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Archive for the ‘Coal Plants’ Category

A coal plant outside of Buffalo, NY was issued one of the largest fines ever imposed criminally on a company for violating the Clean Air Act.

sign for Tonawanda Coke PlantOn Wednesday, March 19th, Tonawanda Coke Corp. was fined $12.5 million for knowingly and illegally releasing hundreds of tons of the carcinogen benzene into the air for five years and improperly conducting hazardous sludge on the ground. The company will also pay for two separate environmental studies with a price tag of $12.2 million. These two 10-year studies will look at emissions and examine soil samples.

On top of that, the Tonawanda Coke Corp. environmental controls manager faces a year and a day in jail, 100 hours of community service and a $20,000 fine. He was also found guilty of obstruction of justice for covering up the pollution during plant inspections by regulators.

Community Outrage

2013 community meeting on the problems the citizens of Tonawanda are dealing with

2013 community meeting on the problems the citizens of Tonawanda are dealing with.

Residents have complained about the black soot from the coal plant for a decade and many are worried about the health implications to the community.

In 2005, local residents concerned for their health joined together to form the Clean Air Coalition. They began sampling air quality by using buckets and plastic bags. They also petitioned state and federal agencies to investigate the plants operations. After finding elevated levels of benzene in the community, federal agencies raided the plant in 2009 when levels were 75 times higher than state and federal law permit.

A three-year health study completed last year by the State Health Department and Department of Environmental Conservation found elevated rates of lung and bladder cancers in men and women, and elevated esophageal cancer in men and uterine cancer in women.

Jackie James-Creedon, of Citizen Science Community Resources, said she was very pleased that the plant will fund a soil testing project she has been working on for years. - Photo by Don Heupel

Jackie James-Creedon, of Citizen Science Community Resources, said she was very pleased that the plant will fund a soil testing project she has been working on for years.
Photo by Don Heupel

“Back in 2005, we just wanted a clean environment for us to live. We wanted our air to be cleaner. We wanted to know why everyone was sick. We had no clue they were breaking the law,” Jackie James-Creedon said. James-Creedon is a resident fighting this case, suffers from fibromyalgia and is a resident that submitted one of the 10-year studies.
Repeat Offenders

This is not the first time Tonawanda Coke Corp. has been in the hot seat for environmental violations. Last March the company was found guilty of 11 violations of the Clean Air Act and three counts of violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
(more…)

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2014 Coal Ash River - Photo By Waterkeeper Alliance Inc

Site of Duke Energy Coal Ash Spill
Photo b Waterkeeper Alliance

A federal grand jury and North Carolina regulators are investigating Duke Energy, the nation’s largst electric power holding company, as part of a widening criminal investigation initiated by a massive coal ash spill that coated 70 miles of the Dan River with toxic sludge back in February.

The Dan River spill was the third largest coal ash spill in the nation’s history – an estimated 39,000 tons of coal ash were released. Since the Dan River spill the company has been cited for eight more violations.

Controversy Continues

The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resouces (DENR) says Duke Energy illegally pumped 61 million gallons of contaminated water over six months from two coal ash pits at its’ Cape Fear plant in Moncure, N.C., and into a tributary of the Cape Fear River

2014 Pumping from a Duke Energy Waste Pond to a Nearby Stream - Photo by Rick Dove, Waterkeeper Alliance

Pumping from a Duke Energy
Waste Pond to a Nearby Stream
Photo by Rick Dove, Waterkeeper Alliance

A couple of weeks ago Waterkeeper Alliance took aerial photographs showing that Duke Energy has been pumping coal ash into a tributary of the Cape Fear River, a local drinking souce. The state is now testing water in the river to check for contaminants. There are several towns and cities downstream of the most recent spill, but none of them have reported any problems with their drinking water so far.

Duke has unlined coal ash pits at 14 power plants in North Carolina, and all of these were cited last year for polluting groundwater.

Coal ash is a byproduct of burning coal and it is highly toxic to humans and wildlife. Coal ash contains arsenic, lead, mercury and more than a dozen other heavy metals. Studies from the EPA have found that people living within one mile of unlined coal ash ponds can have a 1 in 50 risk of cancer.

NC Pulls Deal with Duke

North Carolina regulators have withdrawn a coal ash violations settlement the would have allowed Duke Energy to resolve environmental violations by paying a $99,000 fine with no requirement to clean up its pollution.

