as the state's population grows
From the Statesman | Read Full Story | By Asher Price (Mon July 9, 2012) – Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson is getting the state into the Central Texas water game.

Patterson's office plans to announce today that it has contracted with two water consulting firms to examine the feasibility of building a desalination plant between Austin and New Braunfels on land the General Land Office owns.

"We want to do something scalable and deployable," said Patterson, who said he is looking at placing a desalination facility either just west of Kyle or just north of New Braunfels. "This is one of the elements of solving Texas' water problem."

Texas has 32 municipal desalination facilities that use brackish groundwater as a source, with a capacity of 70 million gallons a day. The largest is El Paso's Kay Bailey Hutchison Desalination Plant, which can clean 27.5 million gallons a day.

* More background on Texas desalination projects, technology, costs and concerns:

Wimberley council sets 15 priorities for next 2 years; says no to city-operated cemetery

The city remains committed to helping the WCA locate appropriate land for a new cemetery and to facilitating the formation of a new on-profit organization to own and operate such a facility

Note: Wimberley Mayor Bob Flocke writes and edits City Hall Briefs as a public service to inform citizens of city activities. It is neither an official nor an authorized publication of the City of Wimberley. Anyone who wishes to be added to the distribution list should send their email address to Mayor Flocke (below). The RoundUp has edited the Briefs for length and style.

Send your comments and questions to Mr. Flocke at, 512.847.5421, or click on the "comments" at the bottom of the report
. Visit the city's website,, for more news and updates

Sewer system, water alternatives are top 2
on list of Council-approved goals and priorities

At its June 23 retreat at Texas Disposal Services' Creedmore facility, the city council developed a list of goals and priorities for the next two years, a process the council has undertaken annually since 2010. The goals and priorities were reviewed and approved at the council's regular meeting on July 5. In order of priority, the goals are as follows:

1. Develop sewer system for the Wimberley central business district

2. Develop and secure alternate water supplies for Wimberley

3. Acquire and install a lighted information sign

4. Development of a sidewalk on RM 2325 from the "Y" park to Carney Lane

5. Implement a way-finding signage program

6. Develop a capital improvements Program and funding (drainage, street lighting, sidewalks)

7. Complete development of the regional hike and bike trail

8. Maintain citizen involvement

9. Develop the "Y" park in partnership with adjacent business

10. Implement a community radio station

11. Initiate an underground utility program in the central business district

12.a. Development of a master plan for the downtown area

12.b. Initiate work on the development of a community development master plan

12.c. Implement a historic preservation and awareness program

13. Acquire Oak Drive property for enhanced public access and restroom location.

Downtown group's plans to bring sewer system to Wimberley

A group of business and property owners formed last year to bring a wastewater system to the downtown area. The following information is from the Wimberley Central Improvement Area and is intended to bring addressees up-to-date on the group's plans and activities. The group's email address is

Wimberley has sought for decades to solve the economic and environmental problems caused by septic systems in Central Wimberley bordered by Blue Hole Regional Park to the north, FM 3237 to the east, the Blanco River to the south, and Cypress Creek to the west. In 2010, the City was granted a low interest loan for the project, but had no way to guarantee that loan.

In 2011, number of property owners formed the Wimberley Central Improvement Area (WCIA) to methodically seek out and thoroughly study all of the information relative to acquiring the required sewer infrastructure.

- Funding options were thoroughly studied and the decision was made to seek a solution wherein only the property owners within the defined district would bear the financial burden for the improvements.

- The formation of a Municipal Management District, which can receive assessed fees and taxes from within the district, became the best avenue to guaranteeing a low interest loan from the Texas Water Development Board.

- The WCIA entered into an agreement with the City of Wimberley to fund professional feasibility studies regarding engineering and rate structures for the system

Thankfully, we are nearing the point of being able to bring forward well-analyzed options for the property owners within this area to consider. It is important to note that no options have been eliminated from consideration at this time, including partnering with neighboring private service providers.

Property Owners’ Forums are held every two months (notice of each Forum is sent by post to each Owner’s address of record). Once all of the required information is in hand, the WCIA will gather signatures from property owners in favor of forming the MMD, and will then petition the City and State respectively for the formal formation.

Following the formation of the MMD, the system will be designed, monies collected, and construction scheduled for 2013-14.

