Posts Tagged ‘Austin American-Statesman’

The comment period for the proposed new TCEQ Compliance History rules was extended in large part due to Public Citizen making the public aware that the TCEQ had run test scores on their data from the previous year’s posting but were not willing to release that information to us, the Austin American Statesman or the public.  When they did release the data and then subsequently extend the comment period, the data was not in a format that was useful to most folks.

After much wrangling with the agency, they finally released the test scores this afternoon and they can be accessed below:

Proposed Chapter 60 Compliance History Test Scores

The test Compliance History scores for proposed revision to 30 TAC Chapter 60 (Compliance History) rule are available here.

The test Compliance History scores available below are intended to provide approximations of what scores might look like under the Commission’s proposed Chapter 60 (Compliance History) rule.  These scores were generated as part of the agency’s proposed rulemaking process.

These are not official Compliance History scores and therefore, are not subject to the Chapter 60 appeal process. Due to computer programming limitations during rule development , individual scores do not reflect all aspects of the formula as proposed. Rather, the scores represent approximate numbers using a simplified model, as explained below. Limitations include the following:

  • The scores were generated using applicable compliance-history data from September 1, 2006–August 31, 2011, made public on October 1, 2011 and thus to regulated entities so they can make corrections, as necessary, since that date.  Upon rule adoption, new compliance-history scores will be generated using data from September 1, 2007–August 31, 2012.
  • The scores do not accurately reduce points for compliance with administrative orders. Under the proposed rule, two years after the effective date of an order, if an entity is compliant with all ordering provisions and has resolved all violations, the points attributable to that order will be reduced.  The reduction will be 25 percent for year three, 50 percent for year four, and 75 percent for year five.  The simplified model does not take into consideration compliance with the order. Therefore, under the simplified model, all orders receive the total reductions allowed each year under the proposed rule.  Entities that have not yet achieved compliance with an order receive a reduction under the simplified model that is not warranted.
  • Points awarded for “small entities” are not completely reflective of the proposed rule.  Under the proposed rule, points are allocated to small entities.  The simplified model allocates points for small businesses but does not allocate points for small cities and counties.
  • Reductions for voluntary programs are not completely reflective of the proposed rule.  The proposed rule allows for a maximum 25% reduction of compliance history points for implementing voluntary programs, such as an environmental management system.  If an entity has multiple voluntary programs, the simplified model does not accurately apply reductions for all programs.
  • Changes to the proposed formula and associated compliance-history components may be made as part of the rule adoption process.  Any changes to the proposed formula or components as a result of the rulemaking process would change scores that will be calculated on September 1, 2012.

To download test Compliance History scores click the link below:


Please note that these reports are large files and, depending on your connection speed, may take several minutes to download.

These scores will only be available to download for the duration of the Chapter 60 public-comment period, which has been extended and will close on March 23, 2012.

You may comment on this rule via eComments.

We have provided sample comments for you to use in submitting your own.  We have also provided information on where and how to submit your comments below.

Comments of _Your name here_ on 2011-032-060-CE: HB 2694 (4.01 and Article 4): Compliance History Draft Rules.

Polluter-friendly amendments, proposed in the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality’s new regulatory rules, serve to increase the degree of noncompliance a company is permitted with no consequence. More noncompliance means more unauthorized toxins in the air, water, and ground in communities across Texas.

We are unsatisfied with the compliance history proposals because:

  • The TCEQ has jurisdiction over 250,000 entities all around the state. Holding one public hearing at 10 a.m. in Austin does not give citizens enough of an opportunity to give feedback. I would like to have a meeting hosted at the TCEQ office in my region so that I can participate in this process.
  • Increased compliance history leniency will cut the percentage of companies considered unsatisfactory from 5% to a mere 3% without reducing an ounce of pollution.  Compliance standards should be raised the longer a regulation has been in place, not made less effective by changing the unsatisfactory rating cutoff from 45 to 55 noncompliance points.
  • The executive director will be able to pardon polluters at his discretion—instead of adhering to a standard protocol. Why have formal classifications if the director can reclassify an entity or decide that a repeat violator charge should not apply? This is a nontransparent, unstipulated and unacceptable loophole.
  • Polluters will improve their compliance history score by signing up for supplemental environmental programs, regardless of effectiveness. Mere participation in a voluntary pollution reduction points does not warrant a 5% reward. The formula should call for measured returns for measured results.
  • The TCEQ has not presented information that calculates how the new formula will affect entities. Given the denseness of the proposal’s language, I would like to have a way to interpret the new compliance history ratings.
  • The proposed language for repeat violations would make it very difficult for any facility with many “complexity points” to ever be considered a repeat violator. Because so many points are given for different kinds of permits, authorizations and even hazardous waste units, getting to “25” complexity points will be easy for any large industrial facility or major entity, meaning that the only way they would be penalized for being a repeat violator would be to have four or more violations over the last five years.

I urge you to utilize TCEQ’s rulemaking process to implement changes that will benefit the health, communities, and resources of Texas citizens and not the pocketbook interests of businesses.

Comments due by 5pm on March 23, 2012.

Texas Register Team – MC 205 General Law Division Office of Legal Services TCEQ P.O. Box 13087 Austin, TX 78711-3087

Tips on Commenting Effectively

You will be providing comments for the rulemaking – 2011-032-060-CE: HB 2694 (4.01 and Article 4): Compliance History

  • Identify who you are and why the regulation affects you;
  • Explain why you agree or disagree with the proposed rulemaking;
  • Be direct in your comment; and
  • Offer alternatives, compromise solutions, and specific language for your suggested changes.

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In an Austin American-Statesman editorial that ran last Saturday, July 2nd, the paper talked quite candidly about the lack of a level playing field in the Texas capital as pointed out by conservative East Texas republican freshman Representative David Simpson and liberal Austin-based Public Citizen director, Tom “Smitty” Smith.

The odd man from East Texas

Austin American-Statesman Editorial Board

July 2, 2011

For whatever reason and for whatever it says about their region, East Texans occasionally send us lawmakers who are just a bit different.

But difference, like diversity, can be good.

David Simpson

Representative David Simpson (R-Longview)

This year, the people of the Pineywoods sent us Republican Rep. David Simpson, who wears his Christian faith on his sleeve and is uninterested in being just another freshman eager to go along to get along.

“I guess I don’t know what a freshman’s supposed to do,” Simpson told the American-Statesman’s Tim Eaton in April.

Last Wednesday, in the special legislative session’s closing moments, Simpson showed he also doesn’t know what a freshman isn’t supposed to do by giving a blistering speech generally critical of legislative process and specifically critical of the death of his bill criminalizing invasive pat-downs by Transportation Security Administration agents.

Simpson’s “personal privilege” speech was odd, and many of his House colleagues consider him a bit odd. Be that as it may — and setting aside what we believe was his misguided war against the TSA — it should be noted that Simpson raised some basic and important questions about legislative process.

“We all, no doubt, were aware that when we came to these grand halls that there also would be within them duplicity and deceit,” he told colleagues. “The challenge, though, is not to succumb to it, not to go along to get along in order to be re-elected, not to be complicit with its corruption.”

Corruption is a strong word. If Simpson has first-hand knowledge of corruption, it is his duty to report it to the proper authorities. But Simpson also pointed to peculiarities of the legislative process that, while somewhere this side of corruption, can cause head-scratching, including the expedited handling of measures on the House Local and Consent Calendar that might not actually meet the requirements for streamlined handling.

He also raised good questions about the no-new-taxes state budget of which Gov. Rick Perry and other Capitol conservatives are so proud.

“Methinks we boast too much,” Simpson cautioned. “Some are touting that we have not raised taxes and have not used the rainy day fund. But let’s be honest about it. We are deferring $4 billion into the next biennium. Is that conservative? Is using tax speed-ups conservative?”

Simpson also noted shortfalls in Medicaid funding and the use of the rainy day fund to balance the current state budget. “And we have not kept up with the enrollment of our schools,” he said. “We are funding our schools a little bit more but not on a per-capita basis.”