2014-02-05 Signs of coal ash swirl in the water in the Dan River in Danville Va - Photo by Gerry Broome, AP)

On Feb, 5, 2014, signs of coal ash swirl in
the water inthe Dan River in Danville, VA.
Photo by Gerry Broome, AP

State regulators now say that they will partner with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to pursue joint investigation and enforcement against Duke Energy for Clean Water Act violations related to the Dan River spill and new concerns about the illegal dumping of coal ash at another of the company’s facilities.

Duke Energy has a clear record of complete disregard for pollution and environmental laws. Unfortunately, Duke has so much clout in the North Carolina legislature that it will be difficult for regulators to punish Duke with penalties that match the crime.

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2014-03-17 EUC and RMC Hearing on Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection PlanAustin Energy customers turned out in force to support renewable energy last night.  Over 100 people packed the Shudde Fath Conference room at Austin Energy headquarters for a joint hearing in front of the Electric Utility and Resource Management commissions.  Not prepared for the enthusiastic turnout, Austin Energy staff provided additional chairs, but many attendees were left with standing room only.

Over 50 people signed up to speak at the hearing, which extended well past the scheduled ending time of 8:00 pm to about 9:30 pm, forcing some to leave before they had a chance to voice their concerns.

Citizens expressed passionate concern about climate change, water availability, water contamination, air quality, health, job creation and equity.  The common theme was overwhelming support for a rapid transition away from polluting fossil fuels to clean energy resources, including wind, solar, energy efficiency and energy storage.

Climate change was brought front and center as an issue that cannot be ignored and which demands immediate action.  The commissions heard from numerous citizens that Austin will be judged by future generations based on what we do to mitigate our impact on the climate.

One point of contention between Austin Energy and advocates has been whether or not goals, including the carbon reduction and renewable energy goals, will be expanded as part of this update of the Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan.  Austin Energy’s current goals were set as a starting point, but they aren’t nearly strong enough to protect our climate.  Last night, with climate change already impacting our communities, Austin Energy ratepayers spoke clearly in favor of substantially expanding those goals.

With the ongoing drought still weighing on many minds, the connection between water and energy was repeatedly brought up throughout the evening.  Citizens talked about water used in generating electricity at the Fayette coal plan and the billions of gallons used in Texas fracking jobs each year.

Austin Energy’s recent announcement of the 100-150 megawatt solar deal up for City Council approval this week added to the enthusiasm about renewable energy.  That project will provide Austin Energy with energy at around 5 cents per kilowatt-hour and is projected to slightly reduce customer bills.  Many ratepayers made the point that since wind and solar are already affordable, Austin Energy should support calls for increasing its renewable energy goals and should continue purchasing more wind and solar.

Click here if you want to watch the archived video recording of the meeting.

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Updating the the Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan to 2020 to become the Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan to 2024 probably doesn’t sound super exciting, but there’s almost certainly some aspect of the choices that will soon be made on your behalf that you care about.

IMG_48691. Climate Change: I’m not going to try to convince anyone reading this that our planet’s climate is changing and that humans are largely responsible for that change.  Nor am I going to try to convince you that those changes are going to be largely detrimental to human prosperity.  But if you already recognize those two basic truths, then you will definitely want to listen up.  Austin Energy is proposing to not only run Austin’s portion of the Fayette coal plant until 2025, but also to dramatically increase its use of natural gas by adding a new 800 megawatt gas plant to its energy portfolio.  That’s bigger than Austin’s portion of Fayette.  And although natural gas emits less carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour of energy production than burning coal, once the substantial impact of the roughly 3% of gas that leaks into the atmosphere during extraction, processing and transportation is accounted for, natural gas is almost as harmful to the climate as coal.  That’s because the primary component of natural gas, methane, is 87 times more powerful of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over 20 years.  Although many people focus on the 100 year time frame when talking about climate change, we can’t afford to ignore our more immediate future.  Central Texas has already experienced its share of climate impacts over the past few years in the form of drought, wildfires and floods.  We must stop those impacts from worsening at a greater rate than they already will be.  Natural gas isn’t going to save us.  Even without the massive problem of leaking methane, burning gas instead of coal only decreases our climate impact by about half, so it’s not a long term solution anyway – the best it could have been was a stopgap.  Instead of investing in infrastructure that won’t get us where we need to be, we can make better decisions now.

Attend one of Austin Energy’s stakeholder meetings this week and ask the staff to consider the full climate impacts of energy sources.