Council approves Friends of Blue Hole position for Parks Board

The city council approved unanimously a Parks and Recreation Board recommendation that the consensus position on the board be held by a representative of the Friends of Blue Hole.
With the new policy, Friends of Blue Hole will provide the city council with the name of a representative to serve a two-year term as the consensus member of the board.


Lance Cawley
appointment to Planning and Zoning Commission-Place 3 Councilman Matt Meeks
Jesse Brown reappointed to Building Code Board of Review-Mayor Bob Flocke
Bob Bullock reappointed to Building Code Board of Review-Consensus
Mike Stevens reappointed to Ethics Commission-Mayor Bob Flocke
Paul Polhemus reappointed to Ethics Commission-Consensus
Christine Byrne appointed to Parks and Recreation Board-Mayor Bob Flocke
Dell Hood reappointed to Parks and Recreation Board-Consensus
Tracey Dean reappointed to Planning and Zoning Commission-Mayor Bob Flocke
Beth Mitchell reappointed to Planning and Zoning Commission-Consensus
Dorothea Dare reappointed to Transportation Advisory Board-Consensus
Craig Mooty reappointed to Water Wastewater Advisory Board-Mayor Bob Flocke
Joe Malone reappointed to Water Wastewater Advisory Board-Consensus
Dick Larson reappointed to Board of Adjustment-Mayor Bob Flocke
Bill Cline reappointed to Board of Adjustment-Consensus

Council votes "No" to city owned and operated cemetery

In a 3-1 vote at its July 5 meeting the Wimberley City Council voted against the city owning and operating a cemetery. In recent years, representatives of the Wimberley Cemetery Association have requested the city's help in finding the land needed to expand the current Wimberley Cemetery or, if that's not possible, the land needed to develop a new cemetery. Those same representatives have suggested that a city-owned cemetery could generate significant revenue for the city.

The city does not have land that can be used for a cemetery expansion or for the development of a new cemetery. The city's limited financial resources also make it difficult for the city to consider buying land for a cemetery or to operate such a facility. The city remains committed to helping the WCA locate appropriate land for a new cemetery and to facilitating the formation of a new on-profit organization to own and operate such a facility.

Councilman Matt Meeks voted against the motion, and Mac McCullough, Steve Thurber and John White voted in favor. Councilman Tom Talcott was not present.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Dripping: Sequence of events and opposition to the proposed Cypress Creek at Ledge Stone Apartments

Many people are expressing opposition to the project, but their actions indicate that many seem to expect others to step forward and demonstrate the opposition. If that attitude prevails, then we all will probably have to live with the results of having a low income housing project in our midst

( * Poll top left column: Development – Right direction, wrong direction? )

Photo Courtesy Cypress Creek at Ledge Stone website
Note: Here's a belated update from D.S. Our Backyard Our Future on the dealings between the City of Dripping Springs and developer Stuart Shaw (Bonner Carrington) who wants to build a 244-unit Cypress Creek at Ledge Stone apartment project in Dripping Springs. DS Our Backyard opposes the project because, they say, it will place an undue burden on the school system and taxpayers. One of the biggest bones of contention has been that, somehow, the project will avoid paying its fair share in property taxes. Last we heard, the apartment project – if and when the city council gives its approval – will need the blessing of County Judge Bert Cobb in order to make it to home plate. Cypress Creek Ledge Stone has recently added updates to its own website with answers to frequently asked questions about its Dripping project, including answers to where its water supply will come from and its impact on the school district. In an open letter to Dripping Springs "neighbors and stakeholders," Mr. Shaw says concerns by residents over tax avoidances have been resolved. "We are seeking NO ad valorem tax exemption and will pay all our taxes in full," Shaw said. "Let me be clear, we are seeking no tax breaks of any kind from the community."

This has been an interesting case study in community grassroots organizing in opposition to perceived unsustainable development projects in the face of mounting pressures from rapid growth in the region. According to Ledge Stone (see the FAQ link above), water to the apartment project will be supplied by the (formerly LCRA-owned) West Travis Regional water system, of which Hays County has a big stake, and a big need to generate revenue via the Hwy 290 water line recently acquired by the county. Pct. 4 Commissioner Ray Whisenant (left) sits on the board of the West Travis Regional water system. The county needs many more retail customers, and revenue, to keep the system viable. So it's easy to imagine the deck could be stacked and this deal will ultimately get the appropriate approvals, it's just a matter of the right timing and lining up a few more face cards.