“How can it be right to approve a half-billion dollars of handouts to special interests, including commercials for Fortune 500 companies? We put them before our children, before our students, before our coming workforce,” he complained.

Simpson was referring to state records that show subsidies (though not $500 million worth) for the production of commercials for Fortune 500 companies.

Simpson also discussed his support for abolishing the state’s Emerging Technology Fund that doles out dollars to promising business ventures. For his efforts, Simpson said he “was scolded and told (by a state leader) that if I wanted to come back … we’ve got to keep taking pork back to the district.”

“The majority in my district don’t want more pork, more handouts for special interests,” he said. “They want a level playing field.”

“Politics has a lot in common with fairy tales,” he said. “In both arenas, you have to suspend rational faculties in order to comprehend what’s going on.”

He is correct. At the Capitol, when House members flit about the chamber and cast votes for absent colleagues or to register an absent colleague as present, you do indeed have to suspend rational faculties to justify what you’re seeing. You also have to do that when a majority of the members of each chamber blatantly retreat into private to discuss the public’s business.

You also gaze in wonderment when important legislation, including bills that died during the process after lengthy deliberation, spring to life as below-the-radar amendments appended to related or semi-related or unrelated legislation in the session’s closing days.

Tom "Smitty" Smith - Director, Texas office of Public Citizen

It all gets back to what Tom Smith, director of Public Citizen Texas, an advocacy group that bills itself as “the people’s voice,” calls “the three really big lies about the Texas Legislature.”

  1. The first is that “ideas pass and fail on their merits, as opposed to whether they are going to protect the politicians that are in power.”
  2. The second big lie is that the rules are fair. “Anybody who has watched the Legislature knows the clocks don’t run on time and the rules get bent to benefit the people who are the insiders,” Smith said.
  3. The third big lie is that the budget is based on needs. Smith noted that economic development funds controlled by Gov. Rick Perry didn’t get cut, “but we cut budgets for those people who need it the most, whether it be state agency workers or school kids.”

Smith and Simpson probably are on the opposite sides of many issues of importance. But Smith praised Simpson for “calling out the basic lies that permeate the Texas legislative process.”

“He represents the kind of principled politician we all hope we elect every session to represent us,” Smith said.

Some see Simpson as odd. Smith sees something else.

“For me, he is a hero,” Smith said

We should all keep this in mind when we go to the polls to vote.  Kudos to the Statesman for editorializing on this.

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Although the taxi cab industry in Austin is not often considered a power player in politics, individuals, top executives and owners have spent thousands of dollars in this city council election cycle. In particular, the election for the Austin City Council Place 3 seat has seen substantial amounts of money flow into it from the taxi cab companies. The race is between incumbent Randi Shade and newcomer Kathie Tovo. With well over $210,000 raised by the candidates, the taxi companies have accounted for nearly $18,000 of that money.

The influx of money can be attributed to disagreements within the industry by management and cab drivers as described in the Austin American Statesman article by Ben Wear. In the article, General Manager of Austin Yellow Cab Edward Kargbo is quoted as saying that they donated to “council members who we have found to be open to sitting down and hearing both sides.” The main debate is over whether legacy permits should be issued by the city council. The permits would allow drivers with at least 5 years of experience to bypass the three major taxi companies in Austin. The taxi companies are worried that this would lead to a loss of control in the marketplace. In the Place 3 election, Tovo has stated she is in favor of legacy permits whereas Shade has said she is opposed to it.

The large proportion of money that the taxi industry has devoted to this campaign has some people worried like Electric Cab owner Chris Nielsen who has said that City Council members were influenced by donations by cab executives. From The Statesman:

Yellow Cab and Austin Cab were granted five-year franchises in May 2010 by the council. Both votes were unanimous, although Morrison and Riley were not present when the Austin Cab vote occurred. The taxi drivers association at the time argued that given its concerns over the taxi fees and other issues, the term of the franchises should have been much shorter than five years.

The council’s response to the drivers’ concerns was to pass a resolution ordering the city’s staff to develop recommendations on a variety of issues involving taxis. In September, city staffers gave the council a briefing that included some immediate recommendations and items for further study.