2. Jobs: Developing renewable energy sources creates 3 times as many jobs as developing fossil fuel energy sources per dollar invested.  Whereas a large chunk of the cost connected to a coal plan or a gas plant is for the coal and gas, the wind and sun are free.  So, instead of paying for the privilege of burning a limited resource, we can pay people to harness the energy from free and unlimited resources.

Across the U.S., solar energy jobs grew 20% from 2012 to 2013, compared to average job growth across all industries of 1.9%.  A large percentage of that growth was in Texas, but Texas still ranks 44th in solar jobs per capita.  Increasing Austin Energy’s solar goal will bring more jobs to Texas, but it’s increasing the local solar goal that will have the most impact on local job creation.  The Austin Local Solar Advisory Commission unanimously recommended that Austin Energy’s solar goal for 2020 be increased from 200 megawatts (MW) to 400 MW.  It also recommended that at least half of that solar development be local and at least half of that local solar be customer controlled (that’s what you see on residential and business rooftops and yards).  According to the LSAC’s calculations done using the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Jobs and Economic Development Impact (JEDI) model, the $60 million it would take to develop that amount of local solar would bring the Austin area a net of $300 million in local economic benefits – wages, taxes, etc.  If Austin Energy adopts policies to give preference to local companies who hire local workers, our community can benefit even more.  On the other hand, we are currently sending $80 million to Montana each year for the coal we burn in the Fayette coal plant.

Tell Austin Energy that you support growing local jobs by increasing our solar goals, including the local and customer owned solar goals.

3. Water: If you live in central Texas, I don’t need to tell you that water is a huge issue – in fact it’s just a big issue for Texas that the Legislature, with voter approval appropriated $2 billion dollars to fund water projects, with 20% of those funds to be used on water conservation efforts.  We can’t make it rain more, so we are going to have to make some choices about what we want to use water for.  The Fayette coal plant, which Austin Energy owns one third of, needs about 5 billion gallons of water per year to operate.  And lest you start thinking natural gas plants are the answer, know that over 39 billion gallons of water was used in fracking jobs in Texas between January 2011 and May 2013.  Producers in the Eagle Ford Shale play are especially wasteful, using an average of 4.4 million gallons of water per well.  That’s water that can’t be used for domestic, commercial, industrial, agricultural, or ecosystem uses.

Tell Austin Energy to focus investment on drought proof energy sources like wind and solar.

4. Health: Air pollution from burning coal and extracting natural gas are taking a real toll on human health in Texas.  The Fayette coal plant is responsible for over $55.5 million in health impacts from air pollution.  Those impacts include asthma attacks, chronic bronchitis, heart attacks and the associated hospital visits and deaths.  Even so, Austin Energy has proposed running its portion of Fayette until 2025.

Lack of regulation over the natural gas industry, which has operations strewn across vast areas has resulted in a tragic disregard for human well being.  If you haven’t already, read this excellent piece of investigative journalism about how your fellow Texans are being assaulted with toxic chemicals in the Eagle Ford Shale area.  Instead of building a large new gas plant to drive up demand for dangerous fracking, Austin Energy should focus on growing its renewable energy portofolio with more wind and solar and perhaps some geothermal energy.

Air pollution is much more than an environmental issue – it’s a public health issue.  That’s why you find medical professionals and health advocates supporting a transition to clean energy.

Sign up for one of Austin Energy’s stakeholder meetings and ask them to give up their plans for a giant new gas plant and to examine more options for retiring the Fayette coal plant in an affordable way.

5. Affordable Energy: Wind and solar energy are competitive with coal and natural gas already.  Meanwhile, electricity from coal plants is going to get more expensive because of various regulations to limit pollution.  Natural gas prices are low now, but have fluctuated greatly over time, making a big bet on natural gas risky.  When natural gas prices go up, Austin Energy raises our fuel charge to recover those costs.  Since affordable wind and solar are available now and can assure us a predictable price for 10-20 years, why would we not make those energy sources our priority?  Austin Energy has done a great job getting good wind contracts to keep customer rates low and is set to achieve its 35% renewable energy goal 4 years early in 2016.

Tell Austin Energy to keep up its momentum by expanding the renewable energy goal to 50% for 2020 and 60% by 2024.

Take Action:

Austin Energy is holding 3 stakeholder meetings to gather public input on the Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan update to 2024.

  • Tuesday, February 25: 10 am – 12 pm (noon)
  • Tuesday, February 25: 6 pm – 8 pm
  • Thursday, February 27: 1 pm – 3 pm

This is your chance to help determine how the money you pay for your electric bills is invested by our publicly owned utility.

