Posts Tagged ‘Energy’

At the height of the energy crisis last week, Public Citizen’s Texas director, Tom “Smitty” Smith, told the Austin Chronicle, “Austin Energy was one of the first cities in the United States to really aggressively try to do this kind of load management, and days like this show how effective it is in preventing blackouts,” Smith continued. “It’s working, and it’s demonstrably cheaper than burning coal or gas to make electricity.”

To read the story discussing weather crisis and energy in the Texas deregulated market, click here to go to the Austin Chronicle’s story.

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The PUC wants to have a meeting at the end of August to try to figure out how to fix Texas’s experiment of a deregulated generation market, as we look like we are going to run out of energy during what could be ever increasing hot summers.
It seems the current market based behavior doesn’t send proper signals to companies to build new generation.
In addition our grid was designed to be almost completely isolated from the rest of the country so we cannot get help if its needed and available.
Generators use old, outdated generation to reduce costs and even turn off environmental controls to further lower costs at the expense of citizens health and to maximize profits.
The “new” market is based on scarcity pricing but if generation is truly scarce we have rolling blackouts, which are devastating to the economy and kill people.
Before deregulation the Utility commission would request new generation be built in a certain time frame and capacity and pay a preset profit margin to the companies that participated. They did the same thing with transmission lines and retail costs.
These are critical infrastructure needs and were protected from the swings of the financial and other markets. The process was covered under the term Total Resource Planning.
Now with the current heat wave and over a decade of deregulated markets we face the possibility that there will not be enough generation to meet the needs of Texas. We have many old and highly polluting plants that resemble the old steam locomotives of the 1800’s carting around a bin of coal to burn rocks and boil water. A larger amount of our critical infrastructure also consists of ancient natural gas “steamer” plants that are only run around 400 hours a year and are also highly polluting and have proven not to be very reliable but highly profitable.
Compare that to the newer generation of combined cycle gas turbines that resemble a jet engine and have several additional generators attached to it to recover the excess heat to generate even more energy with low stack emissions.
We have harvested significant amounts of non-polluting wind energy (coastal wind is over-performing expectations during the current crises) but the majority is located in just one region (West Texas) leading to problems of transmission congestion and generation variability. Some progress has been made on building wind projects in the areas along the Texas coast that provide energy much closer to the time that its needed, but more needs to be done.
Texas has made very little progress on adding an solar generation (that would provide energy when its needed most) because of a lack of policy leadership at the legislature and the PUC.

Now the PUC wants to tinker with the market to see if it can artificially raise the price of energy by using a “proxy” price as in “we will pay you more because our market system isn’t working, so pretty please build some new generators”.

This is a hell of a way to provide the resources that Texans need. Its time to get rid of the old smoking wreaks of generation plants that are carrying the load, sucking up our ever shrinking water supplies and fouling our air, and go to a controlled “regulated” modernized generation plan that uses all our resources with the least impact to our health, environment and wallets.
We used to pay a fair price for services delivered, now we just pay and hope the lights stay on.


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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As temperatures soared yesterday, ERCOT estimates that electricity usage reached an all-time peak high (breaking Wednesday’s record) with Texans using 60,157 MW of power – flying past the official record set on August 31, 2000 when 57,606 MW of power was consumed by Texans in the ERCOT service region.

“Texas is experiencing a very serious energy emergency,” said David Power, Deputy Director of the Texas office of Public Citizen, “and we are urging everyone to shut off any unnecessary appliances to conserve energy.”

For tips on how to conserve energy, go to http://www.texasishot.org/.

Tom “Smitty” Smith, the Director of the Texas office of Public Citizen applauds the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT)’s heroic efforts in keeping the lights on under enormous stress. “They are doing a great job, however without the assistance of all Texans in conserving energy during this unusual heat event they may not be able to do so for long.”

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Yesterday, Public Citizen spoke before the Department of Energy subcommittee tasked with natural gas drilling and outlined the key steps needed to properly oversee the process of fracking. We are calling on the subcommittee to recommend closure of many loopholes that create regulatory exemptions for fracking.