Those recommendations included putting into the city code regulations for “low-speed electric vehicles,” a suggestion that has complicated the taxi dynamic this election season.

That proposed ordinance, which was to come before the council on April 21 , would allow the sole Austin company running those golf cart-like vehicles to potentially compete directly with taxis for short trips downtown. The company, Electric Cab of Austin, currently operates only as a shuttle contractor for hotels, rather than as a taxi service.

Two days before it was to come up, however, Shade raised concerns at a council work session about authorizing a new business while study of the overall taxi industry was ongoing. The council decided to table that matter for three to six months.

Electric Cab owner Chris Nielsen , who had flirted earlier in the year with running against Shade, claimed that she and other council members were influenced by the donations they had received from the cab executives. No, Shade said.

“It’s not the city’s job to create a special niche for one guy’s business,” she said.

Nielsen, still angry about the delay, said last week that on the May 14 election day he talked to Yellow Cab employees passing out Shade campaign fliers near the O. Henry Middle School polling place.

He said they told him they were from Houston and were paid by their company to travel to Austin and do the electioneering.

Not so, Shade said, after checking with Kargbo with Yellow Cab. Kargbo said that the Yellow Cab contingent did include employees from Houston, none of them drivers, and some nonemployees.

They were campaigning exclusively for Shade, he said.

Regarding Nielsen’s claim about the workers being on the Yellow Cab payroll during their Austin stay, Kargbo said: “That is 100 percent inaccurate. No one was paid to come up and do anything for Shade.”

With the election coming to a climax later this week, it is likely we are going to see even more money flow into the two campaigns. However, almost 12% of the money raised so far came from the taxi cab industry. It appears that of all the issues facing the city of Austin, the taxi cab debate is one of the most influential yet least talked about issues in the race. Yet the least talked about issue could be the one that decides the City Council Election for the Place 3 seat.

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In Michael Webber’s Op Ed in the Sunday, March 21st Austin-American Statesman, he beautifully explained why solar is now ready to become the next big energy source, but was shy on steps that the Texas legislature or our local public utilities could take to reduce energy costs while creating a local solar manufacturing boom.

We can do the same thing for solar that we did for wind.  Set a modest statewide goal, say – 5,000 MW by 2025, and require every utility to buy some solar so they can get used to it.

When the sun is the hottest is when solar makes the most energy, during the summer in Texas that is also when our peak demand for electricity occurs. Meeting peak demand is often 3-4 times more expensive than the average cost of power. If small solar energy owners were paid market price for the energy they produce on peak you’d see solar everywhere.

Solar incentive programs work. Austin and TXU have had programs like this that pay about 30% of the cost and have been sold out. This program has kick started local industries and attracts installers and manufacturers.

Solar can cut costs and pollution (the amount of greenhouse gasses released into the atmosphere per unit of energy produced is 500 times less than coal), but the industry needs a little push. If the state of Texas and local utilities adopt all three of these goals, we’ll be on the way to a solar boom.


By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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UPDATE: Here it is. Great job KLRU, KUT and the Statesman for putting together a great show on an important topic!


Unable to  embed unfortunately.


Public Citizen participated in developing an energy plan for Austin to cut carbon emissions, use more renewables, and promote energy efficiency. And because we did, I’m about to be famous!

Pay no attention to that girl trying to steal my spotlight

Recently, I was one of several energy experts interviewed about the plan for a special program called “Austin at Issue: Energy for the Future”—a joint project of KLRU-TV (Austin’s PBS), KUT, and the Austin American-Statesman.

Watch “Austin at Issue: Energy for the Future” this Thursday, February 18, at 7:30 p.m. on KLRU or listen at 8 p.m. on KUT 90.5 FM.

City Council should vote on the plan to brighten Austin’s energy future sometime in March. To educate Austinites about the plan, the mayor is holding a town hall meeting on Monday, February 22, from 6 – 8 p.m. at the Palmer Events Center.

We need to show support for investment in renewables and energy efficiency that will bring new green jobs to Austin, and move us away from old dirty energy sources.