Please sign up to attend one of the meetings.

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Duke Energy said on Monday afternoon that between 50,000 to 82,000 tons of coal ash and up to 27 million gallons of water were released from a pond at its retired coal fired power plant in Eden, NC, and spilled into the Dan River.

2014-02-04 Re-enforcing and patching the berm to the ash basin at the Duke Energy Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C.Joseph Rodriquez - News & Record

Re-enforcing and patching the berm to the ash basin at the Duke Energy Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C.
Photo by Joseph Rodriquez, News & Record

Duke said a 48-inch stormwater pipe beneath the unlined 27-acre ash pond broke Sunday afternoon, and tens of thousands of tons of coal ash and water drained into the pipe before spilling into the Dan River. Duke Energy says that the dam along the river remains secure and has not been affected.

Duke did not issue a press release to inform the public until Monday afternoon, more than 24 hours after the spill occurred.  Duke said it notified local emergency managers and the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources on Sunday afternoon. Duke says the leak has been temporarily stopped and they are working on a permanent solution. Duke has 14 coal fired power plants in the state, seven of which have been retired.

The closest community downstream from the spill is Danville, VA, which takes its water from the Dan River only six miles from the pond. Officials are saying that water samples confirm that the water leaving the city’s treatment facility meets public health standards.

“All water leaving our treatment facility has met public health standards,” said Barry Dunkley, division director of water and wastewater treatment for Danville Utilities. “We do not anticipate any problems going forward in treating the water we draw from the Dan River.”

Coal ash, the toxic waste material left after coal is burned, contains arsenic, mercury, lead, and more than a dozen other heavy metals. Studies from the EPA have found that people living within one mile of unlined coal ash ponds can have a 1 in 50 risk of cancer.

This coal ash spill is the third-largest in U.S. history. In 2008, more than a billion gallons of coal ash slurry spilled at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston coal plant in Tennessee.

The Dan River coal ash spill is the latest in a string of industrial accidents that have jeopardized the environment and health of citizens downstream.

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Neighbors for Neighbors (NFN), an organization of residents near Luminant Mining’s Three Oaks Mine, filed late Monday for a contested case hearing on an EFH subsidiary’s request to renew the mining operation in Lee and Bastrop counties.

In its filing, NFN asks the Texas Railroad Commission, the agency that administers mining law in Texas, to require Luminant Mining to post cash or an outside bond to cover the estimated  $60 million cost of cleaning up the strip mine. The group points out since EFH, the parent company of Luminant Mining, is expected to file for bankruptcy by the end of this year, there may not be funds to cover the cost of cleanup.  Click here to see a copy of the filing.

“Does a company have to go bankrupt and walk away from its mines in order for regulators to step in?” asked NFN president Travis Brown. “It would be the height of irresponsibility for Texas to allow a company going bankrupt to say, ‘Trust us, we’re good for it.’ We want Luminant Mining to post real bonds to assure that the mining restoration gets done.”

Russel Bostic, a local rancher and NFN member, said “I live next to the mine, and the company has condemned and is planning to use my land. My family wants our land to be restored to its original condition so we can return.”

Lignite coal mined at Three Oaks is used to supply Luminant’s two coal-fired power plants near Rockdale.

Under federal and state law, mining companies are required to restore mined areas to their original condition.  Those companies must also set aside money so resources will be available for the restoration, even if the company abandons the mine.  The law was created because many U.S. mines were abandoned when companies went bankrupt, leading to contamination of surface water and groundwater.

In Texas, Luminant Mining is responsible for the operation and cleanup of eleven active strip mines. If EFH goes bankrupt and sufficient cash has not been set aside for cleanup, taxpayers could end up with the estimated $1.01 billion cost of cleaning up all the mines.

Instead of requiring that $1.01 billion be set aside in cash or a real bond, the Railroad Commission allowed Luminant to “self-bond,” which means the company is relying on a “guarantee” that their own assets will cover the bonds without having real cash bonds set aside that the state can readily access.  In recent years, EFH has shifted to third party guarantee of the bonds, but the third party is another subsidiary of EFH, so still them.

In its current request for a mining permit for Three Oaks, Luminant Mining is again asking to post a self-bond for cleanup.

Brown said, “The company recently said in a community meeting at the mine that they intend to pledge assets for the cleanup bond. They said they need to operate the mines and coal plants to generate revenues to pay the new debt.  But nowhere in their most recent 8K [financial statement to SEC] do they make that commitment.”

