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UPDATE:  Public Citizen’s legal team argued our case forcefully.  But it’s all up to the judge now, who could rule — either for or against us — any day.  Either way, there is likely to be an appeal and you can bet we will continue to need your support.

On August 10th, we appear before a judge to argue Public Citizen v. Donald J. Trump.

In the case, we’re challenging Trump’s deregulatory executive order.

The order aims to make it harder for the government to protect our air and water, guarantee the safety of our food, ensure our cars are safe, protect workers from on-duty hazards, address climate change and much more.

Before we argue the case before the judge, I wanted to take a moment to explain the stakes.

It’s not just what the deregulatory order would do on its own, as horrible as that is.

The order is the centerpiece of one of Trump’s overriding objectives:

Empower Big Business to pollute, cheat, rip off, endanger, discriminate and price gouge free from governmental restrictions.

Trump can’t stop talking about this.

On his fifth day in office, Trump told a gathering of CEOs that environmental protections are “out of control,” and promised to roll back regulations.

A week later, he met with Big Pharma CEOs. In place of his tough talk about medicine prices, he promised to eliminate 75 to 80 percent of FDA regulations — a far more extreme position even than Big Pharma’s.

He’s kept up the talk in his endless meetings with CEOs.

Unfortunately, it’s not just talk.

Trump and his cronies are doing real damage:

  • On his first day in office, Trump signed an executive order freezing all pending regulations.That act alone delayed the start date on important public protections years in the making.
  • At the end of January, Trump signed the deregulatory order at issue in Public Citizen v. Donald J. Trump.The order prevents agencies from issuing new safety, health or other regulatory protections unless they eliminate two on the books. Without considering the benefits of the rules, the costs of the new rule must be fully offset by the costs of the eliminated rules.If that sounds crazy to you, that’s because it is.
  • In February, Trump signed an order directing agencies to review rules and make recommendations for cuts.The New York Times reports that these reviews are “being conducted in large part out of public view and often by political appointees with deep industry ties and potential conflicts.”
  • The administration worked with the Republican Congress to use an obscure procedure to repeal more than a dozen rules adopted at the end of the Obama administration.The first such measure was an anti-corruption rule.Also sacrificed were rules on internet privacy, toxic pollution of streams and workplace health and safety.
  • On a case-by-case basis, Trump has moved to repeal many of the Obama administration’s most important rules.These include protections against predatory for-profit colleges, a retirement advice rule that will save consumers $17 billion a year, Obama’s main climate change rule and much more.
  • Last month, the White House budget office reported that the Trump administration has withdrawn or suspended 860 pending rules.

This is all part of a grand design.

To let corporations do as they will.

Even if it means more dangerous cars. More bank rip-offs. Preventable injuries at work. Dirtier air and poisoned water. Contaminated food. Preventable, avoidable and unnecessary death, disease and suffering.

And the deregulatory executive order is at the heart of the scheme.

We are doing everything we can to block Trump’s project to permit corporations to pollute and plunder.

Please chip in today to help us fight Trump’s plan.

Donate now or even join our monthly giving program.

Thank you for anything you can contribute!

Robert Weissman, President
Public Citizen

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Knowing whether to run or hide is a fundamental survival mechanism that Texans living near chemical plants and refineries know too well.

But it can be impossible to make the right decision without accurate and timely information. Is it safe to go outside? Is it safe to “shelter in place” in the nearest building? Is evacuation the only safe option?

The Legislature is holding a public hearing in the House Environmental Regulation Committee on a proposed law to help Texans get the critical information they need when toxic chemicals are released into our air and water.  The hearing is in the Texas Capitol Extension Room, E1.026 on Tuesday, March 28th at 8:00 AM

Urge the Legislature to move forward on the Toxic Chemical Emergency Alert System.

Ask the House Environmental Regulation Committee to support HB 1927.

The legislation, HB 1927, would establish a system to alert neighboring communities when a facility releases toxic chemicals.

People in the affected area would get notices on their phones about the chemicals released, what direction they are moving and how to stay safe.

The Toxic Alert Bill directs the State Emergency Response Commission to develop a statewide system to inform the public of chemical emergencies in a timely manner using a multi-media
approach, including traditional media, social media, and wireless emergency alerts.

This statewide system will eliminate patchwork local approaches and relieve local governments of the burden of developing and maintaining their own systems. Residents will be directed to a hyperlink, which will provide:

  • The geographic area impacted by the release
  • Information on symptoms that could require emergency medical treatment,
  • Directionality of plume movement,
  • The chemicals involved in and toxicity of the release,
    and
  • Instructions for protection from exposure to the release.

Just like the Amber Alerts for missing persons and emergency weather alerts available on our phones, the Toxic Chemical Emergency Alert System should be available to keep our communities safe.

A recent poll of Houston area residents shows that most people are concerned about air pollution and its impact on vulnerable populations. Furthermore, 92% support the creation of a public notification system similar to Amber alerts for leaks of hazardous chemicals. These alerts would warn residents via cellular phone of incidents and let them know what action to take to keep safe.
According to an investigative report published by the Houston Chronicle in 2016, an incident involving hazardous materials in the Houston area occurs about every six weeks.  Nationally, there have been more than 93 incidents involving hazardous chemicals since late 2015, killing 7 and injuring 573 people.

As you can see from the list and map below, the folks in the Houston area are more aware of the issue because of the frequency of such events, but you can see that other parts of the state also experience these types of toxic emergencies.