So do your homework by watching or listening to Austin at Issue, or visit www.cleanenergyforaustin.org, and come on out to the Mayor’s town hall on Monday. Look for the Public Citizen crew and stand with us to support Austin’s clean energy future!


By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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The Austin American Statesman’s article this morning about Austin’s 2020 energy plan leaves a few things out that are crucial to understanding the costs and benefits of adding more energy efficiency and renewable power to Austin’s generation portfolio. Judging from the rather depressing comments section, many readers took away the unfortunate misconception that poor Austinites will have to sacrifice for green energy goals. I’d like to clear that up today.

Few things irk me more than when people fail to see the connection between improving social welfare and protecting the environment.

The notion that green power has to come at the expense of low-income households needs to be eradicated. Social welfare and protecting the environment are not conflicting or exclusive goals. By cleaning up the way we produce electric power and making homes more energy efficient, we can do much to improve the quality of life in Austin. And by making homes that can be heated and cooled with less energy, we can save low-income families money on one of their biggest monthly expenditures AND keep Austinites healthy and safe during bitter cold and dangerous summer heat.

There are a few key points that need to be part of the public discussion about the energy plan which have largely been absent from the public radar. I’d ask any Austinite doing their homework for the Mayor’s Town Hall on Monday to take these issues into consideration:

The Plan is Flexible

As part of the Generation Resource Planning Task Force, I voted with all other members of the Task Force to include a provision that Austin review the plan every two years in case any one resource option became too costly (recommendation 3a-b). That way, AE would have the ability to adapt its plan and go with something cheaper. This is a ratepayer protection and cost control mechanism that will protect all customer classes and should be included in the public discussion about the plan. As my friend Cyrus Reed at the Sierra Club puts it astutely: the plan is a roadmap, not a straightjacket.

That’s the beauty of a diverse energy portfolio. Austin would not have this ability if it were locked into building a new nuclear plant or coal plant (like CPS Energy is).

Energy Efficiency is part of the plan

Public discussion of this plan tends to focus on supply-side renewable resources, but the biggest component of the energy plan is energy efficiency. If it met its goals, Austin would achieve 800-1000 MW of energy savings by 2020. The next highest new resource addition would be wind (~562 additional MW when taking into account 203 MW worth of expiring wind contracts). 800 MW of efficiency represents 55% of all the resource additions that encompass the Resource & Climate Protection Plan (note that 100 MW of gas, 100 MW of biomass, and 30 MW of solar that are due to come online over the next three years are not part of the plan).

Efficiency achieves carbon reduction objectives and affordability objectives. Thus, the biggest component of the energy plan will help keep bills low. It’s also worth pointing out that if we do not achieve the efficiency goals, we will need new supply-side generation in order to keep the lights on–800 MW worth. Without efficiency, bills are sure to go up much higher because all supply-side options are more expensive than efficiency.

Comparisons give perspective

Let’s talk about bill impacts on the poor. Take a drive down I-35. San Antonio’s utility, CPS Energy predicts they will need to increase rates 40% by 2020 and that does not even include the future cost increase for natural gas or costs for investing in the proposed expansion of the South Texas Nuclear Plant, which has risen from ~$6 billion in 2007 to $18 billion today before license application are adjudicated or construction begins.

No one is advocating for environmental protection at the expense of the poor. That is flat-out a false choice. This plan won’t do that because of the protections that will be put in place, the overwhelming focus on energy efficiency and AE taking a more proactive and cooperative approach to services for those struggling to pay their utility bills. In order to make electricity more affordable for people, it is up to us as a community to adopt a pragmatic approach to realizing and achieving the complimentary goals of social welfare and environmental protection. After all, you can’t have one without the other.


By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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AUSTIN – Public Citizen Texas will be honoring the recipients of this year’s Texas Outstanding Public Service (TOPS) Awards at the organization’s 25th anniversary dinner today. The awardees are local visionaries, recognized experts and celebrated advocates who have aided in the effort to help Texas realize a more environmentally conscious and sustainable energy future.

Those receiving the TOPS Awards were chosen by Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen Texas, and his staff based on their accomplishments and contributions to the overall health, safety and democracy of all Texans. This year’s lineup of winners includes two journalists, three legislators, two activists, a whistleblower, a legislative aid and a man whose lifetime of achievement merits the finest award of all.