Brown added, “This is especially disturbing since the company also says – in the same 8K – that they expect the price of gas to go up and coal to stay low. That’s the same poor business plan that has led to this bankruptcy.”

Michele Gangnes, an NFN member and a bond attorney, said “The law is clear, and Texas regulators should take immediate action to demand a cash bond so taxpayers and the environment are protected.”

Gangnes added, “In many states, Luminant Mining would be required to put up a cash bond before allowing the Tree oaks mine to expand. But EFH has been playing a shell-game, and state regulators have allowed it. We are asking the Railroad Commission to guarantee that EFH has to set cash aside or post a third-party bond specifically for cleanup of the mines in this bankruptcy deal.”

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Instead of taking action to clean Texas air, as requested by the Dallas County Medical Society, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) Chairman Bryan Shaw and Commissioner Toby Baker voted today to deny the petition for rulemaking and further postpone needed air quality improvements for East Texas and the Dallas-Fort Worth areas.

The DFW area has struggled with unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone pollution – caused emissions from vehicles and power plants mixing in the sunlight - for decades.  While improvements in air quality have been made, they have lagged behind tightening air quality standards set by EPA to protect public health.  Asthma rates – particularly among children – have continued to rise, as well as hospitalizations due to asthma.

Martin_Lake

In addition to contributing to ozone problems in East Texas & the DFW area, Luminant’s Martin Lake coal plant emits more toxic mercury than any other power plant in the nation, ranks 5th in carbon dioxide emissions & is responsible for $328,565,000 in health impacts from fine particle emissions.

Meanwhile, Luminant continues to operate three coal-fired power plants with a total of eight generating units in East Texas that were build in the 1970′s.  These outdated facilities emit nitrogen oxides (NOx) – which is one of the two ingredients in ozone creation – at twice the rate of new coal plants in Texas.  The rule changes recommended by the Dallas County Medical Society would have required those old coal plants to meet the same standards as new coal plants by 2018 – giving the plant owners more than ample time to make the upgrades or arrange to retire the facilities.

Instead of focusing on whether or not reducing NOx emissions from those old coal plants in East Texas would lead to reductions in ground-level ozone in the DFW area, the Commissioners persisted in questioning the science that shows that exposure to ground-level ozone results in increased and worsened incidents of asthma.  Never mind that the research has been vetted by the EPA and reaffirmed by health organizations including the American Lung Association.  The mindset at TCEQ, as at many of our agencies and with far too many of our elected officials, is that Texas knows best and industry must be protected at all costs.

We appreciate the more than 1,400 Public Citizen supporters who signed our petition in support of reducing emissions and protecting public health.  All of those comments were submitted into the record and I read a few of them allowed at today’s hearing.

We will continue to fight for healthy air as TCEQ moves forward with developing a updated State Implementation Plan (SIP) to bring the DFW area into attainment with ground-level ozone air quality standards.  That process will be ongoing in 2014, so stay tuned.

 

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The public will soon get a chance to present ideas and feedback to EPA officials on the agency’s plan to require existing power plants to cut their carbon emissions.

The agency will hold a series of 11 public events around the country over the next two months, the agency announced today.

The EPA plans to set guidelines that will allow states to design programs to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, which account for a third of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, the agency said in a statement. Those proposals are scheduled to be released in June 2014.

“Before proposing guidelines, EPA must consider how power plants with a variety of different configurations would be able to reduce carbon pollution in a cost-effective way,” the agency said.

The public hearings will be:
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wind_turbine_aalborgProbably not overall, but the City of Houston has made a historic commitment – to buy half its power from renewable sources.

Houston was built around the oil and gas industries and has long suffered the consequences of being home to many of the nation’s most polluting refining and chemical manufacturing facilities.  Purchasing clean energy for the City’s facilities won’t change all that, but it does represent a significant change in mindset.

In the absence of federal legislation to address the increasingly pressing problem of climate change, local action has become essential.  At the very least, the energy used in public buildings – that taxpayers pay for – should be clean energy.  Houston is taking a huge step in that direction.

Wind energy is already one of the cheaper energy sources in Texas and solar energy is becoming competitive, especially as prices increase with higher energy demand.  These trends will be helped by large-scale investments like the one Houston is making.