Please join us in urging the DOE to regulate this risky process by signing on to our public comments.

Click here to read our earlier post about environmental advocacy around “fracking” at the national level

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Today was the last day for the Texas Public Utility Commission (PUC) to pass the 500 Mw non-wind RPS rule.  After 6 years they failed to implement a provision by passed by the legislature setting aside a portion of the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard for renewable technologies other than wind (like solar, geothermal, or storage).  Citing cost concerns, the PUC once again failed to provide guidance and support for a group of emerging industries that needs strong government policy to get them kicked off, much like the wind energy received back in 2005, during a time when Texas currently is experiencing some of the lowest price electricity in decades.

The PUC has consistently dragged its feet, sided with the large corporate interests, offered overly complicated rules and then fail to act.   So while our leadership is yelling foul at new EPA rules that will help clean up our air, and may force us to finally shut down dirty polluting 50-year old power plants that were grand fathered in under the clean air act and expected to close decades ago, the state has failed to encourage cleaner, renewable sources of power for Texans.  Other concerns that have been expressed were whether the industry would be able to supply the needed capacity to meet this tiny goal.  This concern was being aired at the same time municipal utilities like San Antonio and Austin and electric co-ops like the PEC were committing to build projects that combined exceed the states still unleashed goal.

Traditional Generators and other vested interests are trying to keep their antiquated highly polluting fleets running and are fighting new clean energy resources.  In this instance they appear to have gained an upper hand with this commission. With Chairman Smitherman’s resignation from the PUC to take a position at the Railroad Commission (which oversees the oil and gas industry) there is an opportunity for new leadership.  Will the new commissioner be able to get anything done, only time will tell?

In the meantime, the new energy economy is finding homes in China and India (and not because they are concerned about the environment, but because it makes economic sense, while Texas rides into the 21st century on the back of a fracking gold rush that continues to feed the same industries with billion dollar tax breaks.

The price of solar is sliding down at a rapid pace and annual job growth in all sectors of this emerging industry are being reported at over 26% per year.  So where is the leadership when we need it?  Where are those whose mantra has been “Jobs, baby jobs?”  Down in San Antonio  they are making things happen while the rest of the state goes on playing the same old song of “drill, baby, drill” as we listen to our children “wheeze, baby,wheeze” and our Governor whines “Why’s the EPA always Pickin’ on me“.

As I was reminded today by one of our coworkers it was here in Texas that JFK spoke the words,  “we do these not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win…”

In a state that made a name in energy as big as Texas through its intrepid vision,  we should be leaders.  This new era brought us the largest wind industry in the country, but its potential to disrupt the status quo is sending Texas sliding back from being in the energy “bidness” to going back to being in the oil and gas “bidness”.

So we start the dance all over again and hope that the PUC opens a new rule making – while time, the world and the opportunities for jobs and new industries pass us by us by.  We now look to our cities and co-ops for leadership and innovation.   PUC Project # 35792, I bid you adieu.  May we we meet again, somewhere, sometime.  And now the sun slowly sets on our bright Texas sky.

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A dream deferred

The Southwestern U.S. has dominated the world of utility-scale solar projects over the past few years, with news of deals being signed for solar-power plants as large as 1 gigawatt or more.  But now the Southeastern U.S. looks like it will soon be home to one of the world’s largest solar projects, a 400-megawatt photovoltaic farm being built by National Solar Power, LLC.

The next question is where.  The company has vetted a total of seven sites in three states, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, as potential hosts for the ambitious project.  They say the sites must meet certain criteria:


Having enough undeveloped land to put this farm in (ideally 4,000 acres contiguously) but because the Southeast doesn’t have the same relatively unused land resources as the Southwest, the company is looking at a different approach.  Creating the world’s largest solar farm that could be made up of as many as 20 different fields.  


Appropriate economic development strategies, such as tax incentives that could include federal, state and local incentives, and financial partners.  


Community support, and  


A qualified work force.  

The five-year build out project is projected to cost roughly $1.5 billion.