Winners of this year’s awards include Roger Duncan, general manager of Austin Energy, Austin American-Statesman reporter Claudia Grisales, San Antonio Current reporter Greg Harman, state Reps. Dave Swinford and Rafael Anchia, citizen activists Gerry Sansing and Dr. Wes Stafford, state Sen. Wendy Davis, whistleblower Glenn Lewis and state legislative staffer Doug Lewin.

Duncan will receive this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Duncan is a true visionary who has not only blueprinted the greening of the Austin City Council but also of the city’s public utility. He successfully transformed Austin Energy and set standards for the rest of the nation. He has been a major player in the fight for green issues for more than three decades – starting with his journey as a student activist in the 1970s, serving two terms as a member of the Austin City Council in the 1980s and eventually leading the city’s environmental department for nine years as the assistant director. Duncan is considered the architect of several of Austin’s nationally acclaimed energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, including GreenChoice and the Green Building Program. Furthermore, under Duncan’s leadership, Austin Energy adopted ambitious goals to bring more solar energy to Austin, committing to the development of major solar generating capacity. Duncan was also one of a few people to realize early on that the city of Austin had the potential to reduce urban air pollution by using plug-in hybrids. He assembled a coalition of potential buyers of plug-ins in the country and implemented a program at Austin Energy that offered an incentive package for such hybrids. Although he has announced his planned retirement for next year, it will not be surprising to see him in some sort of leadership role in the city in the near future.

In a quote from Duncan published in the Austin Chronicle last month, he said, “Today, it is time for me to return to my original role as an involved citizen of Austin.” Public Citizen Texas welcomes him as such (more…)

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Green Jobs UnicornTexas is a sparkly mythical wonderland full of unicorns.  And by unicorns, I mean green jobs.  And by green jobs, I mean well-paying, long-term jobs ranging from maintenance to operations, project management, and high-tech engineering.

Wortham: Unicorns are alive, well and working the wind out west

Greg Wortham, Special Contributor

Monday, October 05, 2009

Texas Texas Comptroller Susan Combs was quoted recently in The Wall Street Journal as saying the wind power industry in Texas has created only 500 to 800 jobs and that finding a “green” job in Texas would like finding a unicorn.

“I don’t know where the new jobs are going to come from,” Combs said. “They’re not going to come from wind.” Well, apparently the unicorn is alive and well in Texas. I am the mayor of Sweetwater, the wind energy capital of the Americas and America’s energy solutions center. I guess my town would be as good a place as any to find “the mythical beast” that Combs says does not exist.

A detailed study of the economic impacts of wind energy in our single county was released at the Texas Capitol in summer 2008 that details that Nolan County hosts more wind energy jobs than the Lone Star State’s chief accountant says exist in the entire state. Interviews directly with more than 20 local wind energy companies demonstrated that we have well more than 1,000 wind energy jobs just here.

Even with a temporary reduction in 2009 construction (which is already beginning to gear back up), our community alone has more permanent wind energy jobs than the comptroller says exist in all of Texas. More than $4 billion of capital investment has been spent here since 2001, and the county tax base has increased 500 percent due substantially to wind energy capital investment, numbers that are reported to the comptroller.

And we are not an isolated “greenie” subculture. We are a proud Texas energy community, where 20 percent of the work force is in wind energy, 20 percent is in oil and gas, and 10 percent is in nuclear energy (www.ludlums.com). We are also scheduled for the world’s first commercial-scale carbon sequestration coal-fired power plant (www.tenaskatrailblazer.com). (more…)

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greenChoiceSince the Austin American Statesman published a couple of articles on the less-than-stellar sales of Austin Energy’s Green Choice program, many media outlets have picked up the story and the takeaway message is something like “liberal Austin finds out the hard way that renewable energy is too expensive”. It’s really regrettable that this message is permeating throughout the country because it’s just not true.

Austin Energy’s sales of the most recent GreenChoice batch have been low, but I hope that folks will understand that the blame lies not with wind energy itself but some serious underlying problems with the rate structure of this program and the way the energy market is regulated in Texas (hint: it isn’t).