Moving away from energy from coal-fired power plants will also help keep jobs growing in Texas.  Luckily, this isn’t an issue of jobs vs. the environment.  It’s an easy choice of supporting both.  Kudos to Houston to for recognizing an opportunity to take a leadership role.

Talk to your local elected officials about using clean energy to power your public buildings.

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Texas Capitol - north viewWith the regular session behind us and energy and environmental issues not likely to find a place in the special session, it’s a good time to look at what we accomplished.

Our wins came in two forms – bills that passed that will actually improve policy in Texas and bills that didn’t pass that would have taken policy in the wrong direction.

We made progress by helping to get bills passed that:

  • Expand funding for the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) by about 40%;
  • Create a program within TERP to replace old diesel tractor trailer trucks used in and around ports and rail yards (these are some of the most polluting vehicles on the road);
  • Establish new incentives within TERP for purchasing plug-in electric cars; and
  • Assign authority to the Railroad Commission (RRC) to regulate small oil and gas lines (these lines, known as gathering lines, are prone to leaks); and
  • Allows commercial and industrial building owners to obtain low-cost, long-term private sector financing for water conservation and energy-efficiency improvements, including on-site renewable energy, such as solar.

We successfully helped to stop or improve bad legislation that would have:

  • Eliminated hearings on permits for new pollution sources (the contested case hearing process is crucial to limiting pollution increases);
  • Eliminated additional inspections for facilities with repeated pollution violations;
  • Weakened protections against utilities that violate market rules and safety guidelines;
  • Eliminated property tax breaks for wind farms, while continuing the policy for other industries;
  • Granted home owners associations (HOAs) authority to unreasonably restrict homeowners ability to install solar panels on their roofs; and
  • Permitted Austin City Council to turn control of Austin Energy over to an unelected board without a vote by the citizens of Austin.

We did lose ground on the issue of radioactive waste disposal.  Despite our considerable efforts, a bill passed that will allow more highly radioactive waste to be disposed of in the Waste Control Specialists (WCS) facility in west Texas.  Campaign contributions certainly played an important roll in getting the bill passed.

We were also disappointed by Governor Perry’s veto of the Ethics Commission sunset bill, which included several improvements, including a requirement that railroad commissioners resign before running for another office, as they are prone to do.  Read Carol’s post about this bill and the issue.

With the legislation over and Perry’s veto pen out of ink, we now shift our attention to organizing and advocating for a transition from polluting energy sources that send money out of our state to clean energy sources that can grow our economy.

We’re working to:

  • Promote solar energy at electric cooperatives and municipal electric utilities;
  • Speed up the retirement of old, inefficient, polluting coal-fired power plants in east Texas;
  • Protect our climate and our port communities throughout the Gulf states from health hazards from new and expanded coal export facilities;
  • Fight permitting of the Keystone XL and other tar sands pipelines in Texas;
  • Ensure full implementation of improvements made to TERP; and
  • Develop an environmental platform for the 2014 election cycle.

Our power comes from people like you getting involved – even in small ways, like writing an email or making a call.  If you want to help us work for a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable future, email me at [email protected]  And one of the best things you can do is to get your friends involved too.

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It wouldn’t be a Texas legislative session without some truly backwards bills.  Today we have House Bill 2026 by freshman Representative Sanford of Collin county that would eliminate our state renewable energy goals.

BeachWindIn 1999, the state of Texas made a commitment to renewable energy in the form of the renewable portfolio standard (RPS).  That decision played a major role in spurring the development of the wind industry in Texas.

We have now exceeded the renewable energy goals established in the 2005 update to the RPS and Texas has more wind energy capacity than any other state.[1]  On the surface that may seem to indicate that the RPS has been 100% successful and is no longer needed, but that isn’t the case.

One of the major reasons for establishing the RPS was to encourage diversification of our energy sources, which ultimately makes us more resilient to physical and economic forces that can impact the availability and price of energy sources.  While wind energy has increased from zero percent when the RPS was first established to around ten percent today, other renewable energy sources are still largely absent from our energy portfolio.

With more solar energy potential than any other state, Texas should be the center point of the solar industry as well.[2]  Instead we are lagging behind states with far less solar resources, such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania,[3] and are paying the price in missed opportunities for job growth and new generation capacity that can produce during peak demand.

Solar companies invest in California and other states, because smart policies created attractive markets in those places.  California has 1,505 solar companies compared to Texas’ 260. Even New Jersey has more, with 382.[4] Texas should be doing more, not less to attract solar businesses to our state.