  • Oct. 2011:   Massive chemical fire at Magnablend facility, Waxahachie. Schoolchildren and neighbors evacuated.
  • Nov. 2012: Massive explosion & chemical fire at Nexeo chemical plant, Garland. Local area evacuated.
  • Apr. 2013: Chemical fire at East Texas Ag Supply, Athens. Hundreds of people evacuated.
  • May. 2014: Massive explosion & chemical fire at West Fertilizer, Co., West. Fifteen people dead and 160 injured.
  • Jan. 2015: Chlorine Spill at Magnablend facility, Waxahachie. Employees and neighbors evacuated.
  • Apr. 2015: Train derailment carrying flammable chemicals, Longview. Neighbors evacuated.
  • Aug. 2015: Massive fire at Century Industrial Coatings, Jacksonville. A neighboring business evacuated.
  • Jan. 2016: Explosion and fire at water treatment plant, Midland. One person dead, local residents evacuated.
  • Jan. 2016: Explosion at PeroxyChem, Pasadena. One person dead, three others injured.
  • Mar. 2016: Explosion at Pasadena Refining Systems, Inc., Pasadena. One person burned.
  • Apr. 2016: Explosion at LyondellBasell, SE Houston. Shelter in-place in SE Houston, including Chavez H.S., Deady Middle School, and Rucker Elementary School.
  • May 2016: Fire and chemical release in Spring Branch. Shelter-in-place. Fish, turtles, snakes, and frogs die from chemical spill.
  • Jun. 2016: Chemical leak & fire, Mont Belvieu. Dozens of people evacuated from their homes.
  • Jul. 2016: Asphalt fire, Century Asphalt Plant, Burnet. Dozens of residents evacuated.
  • Jul. 2016: Propylene leak, ExxonMobil Pipeline, Baytown. Local evacuation and shelter-in-place for nearby community.
  • Jul. 2016: Chemical Release at Pasadena Refining Systems, Inc., Pasadena. Heavy black smoke and sulfur dioxide release, shelter-in-place for Galena Park residents.
  • Aug. 2016: Explosion at Voluntary Purchasing Group, Bonham, woke up neighbors. A second explosion one month later injured 2 workers.
  • Aug. 2016: Fire at Hexion in Deer Park, shelter-in-place for neighborhoods in Deer Park.
  • Sept 2016: Chemical spill in Willow Marsh Bayou, Beaumont. Local shelter-in-place, killed over 1,400 fish, snakes, turtles, racoons, and birds.
  • Dec. 2016: A chemical leak contaminated the drinking water supply for Corpus Christi. A water ban was in effect for nearly 4 days, 7 unconfirmed illnesses associated with the drinking water.
  • Jan. 2017: Naphtha overfill at tank at Valero Texas City Refinery. Residents issues. No shelter in place alert was sent because “the incident happened in the middle of the night.”
  • Jan. 2017: Chemical fire and spill, El Paso. Residents complain to TCEQ amidst concerns of respiratory issues.
  • Mar 2017: Sodium hydrosulfide spill, Brownsville. One injured, evacuation downtown.

In 2014, Iowa implement the Alert Iowa System. Counties that did not already have a system like this in place could opt-in to the statewide system to ensure that Iowans are protected from severe weather, chemical spill, and other potential disasters. The statewide system in Iowa costs about $300,000 per year.

Texas already has a system in place that can send out these type of alerts. The system proposed here is designed to work with OEMs to support them based on their needs. The intention is not for the statewide system to override functional systems already in place.

If such a system saved lives or reduced job and school absenteeism as a result of exposure to toxic chemicals, it would be well worth the cost of extending our existing technology to put in place a toxic chemical emergency system.  Urge your Legislator to move forward on the Toxic Chemical Emergency Alert System.

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At any given movement, energy supplied to the electric grid must exactly match energy demand. Traditionally, the supply changes to meet demand, but that’s not the only way to balance the equation.

Demand response is an energy management strategy that solves grid challenges by focusing on electricity demand and usage, not production. It’s a valuable tool for affordably addressing the challenges of peak demand.

Peak demand is the point where demand is highest on a given day, month or year. These peak demand periods require extensive management, most notably during summer months. Without such, there are severe consequences; costly consequences like brownouts or blackouts. In addition to daily human activities that require electricity, blackouts can cause serious economic disturbances. In 2003, a New York City blackout alone cost the city more than $750 million in lost revenue.

The majority of utilities and energy providers handle these peak demand periods with outdated, supply-side solutions: “peaker” power plants. Peaker power plants are such that they only come online, as needed, during periods of peak demand. In addition to the polluting nature of these peaker plants, they are incredibly expensive to build and operate. They are brought online solely in preparation for peak demand events. But in order to do this, these power plants must expensively remain in standby mode to be ready to fill energy gaps at a moment’s notice. These peakers account for 10%-20% of electricity costs in the U.S. due to peak demand during only the top 100 hours on the electricity system.

Demand response is the clean, cost-effective alternative we’ve all been waiting for:

  • Consumers save money; they receive compensation in the form of rebates for electricity demand reductions and/or free access to smart technology.
  • Electricity providers avoid the high costs of bringing current peaker power plants online.
  • It reduces or eliminates a need for future natural gas power plant developments that are expensive and slow the inevitable transition to clean energy.
  • Demand response utilizes smart meters, thermostats and other devices which allow for better energy management and create higher grid stability.