The high cost of GreenChoice highlights the failure of the deregulated market. Consumers are now unfairly burdened with the transmission costs to get wind energy from West Texas to the center of the state. Wind has to pay a toll to drive the power transmission highway, but coal, gas, and nuclear get a free ride. Not all utilities charge similar transmission costs, and in many places that would be factored into the simple cost of doing business, but in Austin consumers are asked to foot that bill. Then there’s the fact that coal, gas, and nuclear power currently have priority on the transmission grid.  If the wind can provide 300 MW of energy at a given time and coal can dispatch 300 MW, but there is only room for 400 MW of power to run through the lines, coal gets to move 300 MW and wind can only move 100 MW.

Another problem with Green Choice is that in addition to paying for 100% wind, customers are forced to pay the maintenance and capitol costs to upkeep Austin’s dirty power sources. That just isn’t fair – folks shouldn’t have to pay a premium for clean energy and then be asked to foot the bill for polluters too.  Folks argue that GreenChoice customers should pay a portion of the upkeep for traditional dirty power sources when the wind isn’t blowing, but they shouldn’t pay the same *full* capital and maintenance costs that average customers pay. If anything, GreenChoice customers should be offered a pro-rated charge for those costs, so that they only pay the maintenance costs for when they are actually getting power from those dirty sources. Right now, Austin Energy is asking GreenChoice customers to pay an Equal share of maintenance and upkeep for an Unequal share of power – not fair.

Then there’s the fact that Austin Energy got a bad deal on this contract. They bought into a ten year power purchase agreement when natural gas prices, and energy prices in general, were at an all time high (remember $4/gallon gas?).

Austin Energy could easily restructure this program so that it is more affordable. GreenChoice wouldn’t be so expensive if wind was operating on a level playing field with fossil fuels. Austin Energy can make that happen.

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earthdayFor your Earth Day enjoyment, Public Citizen, Sierra Club, and Environmental Defense have written a joint Op-Ed that has been published in both the Austin American Statesman & the Houston Chronicle.  So on this day of celebration, Let’s Begin a Better Future Now and Enact Energy Laws to Clear Air, Create Jobs!

Check it out:

Texas citizens get it.

More of us than ever are mindful of switching off lights, weatherizing our homes and doing all that we can to save energy. State legislators can get it too. This session, they have an opportunity and responsibility to save us even more money on our electricity bills, create thousands of green jobs and reduce pollution across the state. Our representatives now have less than six weeks to pass the best of nearly 100 bills that have been introduced on clean power and green jobs. These energy efficiency and renewable energy bills set the stage for rebuilding, repowering and renewing our state’s economy during tough times. They will build a sustainable future for Texas.

The energy efficiency bills contain plans for helping Texas families by creating jobs while reducing consumption of electricity in our homes and buildings. When our homes and buildings are well-insulated and our appliances more efficient, we don’t need to burn wasteful and damaging amounts of dirty fossil fuels for electricity.

An additional benefit to creating Texas’ new clean energy economy is that we can clean up our air and address climate change at the same time. As we provide new jobs installing clean energy technologies, we can decrease the public health risks and costs associated with the impacts of burning coal. (more…)

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austincityhallWant to vote in the upcoming City of Austin Municipal Elections?  The deadline to vote in the May 9th elections is this Thursday, March 9th.

Says the Statesman:

To be eligible to vote for mayor or city council members or ballot initiatives in Travis County communities, you must mail a registration application to the Travis County Registrar. Those already registered to vote in Travis County do not have to re-apply.

Residents of Austin and other Travis County cities can find a registration application at the Travis County Tax Assessor/Collector’s website or by calling 238-8683. Some parts of North Austin are actually in Williamson County; those voters can obtain applications at www.wilco.org or by calling 943-1630.

To vote in Texas, you must be a U.S. citizen, live in the county you register, be at least 18 years old on Election Day, not have been convicted of a felony, and not have been declared mentally incapacitated by a court of law, according to a release from the City of Austin.