SolarInstallProjections showing that we won’t have enough electricity to meet demand by 2020.[5]  The maximum wholesale price of electricity has been set to triple by 2015, without even determining what the cost to consumers will be.  There have been workshops and meetings to consider the prospect of implementing a capacity market in Texas, which would raise costs even more.  But little time has been spent considering simpler, cheaper solutions such as expanding efficiency and demand response (where customers get paid to reduce there energy usage for short periods of time when demand is high) and getting more solar capacity built in Texas.  Solar is most productive when we need it the most – on hot, sunny afternoons.

The RPS should be retooled to focus on solar and other renewable energy resources that are most capable of producing during peak demand.  Millions of dollars could be saved in the wholesale electric market if we had more solar panels installed.[6]

Solar, like wind, also has the benefit of needing very little water to operate.  Solar photovoltaic (PV) installations need an occasional cleaning to keep performance high, but the amount of water need is minimal in comparison to fossil fuel options.  Coal-fired generators need billions of gallons of water to operate each year[7] and while natural gas-fired generations consume less water than coal-fired generators, they still use more than solar, even without accounting for the millions of gallons of water used to extract the gas with hydraulic fracturing.[8]  Including more renewable energy in our portfolio will make our electric grid less vulnerable to drought[9] and will free up water supplies that are desperately needed for human consumption and agriculture.

Abandoning the RPS now would send a terrible signal to renewable energy companies that are deciding where to establish their businesses.  Our state made a commitment that isn’t set to expire until 2025 at the earliest.  There is no good reason to abandon the policy now.  We should be moving in the opposite direction of what is proposed in HB 2026.  Instead of giving up on a policy that has been successful, we should be looking at ways to build on that success and benefit our state.


[1] AWEA. “Wind Energy Facts: Texas.” Oct 2012. http://www.awea.org/learnabout/publications/factsheets/upload/3Q-12-Texas.pdf.

[2] NREL. “U.S. Renewable Energy Technical Potentials: A GIS Based Analysis.” July, 2012. Pg. 10-13. http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy12osti/51946.pdf.

[3] SEIA. Solar Industry Data. http://www.seia.org/research-resources/solar-industry-data#state_rankings.

[4] SEIA. State Solar Policy. http://www.seia.org/policy/state-solar-policy.

[5] “Report on the Capacity, Demand, and Reserves in the ERCOT Region.” Dec 2012. Pg 8. http://www.ercot.com/content/news/presentations/2012/CapacityDemandandReservesReport_Winter_2012_Final.pdf.

[6] Weiss, Jurgen, Judy Chang and Onur Aydin. “The Potential Impact of Solar PV on Electricity Markets in Texas.” The Brattle Group.  June 19, 2012. http://www.seia.org/sites/default/files/brattlegrouptexasstudy6-19-12-120619081828-phpapp01.pdf.

[7] “Environmental impacts of coal power: water use” Union of Concerned Scientists http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/coalvswind/c02b.html

[8] http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/our-energy-choices/energy-and-water-use/water-energy-electricity-natural-gas.html

[9] Wu, M. and M. J. Peng.  “Developing a Tool to Estimate Water Use in Electric Power Generation in the United States.” Argonne National Laboratory – U.S. Department of Energy. http://greet.es.anl.gov/publication-watertool.

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Comment Period Extended to March  23rd

The Texas Commission for Environmental Quality is the second largest environmental agency in the world—with a budget to match. Help hold TCEQ accountable for taxpayer’s interests and stop them from implementing rules that favor polluting businesses.

TCEQ’s Mission Statement and Agency Philosophy includes a commitment to “ensure meaningful public participation in the decision-making process.”  Frankly, that did not translate into practice last week.  At the public hearing on Tuesday, March 6th, Public Citizen testified about our experience attempting to gain access to an agency analysis of the proposed changes to Chapter 60 (Compliance History) rule on a previous report that is accessible on TCEQ’s website as an ASCII file which can be imported into an excel spreadsheet. (more…)

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drought monitor Feb 7, 2012While only 23 percent of Texas remains under “exceptional” drought, 90% of the state is still under some level of drought in spite of the recent rains many parts of the state have experienced.  But we can’t get cocky, as the U.S. seasonal drought outlook indicates most of Texas can expect the drought to persist or intensify through April of this year.  If we are lucky, the next outlook won’t be so dire as we head toward another Texas summer, hopefully not like our last one.