So, how does it work?

Many devices – such as air conditioners, water heaters, and refrigerators – have daily energy demands. Naturally, they cycle on and off periodically throughout a day. Demand response uses systems and technologies that are able to carefully track and regulate these daily fluctuations; it simply shifts and reduces consumer electricity usage during peak demand periods as a response to time-based rates or other forms of financial incentives.

Here are 3 case studies that display the potential of demand response:

San Antonio

In San Antonio, CPS Energy’s Save for Tomorrow Energy Plan (STEP) achieves 193 total Mega-Watts (MW) of load shedding from demand response initiatives – about half from large industrial and commercial customers and half from approximately 125,000 residential customers. Both groups are called on about 15-20 times per year to reduce consumption during peak demand events.

Participating large industrial and commercial customers receive compensation for reducing electricity demand for 2-3 hours, which is sometimes achieved by temporarily shifting operations to a different time of day. For residential demand response, customers have access to a program that gets them free Honeywell smart thermostats, or an $85 rebate to purchase a different smart thermostat. They also get $30 at the end of each summer for participating in the program. The utility can then reach out remotely and control the cycling of participants air conditioning units.  Those units will run less during the event period, but aren’t off the entire time.

These electricity savings from demand response represent the majority  of current contributions to its ambitious goal reducing 771 total MW by 2020. As of 2016 CPS stands at 411 total MW towards that goal, of which demand response accounts 47%. The remainder comes from energy efficiency improvements and local solar installations.

Palo Alto

The City of Palo Alto Utilities ran a trial in 2015 called the Demand Response Pilot Program. The period between May 1st and October 15th included 4 demand response events.  The results indicate that participants reduced their aggregated demand between .6-1 MW per event. The total savings were 10,312 kilowatt hours during the trial.

Tampa

For Tampa Electric, a case study looked at the results from its Energy Planner program that began in 2005. Since 2008, results show that demand response works. They demonstrated significant average energy reductions per participant: 3.1 kilowatts during winter peak and 2.0 kilo-watts during summer peak. Furthermore, participants saw lower electricity prices 87% of the time. There was also a 99% customer satisfaction rate in terms of comfort during reduction events.

Logistically, demand response is a solution that solves energy grid problems. It does this more effectively and in a much cheaper way than building new power plants or bringing existing ones online. More importantly, climate change is a disastrous reality that demands both long-term and immediate solutions. Demand response isn’t a permanent solution, but it deals with reality.

 

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Freight ShuttleOn September 9th, Adrian Shelley and I went to Bryan, Texas, to watch the unveiling of the Freight Shuttle System (FSS), a technology  currently being built and tested by Freight Shuttle International. Dr. Stephen Roop, chief scientist at Freight Shuttle International and and professor at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, opened the unveiling with a press briefing sharing his vision. The FSS is an electric, autonomous shuttle powered by a linear induction motor, providing low friction to the steel wheels running on steel lines, similar to train tracks. The FSS combines elements of truck and train transport – single shuttles run on a track similar to a train track, and according to Dr. Roop’s vision, those tracks would be elevated from other modes of transportation to reduce congestion, provide a strong level of predictability and non-stop service, and reduce infrastructure damage often associated with truck transportation. 

Dr. Roop noted the emissions of the FSS are tied to the source of power. What that means is that the FSS itself would generate no point-of-source pollution like the cancer-causing pollution created by diesel engines currently on the road. Furthermore, because the FSS would operate under DC voltage, it could be tied easily to renewable energy. In that way, the FSS could take advantage of the increasing access to renewable energy in Texas and potentially be net zero in terms of carbon pollution.

Adrian and Stephanie with Freight Shuttle

Adrian and Stephanie with Freight Shuttle

The FSS is not designed to transport hazardous or toxic materials, and although it could possibly be used to transport people, it is intended now to be separate from people – that is to be contained within a separate line so that the roads and highways can be used for people, not cargo.

The Port of Houston Authority signed a memorandum of understanding with Freight Shuttle International and is planning to use the FSS to transport cargo between its container terminals, Bayport and Barbour’s Cut. Freight Shuttle International stated that the FSS line could be operational within 3 years.

 

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Mayor Adler speaking about the Austin Energy rate case settlement on Aug 25, 2016. Council Members Casar and Pool also spoke at the press conference focused on environmental aspects of the rate case. Photo by Dave Cortez.

As of yesterday afternoon, Austin Energy’s rate case officially concluded with a unanimous vote of the City Council.  The result – lower bills for everyone and commitments to address two key environmental objectives.  The utility agreed to develop a financial, legal and technical plan that will allow its portion of the coal-fired Fayette Power Project to retire at the end of 2022.  And the utility agreed to address the need for compensating commercial customers with solar installations for the energy they produce.  These commitments provide a path forward to transition away from burning coal and toward renewable energy.

The 2022 retirement date for Austin Energy’s portion of Fayette was established in the Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan to 2025, but a detailed implementation plan is still lacking.  The agreement that Public Citizen and Sierra Club struck with Austin Energy as part of the rate case gives the utility until June 2017 to present a plan to the City Council.  And in the meantime, $5 million will be earmarked in Austin Energy Contingency Reserve as part of the fiscal year (FY) 2017 budget to be used for repaying debt associated with Fayette.  What to do about the debt is expected to be a significant focus of the research Austin Energy will conduct between now and next June.  Austin Energy’s portion of Fayette is responsible for about 25% of Austin’s community-wide greenhouse gas emissions and about 80% of Austin Energy’s greenhouse gas emissions, making retiring the plant a top priority for meeting Austin’s climate goals.  Additionally, the economics of producing power from coal are looking worse all the time, so retiring the plant will ultimately benefit ratepayers, as well as the environment.