Send your comments and questions to DS Our Backyard, to Teresa Scott at, to Ledge Stone, to the City of Dripping Springs at (512.858.4725), to County Judge Bert Cobb at, to Pct. 4 Commissioner Ray Whisenant at (512.858.7605), or click on the "comments" at the bottom of the report

'No justification for city council to allow the project to be built'

Contributed by Mark, a resident of Ledgestone. Posted by Teresa Scott
at D.S. Our Backyard Our Future.

(Friday June 15) –
Stuart Shaw submitted his first Developer's Agreement (DA) to Dripping Springs on or about May 4. It was incomplete and missing all relevant information needed for the Dripping Springs Planning and Zoning Commission and the City Council to reach any recommendation or decision, so it was totally invalid. So what was his motivation in submitting an invalid agreement to the city? Was it to meet some mandatory deadline that none of us were aware of? Possibly, but we just don't know. If it was to meet a deadline, the deadline wasn't met merely by submission of an incomplete and invalid agreement. But let's let that go for the time being and move on.

Mr. Shaw submitted his second Developer's Agreement to Dripping Springs on or about 24 May with the required attachments containing the technical information about the project. The attachments reveal that Mr. Shaw is requesting exceptions to the current 6 ft. "cut and fill" limits. He is requesting multiple variances so his company can cut and fill up to 16 feet in various areas of the project. This is not "slightly over" the standards set by the Dripping Springs city council, but far in excess of them.

Mr. Shaw submitted the PILOT proposal to Dripping Springs on 6 June. As I read it, there is no way for the city to enforce the proposed PILOT payments should Mr. Shaw simply chose not to pay them for whatever reasons. And if you examine his business model and his actual record of none to next to nothing PILOT payments to other communities where he has built these projects, one comes to the conclusion that the probability of his making any payments to the Dripping Springs community is slim to none.

Shaw, right, with Amarillo Mayor
Debra McCartt at ribbon cutting
of new apartment project
, April 2010

As for Mr. Shaw claiming to drop the PILOT proposal and make "full ad valorem tax" payments on his project, I believe he never intended to do that. Even as he was making his public statement to the DSISD board on 17 May, he was talking with people about doing the PILOT program instead because "it would benefit the community much more than paying taxes." His words. It appears his intent is still to apply for the tax exempt and 4% tax credit financing through the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) with funding provided by a qualified Housing Finance Corporation (HFC). The original HFC, Capital Area Housing and Finance Corporation (CAHFC), appears to have temporarily withdrawn from this project. However, there are other HFC's that Mr. Shaw could obtain this tax exempt financing through, and it is possible that CAHFC could step back in if necessary. If the special tax exempt financing is granted, I believe the state sanctioned tax exemption would be a higher authority than any PILOT agreement signed with a local community and allow Mr. Shaw to withhold any payments.

This is something the Dripping Springs city attorney should be charged with completely investigating and rendering a legal opinion upon. If the attorney isn't tasked by the city council to do so, then I don't believe the city will have conducted its proper due diligence before voting on a proposal that will have multiple adverse impacts on the surrounding areas.

To sum things up, I will state my opinion, which is solely my opinion. I have concluded that Mr. Shaw's proposed low to moderate income apartment project is blatantly out of place, unneeded, misrepresented, places a large burden on the already highly financially stressed DSISD, is devoid of any benefit to low income people who work in Dripping Springs and would like to live in Dripping Springs (as opposed to living out on the Hays/Travis county line), is targeted to attract mostly people who live and work in Austin and Travis county, adversely impacts the property values of the home owners in the immediate vicinity (ask any realtor), increases the occurrences of social disturbances in the area (ask any police officer), and places a higher burden on the police and emergency services without the supporting taxes that all homeowners and businesses are required to pay.

I see absolutely no justification for the city council of Drippings Springs to allow it to be built.

Many people have expressed opposition to this project. However, the extent of the opposition must be clearly demonstrated to the Dripping Springs city council. We must be present in large numbers at the appropriate public meetings of both the planning and zoning commission and the city council to express the magnitude of the public opposition. If this doesn't happen, the council members might possibly succumb to arguments and pressures from the small number of special interests who stand to benefit if the project were to be approved.