Drought Outlook thru April, 2012

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As Texas struggles to determine how they will meet their water needs in the face of what could be an extended 5 to 10 year period of drought, Oklahomans are looking to protect their water rights as their neighbors to the south look on lustfully.

An Associated Press story says proposed legislation by two Oklahoma state lawmakers would require a statewide vote of the people before any out-of-state sale of Oklahoma water. Sen. Jerry Ellis of Valliant and Rep. Eric Proctor of Tulsa said the legislation, dubbed “The People’s Water Act”, would give Oklahomans the final say in deals with other states.

The Tarrant Regional Water District has waged a multi-year legal battle to obtain water from Oklahoma that has so far been unsuccessful. Ellis, who is based in water-rich Southeastern Oklahoma has been one of the most vocal opponents of water sales to Texas and said the future of Oklahoma water should not be decided in private meetings between politicians and Texans.

In the 1870s to 1881 recurrent friction and eventual violent conflict over water rights in the vicinity of Tularosa, New Mexico, involving villagers, ranchers, and farmers were well documented.  As the region deals with this extended drought, which some say could be the region’s new norm, could we be looking at more conflicts over water, not only along groundwater sources inside the state, between industrials, urban areas and agriculutural regions, but between Texas and its neighbors?

Read more here: http://blogs.star-telegram.com/politex/2012/01/bill-would-give-oklahomans-the-right-to-vote-on-any-texas-water-sale.html#storylink=cpy

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According to the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), at the end of summer 2011, Texas had suffered the driest 10 months since record keeping began in 1895.  Rivers, like the Brazos, actually dried up.

And if that wasn’t enough, the dry weather came with brutal heat.  So brutal, that seven cities recorded at least 80 days above 100°F (Austin logged 90 days and Wichita Falls had 100 days over 100°F, 12 of which were over 110°F).  This left air conditioners around the state straining to keep up, shattering records for the state’s electricity demand, topping 68,000 megawatts in early August. This combination of dry weather and excessive heat, and high electric demand suddenly made state planners begin to take notice of the water-intensive nature of coal plants.

Most electricity power plants require large amounts of water. Coal-fired plants alone account for 67 percent of freshwater withdrawals by the power sector and for 65 percent of the water completely consumed by it. Newer plants include air-cooling or “dry cooling” technologies, but so many plants rely on water-cooling that they accounted for 41 percent of the withdrawals of freshwater in the United States in 2005, according to the United States Geological Survey.

In Texas this summer, one plant had to curtail nighttime operations because the drought had reduced the amount of water available and that which was available was too hot to bring down the temperature of water discharged from the plant. In East Texas, other plant owners had to bring in water from other rivers so they could continue to operate and meet demand for electricity.

Proposed plants were also facing scrutiny around their water use.  The White Stallion coal plant, near Bay City south of Houston, was opposed by a wide variety of Colorado River water users and the LCRA ended up pulling the proposed plant’s 25,000 acre-feet/year water permit from its agenda indefinitely. Citizens of Sweetwater in west Texas were outraged upon hearing that the city was secretly negotiating sale of water rights for a so-called clean coal project.

If the drought persists into the following year (and the State Climatologist has predicted that it is likely much of the state will still be in severe drought through next August with even worse water shortages), the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT – the operators of the electricity grid) has warned that power cuts on the scale of thousands of megawatts are possible.

Texas Water Development Board warns that the state’s water shortage is structural. A structural water shortage is a permanent water shortage that can only be addressed through a structural change such as a reduction in agriculture, population or firm water users (such as traditional power plants) or, increasing water supplies by creating lakes (like we did after the 1950s multi-year drought), setting up desalination plants on the coast or piping water in from another state.  All of these options are dramatic and expensive.

As of this writing, the state needs 18 million acre-feet of water, and it has 17 million acre-feet available to it. By 2060, the state is expected to need 22 million acre-feet but only have 15.3 million acre-feet available to it. Because some dry areas simply can’t have water piped, the total shortfall is projected to be 8.3 million acre-feet. Roughly, Texans will have 2 gallons of water available for every 3 gallons they need.

Adding new coal plants or other intense water use generators to this mix is not part of a sane water policy for a state facing a structural water shortage.  Even ERCOT is taking a closer look at coastal wind generation and solar to provide power during peak energy periods (You know, that time of the day - from 3 to 6 or 7 pm – when the temperatures are the hottest and the air conditioners strain to keep us cool).  This current weather pattern may be the push the state needs to move toward a new energy future for the state.

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