The exact details of how to compensate commercial customers with solar will also be decided in the coming months, but a commitment to address this current policy shortfall was part of the rate case agreement.  We will continue to advocate for expansion of the Value of Solar (VoS) tariff to commercial customers.  The VoS, which was pioneered by Austin Energy and first implemented in 2012, is used to calculate bill credits for residential customers with solar.  This formula-based method allows for a transparent examination of the benefits that local solar provides and is structured to be cost-neutral to the utility.  Currently, the VoS doesn’t apply to commercial customers, nor are most commercial customers eligible for net metering (a method of one for one crediting energy produced for energy used).  As incentives continue to be phased out, it becomes even more critical that Austin Energy have good long-term policies in place to fairly compensate customers.  The rate case agreement ensures that the issue of compensating commercial customers for energy produced will be addressed as part of the FY 2018 budget.

We are pleased that the Austin City Council also chose to make adjustments to the residential rates that weren’t detailed in the agreement between Austin Energy and the other parties in the rate case.  Austin Energy had proposed changes that would have raised rates for those who use the least electricity, while reducing them for those who use the most.  We advised the Council that such a change would be contrary to established goals for reducing energy use and would unfairly burden those who had invested in energy efficiency.  In the end, Council agreed and new rates were adopted that will result in reduced bills for all residential customers (rate reductions for commercial customers were already ensured).  The new rate go into effect at the start of January 2017.

Public Citizen’s Texas office worked in partnership with the Sierra Club’s Lone Star chapter for the past seven months to ensure that environmental priorities were reflected in Austin Energy’s rates and financial planning.  Thanks to the many Austinites, including city council members who supported our efforts.

 

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A rate case is fundamentally about determining how much money an electric utility needs to collect from ratepayers to pay for expenses (and make some return on investment), how those expenses will be divided among the different customer classes (residential, commercial, industrial), and how customers in those different rate classes will be billed.  It’s probably obvious that these decisions can impact affordability and equity among customers.  Rate cases can also have significant environmental impacts though.

The Austin Energy rate case is an opportunity to make changes that can allow the utility to transition away from fossil fuels and towards greater reliance on clean energy solutions, including solar energy at homes and businesses, energy efficiency, energy storage and demand response (temporarily reducing usage when energy demand and prices spike).  What the utility spends money on, what programs are offered, and how rates are designed have profound impacts on climate change, air quality, water pollution, water use, land use – all of which impact society in a variety of ways, including public health and vulnerability to natural disasters.  So, it might sound boring at first, but if you care about the environment or social equity, you should care about how your electric utility is doing business.

What we’re advocating for:

  • 2009-08-21-fayette

    Fayette Power Project

    Budget to allow Austin Energy’s portion of the coal-fired Fayette Power Project to retire.  It is responsible for 80% of Austin Energy’s greenhouse gas emissions (and over 28% of Austin’s greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors).  It’s also a major source of other air pollution that causes and worsens respiratory diseases (sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides – which contributes to ground level ozone formation) and cause neurological disorders mercury.  And it requires over 5 billion gallons of water to operate.  The latest adopted plan for Austin Energy calls for the retirement of the utility’s portion of Fayette by 2023, and Austin Energy staff say its remaining debt associated with the plant must be paid off before it can be retired.  The plan calls for that money to be collected in a dedicated fund through annual budgeting, but that isn’t happening, putting the retirement plan at risk.  Please use our action page to email City Council about budgeting to retire Fayette.

  • Maintain residential rates that encourage energy conservation and allow thrifty customers to keep their bills low.  Austin Energy has proposed to increase electric rates for those who use the least energy and reduce them for those who use the most.  For those trying to reduce their electric usage for environmental reasons or because their household budgets are strained, Austin Energy’s proposal will increase bills.  Austin Energy’s proposal will also make it more difficult to project from year to year how higher much summer rates will be from winter rates.  Both of these changes would reduce the incentive to conserve energy and invest in energy efficiency upgrade.  And these changes were proposed despite a study that Austin Energy commissioned that said that the existing rate structure is succeeding in encouraging conservation.  These proposed changes to how residential customers are billed would be a step backwards.
  • LegalZoom Austin Solar Installation - Meridian Solar

    LegalZoom Austin Solar Installation – Meridian Solar

    Adopt a policy to fairly compensate businesses for energy they produce from solar energy systems.  The City Council has adopted goals solar energy on homes and businesses, but Austin Energy’s current policy doesn’t include any way for most commercial customers to receive compensation for the energy they provide to the utility.  Incentives have temporarily filled that gap, but they are coming to an end.  The value of solar (VoS) rate is used to provide bill credits to residential customers, based on the calculated value of local distributed solar energy.  The same method should be used to compensate commercial customers.  Making this policy change will help grow solar adoption, while shifting away from incentives.