Many people are expressing opposition to the project, but their actions indicate that many seem to expect others to step forward and demonstrate the opposition. If that attitude prevails, then we all will probably have to live with the results of having a low income housing project in our midst.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Breaking story from Vanity Fair: Where the money lives

As Newt Gingrich put it during the primary season, “I don’t know of any American president who has had a Swiss bank account.” But Romney has, as well as other interests in such tax havens as Bermuda and the Cayman Islands

Full Story | By Nicolas Shaxson (August issue, 2012) – For all Mitt Romney’s touting of his business record, when it comes to his own money the Republican nominee is remarkably shy about disclosing numbers and investments. Nicholas Shaxson delves into the murky world of offshore finance, revealing loopholes that allow the very wealthy to skirt tax laws, and investigating just how much of Romney’s fortune (with $30 million in Bain Capital funds in the Cayman Islands alone?) looks pretty strange for a presidential candidate.


Though he left the firm in 1999, Romney has continued to receive large payments from it—in early June he revealed more than $2 million in new Bain income. The firm today has at least 138 funds organized in the Cayman Islands, and Romney himself has personal interests in at least 12, worth as much as $30 million, hidden behind controversial confidentiality disclaimers. Again, the Romney campaign insists he saves no tax by using them, but there is no way to check this.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Obamacare redux


Romney Invested in Medical-Waste Firm that Disposed
of Aborted Fetuses, Government Records Show

From Mother Jones | Full Story | By David Corn (July 2, 2012) – Earlier this year, Mitt Romney nearly landed in a politically perilous controversy when the Huffington Post reported that in 1999 the GOP presidential candidate had been part of an investment group that invested $75 million in Stericycle, a medical-waste disposal firm that has been attacked by anti-abortion groups for disposing aborted fetuses collected from family planning clinics. Coming during the heat of the GOP primaries, as Romney tried to sell South Carolina Republicans on his pro-life bona fides, the revelation had the potential to damage the candidate's reputation among values voters already suspicious of his shifting position on abortion.

But Bain Capital, the private equity firm Romney founded, tamped down the controversy. The company said Romney left the firm in February 1999 to run the troubled 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and likely had nothing to with the deal. The matter never became a campaign issue. But documents filed by Bain and Stericycle with the Securities and Exchange Commission—and obtained by Mother Jones—list Romney as an active participant in the investment. And this deal helped Stericycle, a company with a poor safety record, grow, while yielding tens of millions of dollars in profits for Romney and his partners. The documents—one of which was signed by Romney—also contradict the official account of Romney's exit from Bain.

Related story:

Over $83,000 in Fines Assessed in Texas
for Illegal Dumping of Aborted Baby Remains

From Operation Rescue – "one of the leading pro-life Christian activist organizations in the nation" | Full Story | Austin Texas (December 1, 2011) – The Texas Commission on Environment Quality has released documents to Operation Rescue that show two Texas abortion clinics and the disposal company Stericycle have been slapped with fines in excess of $83,000 for illegal dumping of aborted baby remains. The fines are the result of complaints filed by Operation Rescue against Whole Woman’s Health of McAllen and Austin after a three-month undercover investigation. The TCEQ then conducted its own investigation and broadened the case to include Stericycle. In June, the TCEQ notified Operation Rescue that the two abortion clinics and Stericycle had all been cited for violations involving the improper disposal of human fetuses.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Residential & small business electric customers are last tapped market to reduce demand – hello smart meters

A combination of technologies, including smart meters and thermostats with two-way communications, can cycle air conditioning and other appliances off and on for a few minutes at a time to cut customers' electricity bills while keeping them comfortable
[Note: Fyi, related article, The Kindred Spirits Project | Animal Health Alert - Dogs Reaction to Smart Meters – “One of my dogs awoke at the same time, wandering the hallways whining and crying. This dog refuses to sleep inside at night now, as the pulsed radiation also makes him sick. This dog had slept at the foot of my bed since the day I brought him home until the night the smart meter was installed. I have numerous friends and family who will testify to this, if called to do so.”