The 1,000 megawatt Blythe Solar Power Project in California that broke ground last month is projected to create 1,000 direct jobs during construction phases and 200 permanent positions. It will also create 7,500 indirect jobs throughout the country.

So many of these opportunities are passing Texas by because the state had failed to provide incentives for them to come here.  Fortunately, Texas has some large cities with municipally owned utilities that are seeing the advantages to their communities both in terms of jobs, the ability to lure other associated industries (like PV manufacturing) to their cities, and the stablelization of their peak electric demand by investing in rooftop and utility scale solar and other renewable sources of power.

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Solar Austin held a debate between Austin City Council Place 3 candidates Randi Shade and Kathy Tovo. The focus was on energy issues. Here is a brief excerpt from the debates where each candidate addresses a question about how an increase of electricity rates should be handled.


The election is this Saturday, June 18. You can view the entire debate here:


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Walter Demond

Walter Demond

A Kendall County jury found former Pedernales Electric Cooperative legal counsel Walter Demond guilty of all three felony charges outlined in his June 2009 indictment.

Demond was found guilty of theft, misapplication of fiduciary property and money laundering. The jury recommended that Demond receive 10 years probation and be required to pay a $10,000 fine for illegally diverting funds from the cooperative’s members. As a condition of probation, State District Judge Dan Mills ordered Demond to serve 500 days in jail and pay $212,000 in restitution.

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Last week, the seven-member Federal Council of Switzerland called for the decommissioning of the country’s five nuclear power reactors and development of new energy sources to replace them.

The recommendation will be debated in the Swiss parliament, which is expected to make a final decision next month. If approved, the five reactors (at four facilities) would go offline between 2019 and 2034 as they reach the end of their average 50 year.

The Swiss Energy Minister Doris Leuthard and other Swiss energy officials hope to turn to entirely non-nuclear sources of power like hydropower, wind energy, biomass and photovoltaics combined with energy efficiency to replace the two-fifths of the nation’s energy needs that the nuclear reactors now supply.

The announcement comes days after an estimated 20,000 people took part in the biggest anti-nuclear protest in Switzerland in 25 years by people concerned about the continuing crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Japan.

The German government has also signaled its determination to ditch nuclear power and replace it with renewable energies.

While nuclear power proponents will argue that nuclear power is safe, a number of nations are coming to grips with the fact their their citizens are not willing to live with the consequences of something going wrong.  While those incidents may be few and far between, the aftermath can be devastating for the surrounding environment, the health and safety of the people living near the facilities and the economy of a country that has to deal with the cleanup should a disaster of the magnatude of Japan’s Fukashima Dai-ichi happen.

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The Senate Energy Committee is scheduled to consider today–May 26, 2011–a bill establishing a new “clean energy” bank called the Clean Energy Development Administration (CEDA).

Unfortunately, this “clean energy” bank is anything but a source for funding genuinely clean energy. In fact, both new nuclear reactors and certain coal projects would be eligible for unlimited taxpayer backed loans if this bank were to be realized.

Take action now: tell your Senators to reject CEDA unless nuclear power and coal are removed.

Please act quickly and tell your Senators–especially if they are on the Energy Committee (members listed below)–to reject CEDA as currently written. There is nothing “clean” about nuclear power and they have a 50% default rate on financing for new plants.  A glance at any photo of Fukushima should make it clear that “clean” can no longer be considered a way to describe nuclear power. Unless nuclear power and dirty coal are taken out of the CEDA program, it should be defeated.

If one of your Senators is on the Energy Committee (members listed below), please also call him/her today and urge him/her to reject CEDA unless nuclear and coal are removed from the program. Senate switchboard: 202-224-3121.