  • Ensure that enough money is collected to fully fund energy efficiency, solar energy and demand response programs.  Helping customers reduce their electric bills by making energy efficiency improvement or install solar energy systems doesn’t just benefit those customers who participate in those programs, it benefits all customers by allowing the utility to avoid purchasing expensive power that would drive all of our bills up.  The Energy Efficiency Services fee is used to collect money for this purpose.  With more people moving to Austin all the time, Austin Energy needs to ensure that budgets are set to match the need for local energy improvements.

Public Citizen and Sierra Club jointly participated in the Austin Energy rate case over the past several months, in an effort to push the utility to make environmentally sound decisions about both spending and billing customers.  That was just a warm-up for the real decision-making process though.  Because Austin Energy is owned by the city of Austin, the Austin City Council will make the final decisions about the rate case.  That’s where you come in.  City Council members, including Mayor Adler, need to hear from Austin Energy customers.  There will be a public hearing on Thursday, August 25th at 4:00 p.m. at City Hall.  Meet at 3:00 p.m. for a rally to support fair rates that meet Austin’s environmental goals.

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IMG_1653Around 10:10 AM on Sunday July 17th, a pipeline leaked propylene in the community of Baytown, TX, near the ExxonMobil Baytown refinery. Propylene is a dense, colorless gas that is considered non-toxic but flammable. The pipeline leak highlights some of the challenges associated with emergency response along within the Houston region.

At 10:30 AM, according to the Houston Chronicle, three houses were evacuated and all others within the vicinity of the leak were told to shelter in place. The emergency response was mixed. Residents who signed up for city notifications through Baytown Alert were apparently notified by phone and by email around 10:30 AM about the order to shelter-in-place. Yet some confusion remained – who exactly did the shelter-in-place include? What had happened, and what kind of chemical was released – something flammable or something toxic? Should residents downwind be concerned?

The CAER line, which is supported by the East Harris County Manufacturers Association, provides a hotline for Harris County residents to call to obtain more information regarding emergency situations. During the incident on Sunday, several people known to us called CAER to hear the messages it posted regarding the situation. It is unclear how quickly the first message regarding the incident was posted to CAER; a Baytown resident stated that it took about an hour following the incident before CAER posted a message. On Sunday at 1:05 PM, there were no current messages, even though the shelter-in-place had not yet been lifted. At 2:30 PM, CAER’s message stated that a propylene leaked resulted in the shelter-in-place warning. The City of Baytown reported via twitter that the shelter-in-place had been lifted at 2:38 PM. At 3:30 PM, CAER’s message line mentioned the leak without any mention of a shelter-in-place. Around 4:20 PM there were no current messages on the CAER line.

Although the City of Baytown notified residents of the shelter-in-place, the residents we spoke with never received the all clear and were not informed when the shelter-in-place had been lifted either via siren or via email and phone. In fact, it is unclear if sirens were used to communicate the shelter-in-place, which is an important way to inform people who may be visiting the area or who may not have access to other technology. Many questions remain unanswered and the Healthy Ports Community Coalition (HPCC) is actively researching to fully understand the emergency response.

The HPCC is also proposing a system like an amber alert system to make use of our modern technology so that residents can be informed immediately when emergency evacuations or a shelter-in-place is called for, notified when it is all clear to return to normal, and they can be instructed specifically on what steps to take to keep themselves and their families safe and healthy. In this case, Baytown residents were lucky that the chemical leaked was not deemed toxic and that no one suffered any known health impacts from the leak. HPCC is working to keep residents safe and informed for when the next incident happens.

hpcc

 

The Healthy Port Communities Coalition is growing a strong base of well-informed and active local residents who engage public and private stakeholders directly on priority issues including jobs, pollution, health, neighborhood safety, and economic opportunities.

 

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photo by Kevin Lamarque, Reuters

photo by Kevin Lamarque, Reuters

During the last week of June, President Obama, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, and the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met for the North American Leaders Summit (known as the Three Amigos Summit) in Ottawa to focus primarily on climate-related issues. These climate accords are essential not only in combating climate change, but also in seeing how countries can forge multi-lateral partnerships in addressing environmental issues.

This summit was the first in two and a half years. The trilateral summit last year was postponed due to disputes over the Keystone oil pipeline between President Obama, who saw the pipeline as a threat to the environment, and Canada’s former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who was a strong advocate of it. Now, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, head of the Liberal Party, and President Enrique Peña Nieto, a close ally of President Obama’s, US, Canada, and Mexico are unifying their energy policies more than ever.

The new agreement calls for 50 percent of North America’s electricity to come from clean power sources by 2025. According to the agreement, clean power sources include renewable energy, efficiency, nuclear power and fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage technology. Currently, 37% of North America’s electricity is powered by non-carbon-emitting power plants, mostly nuclear and hydro. Among the three countries, Canada is leading in carbon-free energy with 81 percent (if nuclear energy is included), coming from clean energy sources. United States and Mexico lag behind. In Mexico, only 22 percent of its energy is carbon-free. The statistics for the United States are not much better given that only 33 percent of electric power (including 20 percent nuclear) comes from carbon-free energy sources. Another 33 percent of our electricity is fueled by coal which is primarily composed of carbon.

The trilateral agreement opens up new avenues for carbon-dependent states to replace their energy sources through the transmission of power from Canada’s electricity grid. Another way the countries are looking to decrease carbon emissions is by boosting deployment of clean vehicles in government fleets, as well as cutting emissions from the shipping and airline sectors.