Want to see where the candidates stand on environmental issues?  Come to a candidate forum focused on sustainability issues this Thursday, March 9 at 5:30 pm at City Hall. (more…)

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Remember last week, when solar power was ALL OVER THE NEWS?  Check out this video of News 8 Austin’s news story from Monday (and look for Smitty, our director, proclaiming that “Now is the time to Wildcat the Sun!”):


Also, check out KXAN’s news coverage.  The KXAN slant on the story was pretty interesting: they focused on how jobs lost in the semiconductor industry could be replaced by new solar manufacturing jobs.


circuitAustin has long been a hub of the semiconductor industry because a generation ago, state legislators passed a package of incentives to lure silicon chip manufacturers to Texas.  This created a high tech boom that has enriched Texans for over 20 years.  But now thousands of those jobs are disappearing.  The technologies involved to manufacture semiconductor chips and solar installations are very close, and business leaders believe that the semiconductor industry can actually be repurposed to produce solar.  At the very least, the skill sets involved in one translate seamlessly into the other, so that individuals who lost semiconductor jobs are the perfect candidates for new solar jobs.

And in the Austin-American Statesman today, it turns out there really is credence to what we’ve been saying!  It never hurts to have backup.  A new solar energy start-up is moving to Austin, precisely because we’ve got all the ideal ingredients to be a solar power hub.

Said SmartSpark chief executive Ron Van Dell (former leader of semiconductor design company Legerity Inc. and chief executive of Primarion Corp., a mixed-signal semiconductor company),

[In Austin] You’ve got an excellent talent pool, a growing base of renewable energy companies and a local ecosystem that’s very supportive of high-tech startups.

…The skills mix in power electronics is very, very good in Austin, whether they’re technical people or marketing people.

…Clean energy is a sector that dovetails with the semiconductor industry, and we’ve got a lot of talented people with skills that are so well-suited for the next generation of technology innovation.

Public Citizen’s bet is that if the Texas Legislature can pass the right policies this session, we can attract even more solar manufacturing and installation companies like SmartSpark.  We don’t want to make the same mistake we did with wind, where we created a huge renewable energy boom and created thousands of installation jobs (yay!), but moved too slowly and cautiously to attract the big manufacturing companies (boo).  For more information on some of the solar legislation introduced this session, check out last week’s post “Could this be Texas’ Solar Session?”

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The Austin American Statesman ran an article yesterday reporting on the City Council’s likely decision to hire a consultant to look into expansion of the South Texas Project nuclear power facility.

In February NRG invited the City Council, which owns a 16% stake in the plant,  to invest in a project that would double the size of the South Texas facility.  Austin declined when it was determined that the expansion would take an additional $1 billion and 2 years to complete than expected.  Now NRG is asking the Council to reconsider, and they will likely hire a consultant to evaluate NRG’s offer.

Karen Hadden, Executive Director of the SEED (Sustainable Energy and Economic Development) Coalition, responds:

stxplantmapAustin should continue to steer clear of more nuclear power. Morally, it is simply wrong to leave radioactive waste to thousands of generations to come. We should instead invest in safe energy efficiency and solar and wind power, which don’t come with radioactive terrorism risks.

Economically, nuclear power is a disastrous nightmare. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission data shows that nuclear power is the most expensive way to generate electricity. The City of Austin’s new study is likely to show that the economic risks have increased since their first look.

The two South Texas Project reactors would run between $12 – 17.5 billion according to Dr. Arjun Makhijani of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. If Austin were to invest as a 16% owner, the cost to every Austin Energy ratepayer would be over $7200, before cost overruns. Rate hikes would be huge. Last time, the nuclear reactors ran six times over budget and were eight years late coming online. Nuclear power also comes with huge costs at the end of reactor lifespans, since decommissioning is the most expensive funeral ever.

Austin was right to say no to the nuclear expansion in February, and we should tell New Jersey based NRG a resounding and final no this time around.

I wouldn’t fret too much about this consultant, though.  Even the Statesman article notes that it is highly unlikely the city will buy into the expansion — they just need more information on the deal.  In all likelihood, this report will just confirm what a terrible investment this would be for the city.

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