In addition to their questionable economic value and privacy issues, there actually seem to be potentially significant health effects on people and now seemingly on animals. This article presents the first documentation of the health hazards of smart meters to dogs. The interesting point is that the dog has no concept that a smart meter was installed or that anything changed, so that any behavioral changes such as the one’s described cannot be written off as a negative placebo effect. This is the first dog in a clinical collection of individual cases for a study on the health effects of smart meters on our animal companions.]
Austin American-Statesman
By Laylan Copeland
Sunday, July 1, 2012

Read the full story

On Aug. 3, 2011, operators of the state's largest electricity grid watched as wholesale prices jumped fortyfold in a matter of minutes and Texans set a record for electricity usage.

Wholesale prices that had been $75 per megawatt-hour only moments earlier stayed at the $3,000 cap for about 4½ hours before dropping just as precipitously as they rose. The next day conditions worsened, as several power plants, including an Austin Energy unit, tripped offline because of equipment failure amid a record string of triple-digit temperatures.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the grid for three-fourths of the state, narrowly avoided a rolling blackout that day by urging residential customers to turn up their thermostats and by paying some industrial customers to interrupt their operations.

Since then, the debate among state officials has focused on how to encourage the construction of more power plants, but the state's consultants, the Brattle Group, have reminded officials not to forget the other half of the law of supply and demand.

"I agree we've needed more demand response for years," said Trip Doggett, ERCOT's president and CEO. "If enough people reduce (electricity) load, the price might not go to the cap."

But Doggett said it's not enough to rely on customers reacting to a crisis out of a sense of civic duty.

Consider Aug. 3, 2011, again.

Residential customers typically account for about a fourth of the peak demand for electricity on a spring day. But add air conditioning and residential customers accounted for half of the electricity demand at 5 p.m. on Aug. 3.

The 35,000 megawatts consumed by residential customers that day was four times what they consumed on a March day.

A combination of technologies, including smart meters and thermostats with two-way communications, can cycle air conditioning and other appliances off and on for a few minutes at a time to cut customers' electricity bills while keeping them comfortable.

"Residential and light commercial is the last tapped market for demand response," said Jeff Ebihara of Concert, an energy management company that has partnered with CPS Energy, San Antonio's city-owned utility.

Over three years, Ebihara said, the plan is to sign up 140,000 residential and small commercial customers as part of its Virtual Peak Plant — which would give the utility the ability to reduce 250 megawatts of power during peak demand.

By tying together control devices on air conditioning, pool pumps, water heaters and electric car chargers with two-way communication, the utility can reduce its need to buy electricity in the wholesale spot market when prices are highest.

In other news:

Indictment Links Prominent Texas Family's
Horse Stable to Zetas Money-Laundering Case

From the Texas Observer | Full Story |By Andrew Wheat and Forrest Wilder (June 21, 2012) – A prominent Texas family with connections to the state’s top officials is alleged to have purchased and boarded horses for a Mexican drug cartel engaged in money laundering, according to court records.

Federal indictments recently unsealed in Austin allege that 14 defendants with Spanish surnames used elite U.S. racehorses to launder millions of dollars of drug money for Mexico’s ruthless Los Zetas cartel. The indictments also implicate the renowned Southwest Stallion Station breeding stables outside Austin, run by a veterinarian named Charles Graham and his grandson Tyler. Over the past decade, they have contributed almost $250,000 to federal and state politicians led by Texas’ top three officials. In 2008 Gov. Perry appointed Dr. Graham to the now-defunct Texas Department of Rural Affairs. The Grahams haven’t been charged with wrongdoing, and their names don’t appear in the indictments. But allegations made against their stables in the indictments suggest that the Zetas cartel paid the Grahams a small fortune in recent years. In all, Tyler Graham bought more than $1 million worth of horses that ended up in the hands of the Zetas cartel, which made at least $550,000 in payments to the Grahams’ stable, according to trade publications and the indictment. The Grahams didn’t respond to calls and emails seeking comment.

While never mentioning the Grahams, the money-laundering indictment alleges that the Zeta conspirators paid their Southwest Stallion stables $550,000 last July to board and breed Zeta racehorses.

Since 2001, the Grahams have contributed $32,025 to Perry’s campaign account, according to state records. They’ve also donated to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst ($17,100), House Speaker Joe Straus ($15,500), a San Antonio Republican, and state Sen. Kirk Watson ($15,500), an Austin Democrat.