The agreement’s main targets are methane and carbon dioxide (CO2), along with other greenhouse gas pollutants. Cutting down on methane emissions should be a priority for North America given that it produces 20% of the world’s methane emissions.  The pollutant traps 25 times more heat over a 100 year period and 87 times more over a 20 year period, compared to CO2. The pressure of being accountable to your neighbor will hopefully bring all three of the North American states to significantly reduce their methane emissions.

A part of the accord that U.S. and Canada had previously decided on before the summit, promises to reduce methane, black carbon, and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are used in refrigerators, by 40 to 45 percent. During the Three Amigos Summit, the Mexican President agreed to the terms as well.

Finally, the Three Amigos also agreed on protecting biodiversity, particularly preserving migratory birds and butterflies that fly every year between the three countries, but are losing their habitat due to environmental threats.

The climate change goals of the North America Leaders Summit are aligned with the Paris Agreements of 2015, in which U.S. committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 percent of 2005 levels by 2025.
(more…)

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HPCC-Dee-Blast-Zone-768x1024

Dee Arellano (t.e.j.a.s.) shows the oil train blast zone for East Houston.

The news of the fiery explosion of two trains in Panhandle, Texas broke as organizers in Houston were discussing how to reduce the high risks of accidents involving toxic trains in Houston. That day, June 28th, two trains collided, resulting in a fiery explosion, the presumed death of three workers and the hospitalization of another. The trains in Panhandle, TX, were fortunately not carrying crude. However, the collision and explosion reminded us of the importance of standing up for safety in rail transport during the Stop Oil Trains Week of Action, July 6th – 12th.

The Healthy Port Communities Coalition (HPCC) kicked off the week of action on July 6th with a press conference and a community meeting to discuss the risks that we Houstonians face as a result of rail traffic within our communities. This was especially poignant as less than a week earlier, on June 28th, two trains collided near Panhandle, TX, leaving 1 employee injured and 3 employees presumed dead. Fiery and fatal incidents over the past few years have increased concerns around rail, public safety, and chemical security, and we shared our concerns with media (“Exigen a autoridades frenar la contaminación por el transporte de combustible” and “Crude-by-Rail Plummeting In Texas But Critics Insist Risk Of Accidents Remains“) and with community members. From our discussion, community members wanted to find out more information about exactly what kind of chemicals are transported through their neighborhoods to better understand the risks. The HPCC is taking a stand against oil trains because we are concerned with hazardous, flammable materials coming into the Houston area. Toxic trains put Houstonians at risk through the possibility of explosion and by polluting the air with cancer-causing diesel and other toxic gases, through collisions, and by trapping folks behind stalled trains. One person reported being trapped behind a train for 90 minutes! (more…)

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Today is the first day of summer, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality offers these tips with the arrival of hot weather.

In Texas, cooling and heating accounts for as much as 40 percent of annual home energy expenses. Take Care of Texas offers the following easy ways to keep your home cooler, helping you to save money and keep our air clean.

  • Use a programmable thermostat. Or adjust your thermostat during overnight hours or when no one is home. Try setting it to 78 degrees or warmer in the summer. Setting it to 7-10 degrees higher than you normally would for 8 hours a day can reduce energy consumption as much as 10 percent.
  • Maintain your air conditioner. A properly functioning air conditioner is an efficient one. Replace filters every month or two during the cooling season. And that big hunk of metal outside? That’s the evaporator coil. It needs plenty of airflow, so clean it once a year. Remove debris and trim foliage too, leaving at least two feet of space around it.

You can also take the burden off your air conditioner by using other methods to keep the heat down in your home:

  • Use ceiling fans. They circulate the air in the house and allow you to raise the thermostat setting about 4 degrees without discomfort.
  • Limit the heat from your appliances. Cook outdoors on the grill, and try not to use the dishwasher, washer, and dryer during the heat of the day.
  • Move lamps, TVs, and other appliances away from the thermostat. The extra heat they produce can cause the air conditioner to run longer.
  • Install efficient lighting. It runs cooler. Only about 10 percent of the electricity that incandescent lights consume results in light — the rest is turned into heat.
  • Plant shade trees and install window blinds. With less sunlight shining on your house, the internal temperature can decrease by three to six degrees in the summer and save up to 25 percent in cooling costs. Use energy-efficient window treatments and close them during the day to block direct sunlight.
  • Weatherize your home. Find air leaks and seal them with caulk and weather stripping.
  • Seal your heating and cooling ducts. Leaky ducts can reduce your system’s efficiency by as much as 20 percent. Start by sealing ducts that run through the attic, crawlspace, or garage using duct sealant or foil tape. Then wrap the ducts in insulation to keep them from getting hot.

Visit TakeCareofTexas.org for more ways to conserve energy and water, reduce waste, keep the air and water clean, and save money.

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ntulogoTexas is a beautiful state – full of unique landscapes from the rocky desert of Big Bend to the colorful, rolling Hill Country. With that said, it is essential we remember that before settlers staked claim to this region of America, it was already sacred land to the Native Nations. It can be seen that modern industry has exploited this bountiful and revered land for its natural resources to build the current civilization. Few are guiltier of this than the coal industry whose mines completely decimate the land they are built upon.

For this reason and more, members of the Native People of the Americas and community allies have united in opposition against the Dos Republicas coal mine in the area near Eagle Pass, Texas. Since being proposed in 2012, the Dos Republicas coal mine has faced continuous criticism by concerned citizens of Eagle Pass and outcry in on the southern side of the border in Mexico.  Despite united and continued opposition from local residents and local governments, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the Railroad Commission (RRC) granted Dos Republicas the permits needed to move forward with the mine.

