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Ten digit dialing comes to San Antonio

It’s the end of an era.

The era of knowing someone is from San Antonio based solely on the “210” at the start of a phone number is drawing to a close. San Antonio is outgrowing its singular 210 area code and will have to add a second code, 726, later this year.

The North American Numbering Plan Administration, which oversees national use of area codes, predicts that 210 numbers will be exhausted by early 2018.

Area code 726 will be an overlay code for the region currently serviced by 210, including the majority of Bexar County and parts of Atascosa, Comal, Guadalupe, Medina, and Wilson counties. An overlay area code means that 210 numbers will not change, but 726 numbers will be available to the same area.

The biggest immediate consequence is that San Antonio will cease to be the largest U.S. city in which seven digit dialing is possible, meaning that the old way of dialing local calls without an area code will no longer work.

“Right now we are in what is called a permissive period where you can use either a seven or 10 digit phone number in the 210 area,” said Terry Hadley, communications director for the Public Utilities Commission of Texas, which oversees area codes in addition to all electric, telecommunication, water, and sewer utilities for the State.

The six-month permissive period will end on Sept. 23, meaning that all local calls will require 10 digits, the three-digit area code and a seven-digit phone number. Long distance calls will continue to require 1 followed by 10 digits.

The activation date for the new 726 area code will be Oct. 23.

[…]

The 210 area code has been in place for San Antonio since 1992 and has become part of San Antonio’s identity for some.

“210 is really a brand for San Antonio,” said local resident Sarah Esserlieau. “There are a couple companies that reference 210 to show that they’re local companies, and I don’t know how that will affect branding.”

“Five or 10 years from now, will [210] be almost like a heritage number?” she questioned, suggesting the older area code could create a sense of pride similar to regional pride for area codes in some cities.

Yeah, well, when I was in college San Antonio was still using 512, same as Austin. It was still a long distance call, though, and you had to dial a 1 before the number. I do think 210 numbers will have a bit of prestige for them, as 713 and to a lesser extent 281 numbers in Houston do, but that may not be fully felt until there’s a third or even fourth area code that everyone else can look down on. And don’t worry, you’ll get used to the ten digit dialing thing. Hell, everyone has to do that already with cellphones, right? No big deal.

Here comes the 346

We’re getting another area code.

Starting July 1, Houston area residents might see phone numbers that begin with 346, when a new area code comes to town.

The Public Utility Commission of Texas last year announced a new area code was being added and this week cell phone companies are texting their customers as a reminder.

The new area code will create possibilities for about 8 million new numbers.

Long-time locals have no reason to grumble-they will get to keep their original area codes

The new area code will be the fourth for the nation’s fourth largest city.

[…]

When 346 is activated, it will overlay 713, 281 and 832 in Harris, Fort Bend, Waller, Austin, Montgomery, San Jacinto, Liberty, Chambers, Galveston and Brazoria counties.

A few numbers are still left in 281, 713 and 832, according to the PUC, but the options for new numbers are dwindling.

Houston’s three existing area codes could run out by October, according to some estimates by the PUC.

The new area code might not be used immediately, but the PUC said 346 will be ready that day, just in case the other three codes run out.

I missed the PUC announcement, so I’m glad I caught this. The story reminds me that we got the 832 code, and the 10-digit-dialing requirement that came with it, way back in 1999. That was two years after the introduction of the 281 code, which at the time was based on geography. Guess they were right when they said the overlay codes would last longer. Anyway, what this all means is that when we finally give Olivia a cellphone, it’ll very likely come with a 346 area code. Good to know. Via Swamplot, and Hair Balls has more.

Three four six

Meet your new area code, Houston.

Houston area code map

The Public Utility Commission (PUC) on Thursday announced the addition of area code 346 to accommodate continued growth in and around Houston.

The 346 area code will overlay existing area codes 713, 281 and 832 in Harris, Fort Bend, Waller, Austin, Montgomery, San Jacinto, Liberty, Chambers, Galveston and Brazoria counties.

A map of the affected region is at: http://www.puc.texas.gov/industry/maps/areacodes/Houston.aspx

The North American Number Planning Administrator (NANPA) assigned the 346 area code after projecting that the three existing area codes will run out of numbers by Sept. 30, 2014.

The new area code will not require any reprogramming changes to existing equipment because an area code overlay requiring 10-digit dialing for local calls already exists in the affected region.

The PUC decision allows for industry preparation and customer education from Aug. 1, 2013 through June 30, 2014. Beginning July 1, 2014, new phone numbers can be assigned with a 346 area code.