Senate Energy Committee
Chairman Jeff Bingaman (NM)
Ron Wyden (OR)
Tim Johnson (SD)
Mary L. Landrieu (LA)
Maria Cantwell (WA)
Bernard Sanders (I) (VT)
Debbie Stabenow (MI)
Mark Udall (CO)
Jeanne Shaheen (NH)
Al Franken (MN)
Joe Manchin (WV)
Christopher A. Coons (DE)
Lisa Murkowski (AK)
John Barrasso (WY)
James E. Risch (ID)
Mike Lee (UT)
Rand Paul (KY)
Daniel Coats (IN)
Rob Portman (OH)
John Hoeven (ND)
Dean Heller (NV)
Bob Corker (TN)

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According to a press release from ERCOT, Texas posted a 30 percent increase in energy from renewable sources in 2010 with voluntary participation in renewable energy credits up 45 percent

Below is ERCOT’s press release:  

MAY 13, 2011, AUSTIN – Texas posted a 30 percent increase in energy generated by renewable sources in 2010, according to the state’s renewable energy credits registry administered by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), grid operator for most of the state. 

The renewable energy recorded in the state’s renewable energy credit program was 28 million megawatt-hours (MWh) in 2010, compared to 21.6 million MWh in 2009 – a 30 percent increase – as reported in the Texas renewable energy credit program annual report, filed today at the Public Utility Commission.

Wind generation represented the largest share at 26.8 million MWh.  Solar energy increased the most, by percentage, going from 4,492 to 14,449 MWh.




2010 (MWhs)

2009 (MWhs)

Increase (%)









Landfill gas
















Competitive retail electric providers must annually acquire and retire renewable energy credits based on their load-ratio share of the state’s renewable portfolio standard mandate.  Any electric provider may voluntarily retire renewable energy credits to substantiate “green energy” claims. 

A renewable energy credit (REC) is a tradable instrument that represents one megawatt-hour of renewable energy produced. 

For the third consecutive year, the RECs retired in the voluntary market exceeded the mandatory retirements:

  • 11.83 million RECs were retired in the voluntary market – a 45 percent increase over 2009’s record of 8.94 million;
  • 9 million RECs were retired by the state’s 168 competitive retail electricity providers in compliance with the state renewable portfolio standard;
  • 20.86 million total RECs were retired in 2010 compared to 15.7 million in 2009 and 13.5 million in 2008.



2010 (millions)

2009 (millions)

2008 (millions)

Retired for mandate




Voluntary retirements








Since 2008, the program has also awarded compliance premiums in conjunction with a REC that is generated by a non-wind renewable energy source.  For the purpose of the renewable portfolio standard requirements, one compliance premium is equal to one REC.  Last year, 11 companies were awarded a total of 275,910 compliance premiums, representing






Number of companies




Compliance premiums awarded




The Texas Legislature established the renewable portfolio standard as part of the restructuring of the state’s electricity market in 1999 to increase incentives for renewable energy production.  The Texas Public Utility Commission implemented the renewable energy credit program in 2001 and established ERCOT as the administrator. 

The program currently includes 107 generation accounts representing a total of 10,515 MW of new renewable generation added in Texas since 1999.  (An additional 298 MW registered in the program is from six renewable generation resources that were in service prior to September 1999 for a total of 10,813 MW.)  Texas exceeded 10,000 MW of renewable capacity last year, which achieved the Texas Legislature’s goal of 10,000 MW of renewable generation by 2025 – 15 years early.


FuelType 2010 (MWs) 2009 (MWs) 2008 (MWs)
Biomass 108 40 37
Hydro 33 33 33
Landfill gas 88 80 72
Solar 21 1 1
Wind 10,265 9,915 8,158
Total 10,515 10,069 8,301

Does not include generation in service prior to September 1999.

The megawatts of capacity reported in the REC annual report may not align with total renewable resources registered in ERCOT planning reports and other reporting agencies because it includes renewable generation throughout Texas, not just ERCOT. In addition, the program is voluntary and only tracks renewable resource generation registered in the program.


Renewable Energy Credit Program – Annual Report, 2010

Texas Renewable Energy Credit Program website

PUCT Substantive Rule 25.173: Goal for Renewable Energy

ERCOT Protocols, Section 14: State of Texas Renewable Energy Credit Trading Program

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The following contribution on a new Angelou Economics report showing positive economic impact to the state since 2009. is from Tod Wickersham of Businesses for an Energy Efficient Texas coalition (BEET).