Not only will this mine bring tremendous environmental damage on this sacred land, but it will also be used as the supplier of coal to be burned at plants in Mexico instead of the local energy grid. This is because the coal in this area is of such low quality that it can’t be burned in the United States. So this dirtiest of dirty coal will be shipped across the border and burned in plants with little or no air pollution controls. The subsequent pollution will harm local communities and blow across the border to impact Texans as well.

Projects such as these are last ditch efforts by the coal industry to remain profitable in an adapting energy market, and these attempts corner rural and native communities who will bear the burden of their desperation. Profit and energy aside, the extraction and production of coal puts neighboring communities at risk. The silt, pollution, and waste of such a mine all present toxic impacts to the region, which are especially relevant considering the rise of flooding in recent years.

With the climate crisis looming over us, as well as our right to live in a healthy and safe environment, it is entirely necessary to confront new coal mines head on.

A Native led rally and march to the Dos Republicas Coal Mine will be taking place this Saturday, April 16, 2016. For updates, go to the event page. Public Citizen stands in solidarity with their action and will continue to work towards a cleaner, more just Texas.

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Dylan Petrohilos - Gov Census

2014 and 2015 were back-to-back years that both earned the title for hottest year on record. and February 2016 was the warmest month, globally, ever recorded. And yet U.S. lawmakers continue to deny the facts.  Earlier this month, the Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAPAF) released an analysis of climate change denial in U.S. Congress called “The 2016 Anti-Science Climate Denier Caucus.” Their research found that more than 63% of Americans are represented by someone in Congress who denies that climate change exists.

Dylan Petrohilos - CAP182 members of Congress don’t believe the science behind climate change: 144 members in the House of Representatives and 38 members in the Senate. 67% of Americans want the U.S. to take action on climate change, but 202 million citizens are represented in Congress by a climate change denier. Since the Republican Party’s platform on environmental policy never mentions climate change, it’s no surprise that every single denier is a member of the Republican Party.

A recent poll revealed that 76% of Americans believe global climate change is occurring, including 59% of Republicans. According to a poll by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, 67% of Americans support President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. The results of these polls don’t correlate with the fact that that the number of Congressional climate deniers has increased from previous years. From severe weather, wildfires, drought, and flooding, climate change is impacting Americans every day, and it’s evident that human activity is the dominant cause. Despite this evidence, 70% of the Senate GOP still denies climate change.

Dylan Petrohilos - Open SecretsIn the analysis, CAPAF also looked into dirty energy money’s influence over Congress members. They found that climate deniers in Congress received more than $73 million in contributions from coal, oil, and gas companies. This is an increase of nearly $10 million from last year. When asked about their views on climate change, many deniers dodge the question by saying “they aren’t scientists”.

According to Sondre Båtstrand, a Norwegian researcher, the U.S. Republican Party is the only conservative party in the world which denies the reality of climate change. Båtstrand believes the GOP’s denial is due to three factors: the fossil fuel industry’s political spending, a commitment to free-market ideology, and the intense political polarization that punishes moderate-minded party members.

In February 2016, over 200 lawmakers in U.S. Congress signed onto a court brief opposing the president’s Clean Power Plan. At the end of 2015, the House of Representatives passed two resolutions to kill the Clean Power Plan. The Plan would regulate power plants’ carbon emissions and 67% of Americans support it. So it’s clear that Congress isn’t working the way it’s intended to. Members of the House and Senate are elected to represent the interests of American citizens, not their own fat wallets and the interests of dirty energy companies.

Regarding the state of Texas specifically, the 2016 Anti-Science Climate Denier Caucus found that 17 out of 38 Texas Congressional members are climate change deniers. In 2016, this is not only unacceptable, but is dangerous for Texas families who depend on their elected leaders to protect their futures. When the impacts of climate change become more and more apparent each year – more severe storms, deadly wildfires, crippling drought, and rising sea level – it’s clear there’s no time to waste. Climate change deniers in Congress, like Ted Cruz, stand in the way of these common sense safeguards. Texans and Americans across the country deserve leaders who will stand up to face this threat head on – not those following the playbook of their largest campaign donors.

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wind and solarWind knocked out nuclear to take third place as one of the major sources of energy in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT)’s system this year. ERCOT is the grid manager for the bulk of the state of Texas and stays on top of which power source is feeding into the grid at any given moment.  Nuclear power met 15.1% of demand last month, coming in fourth behind natural gas, wind and coal.

In February 2015, wind supplied only 11.8% of ERCOT’s demand, behind natural gas at 47.6%, coal at 26.5%, and nuclear energy at 13.7%.

Led by Texas, the U.S. wind industry is booming and is expected to continue record expansion into the early 2020s due to the recent 5 year extension and phase out of its $0.023/kWh production tax credit.

Texas added 3,615 MW of new capacity in 2015, more than twice of Oklahoma’s total of 1,402 MW, according to the American Wind Energy Association. Texas now has an installed capacity of more than 17,713 MW, more than twice of Iowa’s 6,212 MW. Texas also had 53% of all U.S. wind capacity under construction at the end of 2015.