Unlike previous area code changes, this will not require anyone to change their own number, and as noted in the press release it won’t require a change to how we dial, since we already do ten digit dialing. You wouldn’t think this would be anything but a routine, boring administrative announcement, but apparently there’s something about area codes that get people all het up.

We’ve all seen the Seinfeld episode where the subject of area code discrimination came up, right? The 212 area code ran out of numbers, and 646 was utilized leading to typical Seinfeldian situations of existential dread.

It’s amazing to think that in 2013 when area codes largely have no consequence, that there would be pride in three little numbers. Now zip code pride I can sort of understand. 77002 has a certain cachet, since people immediately think you live at the top of a skyscraper chewing cigars and eating brisket. 77007 shows that you pay too much to live near Washington Avenue. 77006 means that we’re probably neighbors.

346 is an ugly number. 281 is dumpy. 713 is sort of sleek, like a sports car. Maybe it’s the 7. Sevens are sexy. I know people with a 409 area code and they seem to get along alright, besides the dumb Beach Boys references. You know that a 409 area code means that the person is probably adept at a number of farming tools and maybe raised an animal in high school.

My first beeper had a 713 area code, which in Pearland denoted a cosmopolitan air. A worldliness rarely found in such a ‘burb.

(No, it did not.)

Houston rap loves repping area codes. I can’t wait to hear the first 346 area code themed mix tape. Sadly Mike Jones’ 281-330-8004 is no longer a working number. Can you still hit up Paul Wall at the 8-3-2?

I have never heard a rap song that shouts out the dirty 409, have you?

I haven’t seen that episode of “Seinfeld”, actually, but as someone who grew up in New York I do remember when Brooklyn and Staten Island were spun off from the 212 area code into the 718 area code. I don’t remember having any existential angst about it, but I was in high school. I probably had other things to be angsty about. In any event, I just wonder what we’ll do when we run out of area codes.

Will we have enough power?

Maybe not. From the EDF.

It’s understandable that no one seems to have noticed a strongly worded letter to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) last Monday demanding more action to ensure electric reliability in Texas, and asking ERCOT to report back to NERC by April 30 on additional actions taken.  NERC isn’t some federal boogey man either; it’s a corporation founded by the electric industry to create commonly accepted standards for electric reliability across North America, usually through voluntary compliance.  President Bush’s Energy Policy Act of 2005 gave the corporation “the authority to create and enforce compliance with Reliability Standards,” which is where this letter comes into play.

In their 2012 report, NERC highlighted ERCOT as the only region in North America that was not maintaining adequate electric reserves to meet demand, and with this letter they made it very clear that the actions taken to date have not done enough to mitigate that risk.  In the letter, NERC President Gerry Cauley notes that the PUC and ERCOT are continuing to address energy reliability issues, but finds that “solutions have not yet sufficiently materialized to address NERC’s reserve margin concern.”

Cauley goes on to say that “it is still unclear to us how ERCOT intends to mitigate issues that may arise on the current trajectory and when new resources may be available to meet growing demand.”  So according to the corporation whose membership consists mostly of utilities, grid operators, large and small customers, and electric regulators, the actions that the PUC and ERCOT have taken at this point are not enough to ensure we’ll have reliable electric supply, risking blackouts as soon as this summer.

As lawmakers settle into Austin for the next few months they’ll certainly be paying close attention to this issue, though many have indicated they would prefer that ERCOT and the PUC develop the solutions to this problem.  Cauley’s letter serves as notice that the PUC and ERCOT need to be more aggressive if they want to ensure a reliable supply of power in Texas.  Certainly both agencies are putting serious time and effort into keeping the lights on in Texas, including effort so expand existing demand response programs, but NERC clearly thinks they need to be doing more.

This was also noted by Loren Steffy, who says that Texas is now “under more pressure than ever to encourage generation, and that’s likely to mean higher prices at a time when the deregulated market was supposed to be delivering lower prices to consumers”. (He also notes that consumer protections are likely to be weakened, because that’s how we roll in this state.) Thanks to the continued tax credit in the so-called fiscal “cliff” deal, there will be more wind projects gearing up, and ERCOT foresees $8.9 billion in electric transmission projects by the end of 2017, but neither will help in the short term, and it’s still not enough for the longer term. I don’t know what else there is to be done, so just consider this a heads up for when the crunch does hit.

West Texas wind

The wind energy business in Texas is going strong.

BP and other energy companies are funneling millions of dollars into building and operating wind farms in West Texas, helping to transform the oil country into one of the nation’s leading hubs for green energy production.

