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Archive for June 6th, 2011

U.S. Stops Keystone I Line from Restarting After 12th Spill in 12 Months, Days Before Comment Period Ends on Keystone XL

For over a year, TransCanada has been trying to get its hands on a Presidential Permit from the U.S. Department of State to extend its Keystone I tar sands pipeline with a pipeline called Keystone XL. That extension would start in Alberta, Canada, link on to Keystone I in the Midwest and attach on its Southern end in Oklahoma before it heads through Texas and ends at Gulf Coast refineries. During this same year, though, TransCanada’s Keystone I line has been leaking at an alarming rate.

It’s a fact that tar sands pipelines leak at 16 times more per mile due to internal corrosion, and something that has long been a concern of citizens opposed to the Keystone XL line slated to come through Texas. Today, though, TransCanada’s inability to operate Keystone I without averaging less leaks than one per month has finally gotten to the Department of Transportation (DOT) and United States Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) who today issued an order of corrective action against TransCanada.

TransCanada’s Keystone I line sprung its twelfth leak in nearly twelve months last weekend in Kansas to the tune of 2,100 gallons, only two weeks after a 21,000 gallon leak in North Dakota and ten other smaller leaks.

PHMSA’s statement today notified the public that “Effective immediately, this order prevents TransCanada from restarting operations on their Keystone crude oil pipeline until PHMSA is satisfied with the ongoing repairs and is confident that all immediate safety concerns have been addressed. PHMSA issued the order in connection with two incidents in May involving oil leaks from small diameter pump station pipe fittings,” and DOT’s official letter to TransCanada also reads that “the continued operation of the  pipeline  without  corrective  measures  would  be  hazardous  to  life,  property  and  the environment.”

This corrective order from PHMSA comes just three days before the 45-day comment period on Keystone XL’s Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) ends on Monday, June 6th.

STOP Founder and President David Daniel had the following to say: “The deck of evidence is stacked against TransCanada. It would be absolutely absurd for the State Department to permit Keystone XL now. The EPA spoke out against Keystone XL’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement and now PHMSA is having to step in to protect citizens from TransCanada’s Keystone I line. For the State Department to allow Keystone XL to go through would be a slap in the face to not only these agencies but to the concerns and livelihoods of millions of Americans, as it too would be, in the Department of Transportation’s own words ‘hazardous to life, property, and the environment.’ TransCanada cannot keep getting away with this. We ask the State Department to take the Department of Transportation’s action today as a warning and say no to a Presidential Permit for Keystone XL.”

To make comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, you can visit http://www.keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov/clientsite/keystonexl.nsf?Open or contact STOP at [email protected] or 409.550.7961 for more information.

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If you live in Austin, TX and put solar on your rooftop, you might be able to pay only about a quarter of the initial cost estimate, making this a viable option for many homeowners.  But for many Texans, there is still a good reason not to go with solar: the generous local incentives that Austinites have  for affordable panels that could provide about two-fifths of a home’s electricity use do not exist in most of the rest of the state.

We had hoped that Texas lawmakers would pass a bill this session to establish a statewide rebate for solar projects, financed by extra charges on electric bills. But it died without getting out of a House committee.

Texas prides itself on being the national leader in wind power, and many renewable-energy companies were looking to this big, sunny state as the next frontier for solar power, which California currently dominates as it did wind before the state provided incentives for wind development.  But solar technology remains expensive: while there environmental benefits, it can be more costly than coal or gas power on a nationwide basis before incentives. The recent fall in natural gas prices has made it even harder for solar to compete (although panel prices are falling fairly dramatically).

Despite the lack of incentives for solar on rooftops, some larger utility scale solar projects are emerging. San Antonio began getting power from a 14-megawatt solar farm late last year, and in May a developer started building a 30-megawatt solar facility in Webberville, a small community near Austin (the power will be sold to Austin Energy).

Oncor, a retail electric provider serving the Dallas area, will begin taking applications for a new round of solar incentives on Monday.  Last year the program sold out in a month. Additionally, electric utilities in El Paso and San Antonio also offer solar incentives. 

Two solar bills did pass this session. One will make it somewhat harder for homeowners’ associations to bar solar panels. Another clears regulatory hurdles to solar leasing and other third-party ownership arrangements, which for tax reasons will be helpful to schools and churches.

So while there is little in the way of incentives statewide, some communities are recognizing the benefit of supporting solar as a means to provide energy or reduce energy needed from the grid during peak periods (that sunny hot part of the day when air conditioning is running full out) and a way to help reduce the need to build new base-load (coal, gas, or nuclear) power plants that have significant upfront capital costs.

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