Texas’ energy efficiency programs have saved the state’s residents, schools and businesses money on their electric bills for years. However, a new study by noted economist Angelos Angelou quantifies the employment and economic impact benefits of energy efficiency programs to the state of Texas. While utilities and their customers each have their own way to value economic impacts of energy efficiency investments, this study offers a different perspective, finding that between 2009 and 2011, energy efficiency programs in Texas created or retained nearly 12,000 jobs and generated an overall economic impact of $1.5 billion statewide.

When the Texas electric market was deregulated in 1999, the Texas Legislature recognized that energy efficiency provided Texans a valuable tool to lower the cost of energy and established energy efficiency programs administered by investor-owned utilities (IOUs). These successful programs were expanded in 2007 by the Texas Legislature and further expanded by the Public Utility Commission in 2010. Angelou’s study also recognizes additional economic, job creation and energy savings benefits that would result if these energy efficiency programs were further increased.

The nine IOUs in Texas currently are working to meet these state requirements through programs that offer financial and/or technical assistance to help customers be more energy efficient. As a result of these efforts, electricity demand in Texas was reduced by 240 megawatts in 2009 alone – enough energy to power 46,000 homes. Furthermore, in 2009 these programs provided nearly $55 million in annual savings for residents, businesses, schools and other utility users and reduced smog-producing emissions such as nitrogen oxide by more than 413 tons per year.

Angelou stated that while these Texas energy efficiency program findings are significant, there remains the potential for an even greater economic impact. His report states that  36 states are currently contributing a larger percentage of their capital to energy efficiency programs, resulting in increased energy savings and greater economic benefits.  Texas’s current energy efficiency investments per capita are one-third of the national average, and less than programs in Iowa, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Missouri and Mississippi.

Currently, the Texas Legislature is considering two bills, SB 1125 (Carona) and HB 1629 (Anchia), that would continue these successful energy efficiency programs. These bills are supported by many stakeholders, including businesses, environmental groups, and utility companies.

In the face of tough economic times, Texas’ energy efficiency programs provide a positive economic impact to the state, including saving Texans money, improving businesses’ competitiveness and creating jobs. This study provides additional evidence that continuing the state’s energy efficiency efforts is valuable to Texas.

 To see the report click here


About Businesses for an Energy Efficient Texas coalition (BEET): BEET is a coalition of businesses seeking to improve Texas’ competitiveness, save Texans money, and create more Texas jobs through the implementation of energy efficiency projects and programs. BEET is also focused on educating Texas leaders about how energy efficiency programs, products and services benefit the state. For more information about BEET, visit www.BEETcoalition.org.

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An unusual weather event and rolling blackouts – what lessons were learned?  Apparently none.

A report from the Public Utility Commission of Texas is clear in its analysis of what went wrong and what needed to be done to prevent another such event:

The winter freeze greatly strained the ability of the Texas electric utilities to provide reliable power to their customers. Record and near-record low temperatures were felt throughout the state resulting in a significantly increased demand for electrical power.

At the same time that demand was increasing, weather-related equipment malfunctions were causing generating units to trip off the line. As a result, the state suffered widespread rolling blackouts and near loss of the entire ERCOT electric grid.

The extreme weather pointed out several weak areas in power plant operations. Inoperative or inadequate heat tracing systems and inadequate insulation on instrumentation sensing lines seemed to be the most common technical equipment problem encountered during the freeze.

Whether the corrective actions being implemented by the utilities are sufficient to prevent future freeze-related power plant failures, only direct experience with another deep freeze will ascertain.

You’d think this report was about the rolling blackout endured by a large swath of Texas when temperatures plunged and power plants failed this past February, but it isn’t.  This report was dated November 1990 and is referring to the record freeze of late December 1989.

