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The QueQue

QueQue: Slowing CPS solar rebates hurting installers, EFF cracks window on Texas drone surveillance

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Sinkin, meanwhile, fears CPS is now shifting focus onto big, glitzy utility-scale projects, like the recent deal struck with OCI Solar Power to generate 400 megawatts for the utility, to the detriment of distributed generation, the residential and commercial roof-top solar called for under the city's Mission Verde initiative. Last year, Sinkin claims, the utility even promised installers the rebates wouldn't dry up. Companies were caught in a panic when they felt the cap, he says, considering CPS never hinted at a change in focus to utility-scale over distributed generation at any CPS board, council, or public meeting. Sinkin says solar companies aren't asking for an indefinite subsidy, and that market research shows industry won't need to depend on the rebates to be competitive within two or three years. Lewis, however, was unapologetic. "CPS Energy, I don't think, ever intended to be the impetus for the entire (solar) industry here," she said, adding that there's been no attitude shift inside CPS. But read between the lines, and there's reason Sinkin and local installers are squirming. "If cleaning the air is your objective, utility-scale solar is going to displace emissions more than distributed generation, and air quality is definitely an issue," Lewis said. "If economic development is an issue, we will bring jobs faster with a large utility scale project than with installers."

EFF cracks window on Texas drone surveillance

First off, don't call what they're flying across the state out of the Texas State University's River Systems Institute "surveillance." Sure they're peeping at stranded fish and counting birds and deer from above with an eight-pound Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, but "'surveillance' has sort of law-enforcement connotation, which is not what we do," said RSI Chief Science Officer Thom Hardy, who first started working with UAVs as the associate director of Utah Water Research Lab before being recruited to San Marcos three years ago. "We wanted to be able to develop at low cost, a remote-sensing platform to assist in agriculture and natural-resource settings."

Hardy's purposes are a world away from more Minority Report ambitions of the Houston Police Department, which launched a UAV in 2007 with dreams of spying into car windows over interstates before they were busted by a curious TV news crew with resulting public furor. According to documents released to the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation, among a slew of military and military contractors approved for drone flight, there are currently at least three active licenses in Texas, but these have research — rather than police/military surveillance — agendas.

It appears several recent attempts by state and local law enforcement to hoist eyes into the skies (Houston Police Department, Texas State Highway Patrol, Emergency Services in Hays County) have come with fumbles. Highway Patrol had maintenance issues with the one-pound systems they spent $300,000 on. They haven't flown since test flights back in 2010, according to the EFF. Houston PD gave up, according to spokesperson Jodi Silva, determining drones "weren't feasible." And while the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office in Conroe paid $300,000 for a ShadowHawk unmanned helicopter, at this point it seems only research drone operations are active, and these at Texas State and Texas A&M.

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