Skylines dominated by nodding pump jacks increasingly are spotted with spinning turbines. Economies tied to the ebb and flow of commodity prices are finding stability in supplying the power grid.

“We’ve been through lots of booms and busts with the oil and gas industry. The oil and gas areas deplete over time,” said Doug May, economic development director for Pecos County.

“The wind resource here is sustainable. We look at these wind farms as a long-term investment in the future of Pecos County.”

Recent energy analyses predict renewable fuels — including wind, solar and biofuels — will be the world’s fastest-growing energy source in coming decades. BP’s own outlook predicts the country’s renewable energy production will surge 252 percent over the next 20 years.

Wind and solar energy are potentially huge boons to West Texas, which is the perfect location in many ways for harvesting both kinds. There’s already a lot of investment out there, and more is to come. There are some obstacles, however.

West Texas wind farms are at the end of the state’s main electrical grid, managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT. The Public Utility Commission of Texas has been working on plans to build a more robust network of power lines to bring more wind-generated power to major cities.

But those lines are still two years and nearly $7 billion away.

Meanwhile, the federal tax credit that gives wind power generators 2.2 cents for every kilowatt-hour of energy produced is slated to expire at year’s end unless lawmakers approve a renewal.

“If Congress chooses not to renew, there is no hope for the wind industry next year,” [John] Graham, the BP executive, said of the tax credit. “Without it, U.S. wind projects aren’t viable.”

BP has joined the pack of wind executives fighting to keep the production tax credit for renewable energy. Graham said he has traveled to Washington five times since October.

You’d think giving an energy company a tax break would come as naturally to Congress as breathing, but that renewable energy credit was a casualty of the payroll tax cut deal. It could be revived, and again, it’s hard to imagine a world in which energy executives have to go begging for bones from Congress. The ERCOT issue has been in the works for four years already. That will be a big deal when it’s done.

New clean air rule from EPA

A new rule from the EPA that seeks to limit pollution that originates in one state but affects others as well should have a big effect on Texas.

The rule, which covers 27 states and the District of Columbia, will require aging plants to be upgraded with modern equipment to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. Some companies might close their plants rather than install the pollution controls.

Gov. Rick Perry criticized the rule as “heavy-handed and misguided,” while U.S. Sen. John Cornyn said it is “another blow” to Texas by the Environmental Protection Agency that could threaten jobs and the affordability of electricity.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said those fears were exaggerated, particularly in Texas, where some already have moved to clean up their coal-fired plants.

“Texas has an ample range of cost-effective emission reduction options for complying with the requirements of this rule without threatening reliability or the continued operation of coal-burning units,” Jackson said.

[…]

The Texas Public Utility Commission estimated that the standard could force 18 plants – many of which were built in the 1970s – to install expensive equipment, change fuel or prematurely retire.

Last month, San Antonio’s city-owned utility pledged to shutter its coal-fired plant by 2018 rather than install a $550 million scrubber to cut pollution. CPS Energy said the money would be better used toward newer forms of energy, including natural gas and solar.

Environmentalists said state officials and industry should not be surprised by the new standards. The Bush administration proposed a similar action, known as the Clean Air Interstate Rule. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ordered the EPA to revise the rule in 2008 after deciding the agency had overstepped its authority.

You know what that means: More litigation from the usual dirty-air-loving suspects. As such, I don’t know if the new rule, now known as the Cross State Air Pollution Rule, will ever be enforced. Sure seems to me to be the sort of thing for which federal authority is needed, but what do I know? Texas Vox and the Texas Green Report have more.

Illegal electrons

Hilarious.

As Texas struggles to keep the lights on, who should come to the rescue? Mexico. That’s right, Mexico’s state electricity company on Wednesday started supplying electricity to Texas, where cold weather and power shortages forced rolling blackouts across the state. Mexico’s Federal Electricity Commission issued a statement saying it “was determined to support Texas with electrical energy” as its neighbor to the north scrambled to deal with its power woes.

If we can figure out some way to harness the energy from all of the heads that will explode as a result of this, we ought to be able to avoid any summer brownouts, too. You can also thank wind power for keeping the lights on. No word on whether or not it was a Mexican wind, however.

On a more serious note, you might be wondering why we experienced rolling blackouts in the winter, for a weather event that we knew was coming for days, and without any advanced notice of said blackouts. The Public Utility Commission is also wondering. Hopefully they’ll get some answers. Perhaps if Governor Perry spent more time in Texas and less time gallivanting around the country, he’d know what was going on, too. PDiddie, McBlogger, and Texas Vox have more.

UPDATE: From California to Kentucky. Our Governor does get around.