Due to a mild winter in Texas, demand declined in February.  ERCOT’s system demand peaked on February 4 at 47,397 MW, down from the previous month’s demand peak of 49,250 MW on January 11 and  the demand peak around same time last year at 54,539 MW.

A quick recap of the above:

  • Electricity demand in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) fell February, but wind energy increased to supply nearly one out of every 5 MW of energy.
  • Compared to February 2015, the ERCOT system used nearly 4.7 TWh of wind energy February, 14.3% more than the amount of wind energy generated at the same period last year, according to according to ERCOT’s monthly Demand and Energy report.
  • Wind composed 19.9% of total energy on ERCOT’s grid in February, behind natural gas, which led with 43.2% of February demand, and coal, which supplied 21.2%.

Solar is making some inroads into the state’s power portfolio, but has not had the policy boost that wind got in 2005 with the passage of the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS).  Nevertheless, with costs coming down and with investments nationwide in utility scale solar “farms”, yet another renewable source is becoming a viable option for replacing fossil fuel sources of electricity.  In another 10 years, Texas’ energy portfolio could look very different from that of 2015.

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The Texas PACE Authority today announced the first PACE project in Texas.  The Simon Property Group, Inc. will use Travis County’s PACE program to finance $1.5 million in retrofits at Barton Creek Square, an enclosed mall in southwest Austin built in 1980.
Simon’s water conservation, mechanical and lighting retrofits will lower utility costs and help Travis County conserve water and power.  Construction is expected to begin in the first quarter of 2016.
PACE is an innovative financing tool that enables owners of commercial properties to obtain low-cost, long-term loans for water conservation, energy-efficiency and distributed generation retrofits.
Texas adopted a commercial PACE statute in June 2013 and Travis County established Texas’ first PACE program in March 2015, using the PACE in a Box uniform “plug and play” model available at no cost to counties and municipalities throughout Texas.  The Texas PACE Authority administers the Travis County program.
“The Travis County program is strong and growing,” said Jonathon Blackburn, Managing Director of the Texas PACE Authority.  “There is a solid pipeline of additional PACE projects in development and billions of dollars available from private lenders.”
“Austin is poised to have the best first year of any commercial PACE program in the country to date,” Said Beau Engman, Founder and President, PACE Equity, LLC.  “We currently have $20 million of projects under contract with applications submitted and an additional pipeline of $15 million.
“Petros is nearing completion on a number of projects, from nonprofits and churches to retail facilities. We expect to close $30 million in the next few months, representing a wide range of clean energy technologies such as solar PV, energy efficient HVAC, and LED lighting” noted Mansoor Ghori, Co-Founder and Managing Partner, Petros PACE Financing.
“I’m proud to have sponsored a program that promotes economic development and protects the needs of the environmental community, which are both so important to Travis County,” stated Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, Precinct 3.
“My congratulations to Simon Properties and the Texas PACE Authority,” said Commissioner Brigid Shea, Precinct 2.  “Travis County’s leadership on PACE is proving how to be better stewards of our water, energy and economy.”
Bruce Elfant, Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector & Voter Registrar, said “PACE offers our community a great opportunity to conserve limited energy and water resources and lower costs for participating businesses.  I look forward to approving the first PACE project in Texas.
The Barton Creek project is part of Simon’s $500 million commitment to use PACE to finance improvements to its malls throughout the country.  Simon supported the Texas PACE legislation and the open market Texas PACE in a Box program and is a member of Keeping PACE in Texas.
“In addition to Barton Creek Square, a number of other projects are primed to position Texas as one of the most dynamic areas in the country for PACE,” noted Blackburn.

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UPDATE

The Texas electric grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) is experiencing extremely high electricity demand. Operating reserves dropped below the target threshold of 2,300 megawatts.  This is bad news for consumers on a couple of levels.  The ERCOT system has hit several new demand records in recent weeks, most recently reaching 69,783 MW on Monday. During high-demand periods voluntary conservation can help ERCOT reduce the potential for additional measures, such as rotating outages, to ensure reliability throughout the ERCOT grid, but high demand also means the spot market price of electricity recently has risen to two to ten times the average price.  For consumers who have fixed rate plans, you won’t see a financial impact other than from your increased use of electricity.  For those who don’t you could see significant price increases this time of year.

ERCOT is asking electric consumers to limit or reduce electric use where possible during the 3-7 p.m. peak demand hours Thursday.

Although ERCOT has set new peak demand records without needing to issue a conservation alert during the past week, the high temperatures statewide continue to drive high levels of electricity use.

Consumers can help ensure the system is able to continue serving today’s power needs by taking the following steps to help support system reliability during peak demand:

  • Turn thermostat up 2-3 degrees during the peak hours of 3 to 7 p.m.
  • Set programmable thermostats to higher temperatures when no one is home.
  • If home, use fans to feel 4-6 degrees cooler.
  • Schedule pool pumps to run in the early morning or overnight hours; shut off between 4 to 6 p.m.
  • Limit use of large appliances (dishwasher, washer, dryer, etc.) to morning or after 7 p.m.
  • If you cook indoors from 3 to 7 p.m., use a microwave or slow cooker.
  • Close blinds and drapes during late afternoon.

According to the Texas Energy Report, wind generation during peak electric demand today, hovered around 800 megawatts (MW) around 4:30 p.m., and continued moving upwards, according to the ERCOT, while both coal- and natural gas-fired generating units experienced generation outages.  In fact, the system had to import power from the eastern United States.

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