The lone remaining copy of this report, “Electric Utility Response to the Winter Freeze of December 21 to December 23, 1989”, at PUC resides in its library north of the Capitol apparently unread and unheeded.  The descriptions of conditions in the old report — as well as the power companies’ explanations for what went wrong and how they intended to fix it — contain enough similarities to the rolling blackouts of two months ago to raise questions about how much the industry and its regulators have learned from the past.

Although state regulators are charged with overseeing many aspects of the energy market, requiring utilities to be weatherized isn’t one of them. When the PUC compiled its suggestions in 1990, there was nothing to make sure they would be followed.

One result of the February 2011 power shortages is a bill introduced by state Sen. Glenn Hegar (R-Katy) that would require power generation companies to produce a weatherization plan that is available to the public and reviewed regularly by the Public Utility Commission.

Perhaps this time, we have learned a lesson.  Letting industry regulate itself is not always in the consumers’ best interest.


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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Could your trip down to the neighborhood meat market, or your favorite burger joint be contributing to the demise of the Amazon rainforest?  Cattle ranching in Brazil is the leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon. This is old news though.  Cattle ranching has been the leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest since the 70s.  The cattle industry in Brazil is responsible for 80% of the deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon region to be exact.  This means that the ever growing cattle sector in Brazil is also a huge contributor to the greenhouse effect.  According to Greenpeace, statistics show that 2.5 acres of the rainforest is destroyed every 18 seconds.  To compound the situation, the number of cattle in Brazil has nearly doubled since 1990.  Back in the 90s, Brazil only produced enough beef to feed its own population.  Today, the cattle production industry, located in the heart of the Amazon on a territory known as Mato Grosso, has increased by at least 50 billion.  Here in Mato Grosso, pasturelands have been cleared for cattle grazing the size of Portugal!

Pie chart of deforestation in the Amazon

Recently, Brazil has also just earned itself the title of largest beef exporter in the world, exporting everywhere from Hong Kong, the European Union, and even to the United States (primarily fast food restaurants).  According to the Center for International Forestry Research, ‘between 1990 and 2001 the percentage of Europe’s processed meat imports that came from Brazil rose from 40-75 percent’ and by 2003 for the first time ever, ‘the growth in Brazilian cattle production—80% of which was in the Amazon—was largely export driven.’

The United States has recently been in dispute with Brazil over the cotton production industry, and (thank heavens!) placed a ban on the import of Brazilian beef…but hold on folks:  that ban is set to expire at the end of this year.  Another important note to consider: this ban on Brazilian beef imports is not a complete ban, in fact, many restaurants and other fine dining businesses in the US continue to partake in the destruction of the Amazon.  The ban only pertains to grocery stores, and is currently in debate as to whether or not it will be lifted.  The ban depends upon the dispute over cotton production industry between the two countries.  The ban was originally instated in the US due to the high levels of foot and mouth disease prominent in Brazilian beef. (more…)

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Today, the Senate Natural Resources Committee passed out a state energy policy bill that no longer calls for the closure of the state’s worst air polluting power plants

According to committee chair Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay), Senate Bill 15 would create a 12-member Texas Energy Policy Council to advise legislators on “strategic, market-based” energy and environmental choices over the next 20 years.  We all know how well favoring market-based energy has worked since deregulation here in Texas.

The committee substitute for the original bill that was filed clearly favors coal-fired electric plants even though Fraser sold the committee on the idea that it was not intended to give a competitive advantage for one type of generation over another.

The bill, also directs the Texas Railroad Commission, to conduct a study projecting reserves and future prices of coal and natural gas.

The bill, as filed, directed the Public Utility Commission to identify the heaviest air polluting power plants and recommend closure of at least 4,000 megawatts worth of electric generating capacity.  The bill, as substituted and passed out of the committee, removes that language and instead would only require identification of the 10 percent of electric generating capacity that would be “most impacted by compliance with environmental regulation” and “barriers to retirement” of those plants.

The new energy policy council created by the bill would consist of officials from the Texas House and Texas Senate, the Public Utility Commission, Texas Railroad Commission, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, General Land Office, Electric Reliability Council of Texas, State Energy Conservation Office and academia.

So chalk up another win for fossil fuels, at least so far this session.

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