More renewable energy coming?

If the PUC says so.

The Public Utility Commission is mulling a shot in the arm to the renewables industry, as it is to energy efficiency. Sometime after a March 31 public workshop, the commission is expected to put forward a formal proposal that could require the state to develop 500 megawatts of non-wind renewables by the end of 2014. That equates to barely 5 percent of the amount of wind capacity already on the Texas grid but represents a leap for technologies that are almost invisible in the state today. “It’s a big number,” says Michael Webber, the associate director at the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Texas. There is less than seven megawatts of solar power in Texas right now, Webber notes.

Efforts to go big have so far fallen short. The Legislature tried to pass its own version of renewables assistance last session, and advocates got so optimistic about the dozens of bills promoting solar power that they dubbed it the “solar session.” Yet just about everything failed to pass. This not only disappointed solar installers but dashed hopes of attracting a run of solar panel factories to the state. “We’re much more likely to build a manufacturing industry for solar if we have a market for solar here,” Webber says.

The regulatory push for new renewables would use essentially the same type of incentives that have propelled wind power. Wind surged beginning in 1999, thanks to the clunkily named “Renewable Portfolio Standard,” which required Texas to get 2,000 new megawatts of electricity from renewables by 2009. Once Texas utilities and wind generators got the idea, they quickly surpassed the requirement, and the Legislature came back with a stronger goal in 2005: 5,880 megawatts by 2015. That, too, has long since been exceeded: Texas has more than 9,000 megawatts of wind already installed.

The PUC has already put forward a “strawman” proposal for promoting non-wind alternative power that would require 50 megawatts (one-tenth of the 2014 amount) to come from solar power. The “strawman” designation means that it is not yet a formal proposal but rather a placeholder that can draw early comments.

The solar option seems to have support on the PUC. “We’re going to try to do some more on sun,” Barry Smitherman, the chair of the commission, told an audience at a Renewable Energy World conference in Austin last month.

More here. The solar initiatives failed when voter ID derailed everything at the end of the session. The bills had passed in the Senate but never came to a vote in the House as the chubfest ran out the clock to kill voter ID. One hopes that these bills will get another shot in 2011, but with redistricting and the budget mess on the agenda, it’s hard to see how anything else can get enough oxygen. I hope so, but I wouldn’t count on it. This will have to do until then. More from the Statesman and from Forrest Wilder on a related matter.

Taking another step for solar power

Texas missed out in the last legislative session on a chance to take a big step forward with solar energy, but there are still some things that can be done to keep moving in that direction.

Texas already leads the nation in producing wind power, and given its sunny climate, scientists say it has the capacity to dominate solar, too.

To help make that happen, solar advocates are urging the Texas Public Utility Commission to set solar usage requirements for electric retailers.

“We actually are a perfect environment, economically and thermodynamically, as a raw resource for solar, but it hasn’t taken off,” said Michael E. Webber, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Texas.

“However, I think it’s about to,” said Webber, who is also associate director of UT’s Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy.

The PUC, an agency run by three gubernatorial appointees, is considering a plan to give solar power the same kind of boost that the state gave to wind power in 1999.

The Legislature first told the PUC to boost solar power and other nonwind renewable energy sources in 2005, and the agency is now taking steps to implement those instructions.

[…]

Although Texas leads the nation by far in the potential for solar power, it trails many smaller states such as New Jersey in putting solar power in service. “New Jersey?” Webber asked in mock disbelief. “A small, cloudy state outdoes Texas?”

Texas has done well in getting wind energy going, and its renewable energy standards are at the forefront nationwide. But it does seem strange that we haven’t done more to develop solar energy. Encouraging the utilities to do more is fine, though it will be limited by the lack of a robust transmission network in the same way wind energy has been, but there are other approaches, too. Making it easier for individual homeowners to install solar panels could also accomplish a lot. That was one of the things that the major piece of solar energy-related legislation was supposed to do, but it died in the end. Unfortunately, I fear that the budget situation is going to make a similar bill impossible to pass in 2011, but I hope someone tries anyway. The longer we wait, the farther behind we fall.

In case you were wondering why we have bad air quality in Texas

Ever wonder why we have such lax enforcement of environmental regulations here in Texas? One reason is because the people who head up the agencies that have the power to enforce those regulations are mostly charlatans and industry apologists. Go read Forrest Wilder’s account of a farcical “Cap and Trade Summit” at which the speakers and the audience was basically energy industry lobbyists, right-wing hacks, and the state officials who are supposed to be the ones responsible for making sure they all follow the law. You couldn’t make a stronger case for more federal involvement if you tried.