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Public Citizen testified in the House State Affairs Committee this month about three important government ethics bills pending in the chamber.

All three bills are sponsored by Rep. Sarah Davis, a Houston Republican.

The first of Davis’s bills Public Citizen lent its public support for is HB 1297. This legislation would bar those who have been fired or have resigned from a state agency position due to malfeasance from serving as the executive or on the executive staff of a state agency. Malfeasance is defined in the bill as “intentional misconduct or the knowingly improper performance of any act, duty, or responsibility, including unethical or criminal conduct, financial misconduct, or fraud.”

Public Citizen also testified in support of HB 1876, which reflects the recommendations of the Texas Ethics Commission. This bill would, among other things, address the “revolving door” of legislators-turned-lobbyists by barring a former lawmaker from registering as a lobbyist for one year, beginning with the first regular legislative session to convene. It would also ban political contributions during special legislative sessions.

We also spoke in favor of HB 1877, which would enact eight different ethics-related bills that passed the House in the 85th Session of the Legislature but not the Senate.

Read all three letters from Public Citizen’s Texas office director, Adrian Shelley, to members of the Texas Legislature on these important bills:

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Chemical Fires Far Too Common in the Houston Area

HOUSTON – A chemical fire that erupted early Sunday morning at the Intercontinental Terminals Company (ITC) plant in La Porte, Texas, and is expected to continue to burn through Wednesday shows the dire need for tougher regulation and enforcement, Public Citizen said today. In addition, the disaster underscores the need for more public information from both the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about chemical risks and disaster response efforts.

The fire, which so far involves seven petrochemical storage tanks, sent a thick plume of smoke over the Houston region, forcing local officials to urge residents to shelter in place and cancel classes in both the Deer Park and La Porte Independent School Districts. At least three toxic chemicals involved in the blaze – naphtha, xylene and toluene – pose a danger to public safety. Short-term exposure can cause headaches, dizziness, confusion, breathing irritation, weakness and memory loss – with potentially fatal effects from longer-term exposure.

The ITC fire comes on the heels of a separate, unrelated fire at ExxonMobil’s Baytown refinery on Saturday, which has been contained. A 2016 Houston Chronicle investigation found that chemical incidents occur once every six weeks in the Houston area.

“The ITC chemical fire demonstrates how chemical disasters happen far too often in our region, often due to lax regulatory oversight and enforcement,” said Stephanie Thomas, researcher for Public Citizen’s Texas office. “While this fire rages on for days, the Trump administration is trying to slash the budgets of the EPA and the Chemical Safety Board, and is rolling back the 2017 Risk Management Plan amendments, which sought to bring greater safety to communities like Deer Park that are surrounded by the petrochemical industry. We need more protections for our communities and a serious investment in our health and safety.”

Public Citizen has called for restoring chemical right-to-know standards, so that first responders and residents who live near industrial facilities can fully understand the potential hazards of plants’ chemical inventories. The TCEQ needs additional staff and tools – such as a mobile monitoring unit for full-time use in Houston – to be able to adequately respond to pollution disasters, and needs to be more forthcoming with information about serious health-related incidents, Public Citizen maintains. As of 1 p.m. CDT on Monday, the agency still had not posted any information about the Houston fire on its website or social media accounts.

“Industrial disasters are the natural and inevitable outcome of administration policy to let corporate wrongdoers off the hook, slash regulatory and enforcement budgets, and not update regulations to deal with serious health, safety and environmental risks,” added Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen.

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Public Citizen’s Texas office wrote to state lawmakers today urging them to vote in support of HB1.

The letter calls on lawmakers to support funding specifically for the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan, or TERP.

“TERP is the most cost-effective way to reduce nitrogen oxides (NOx) pollution in Texas,” the letter says. “Reducing NOx pollution improves public health and reduces ozone pollution in our federal ozone non-attainment areas of Houston, DFW, and San Antonio. Despite this, the 2018-19 biennial allocation to TERP was down 22.3 percent from 2016-17 spending levels.[1]

Our letter also aims to address some misconceptions about the Light Duty Purchase or Lease Incentive Program.

“We would…like to correct a misperception about the Light Duty Purchase or Lease Incentive Program (LDPLIP), which provides grants for the purchase of passenger electric vehicles,” we wrote. “This program has been characterized as providing funds for “rich environmentalists to buy electric vehicles.” While we would love to meet some of these rich environmentalists, we aren’t aware of too many of them, and we note that the two most popular vehicles in the LDPLIP program are the Nissan Leaf, with a 2018 MSRP of $29,990 and the Chevy Volt, with a 2018 MSRP of $33,220.[4]”

Read Public Citizen Texas Office Director Adrian Shelley’s complete letter to lawmakers below.

Via hand delivery.

March 18, 2019

Re: HB 1, general appropriations bill Public Citizen testimony in support of the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan

Dear Chairman Zerwas and members of the committee:

Public Citizen appreciates the opportunity to testify on HB 1 and in support of funding for the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP). The proposed budget funds TERP at just over $154 million for the 2020-21 biennium. We ask you to allocate $400 – 500 million to TERP for the 2020-21 biennium, equivalent to the fee revenue that will be collected if all TERP fees are extended. We also note that the TERP account has in excess of $1.7 billion in it right now. This money was paid by vehicle owners and drivers in Texas and is dedicated to the purpose of reducing air pollution.

TERP is the most cost-effective way to reduce nitrogen oxides (NOx) pollution in Texas. Reducing NOx pollution improves public health and reduces ozone pollution in our federal ozone nonattainment areas of Houston, DFW, and San Antonio. Despite this, the 2018-19 biennial allocation to TERP was down 22.3 percent from 2016-17 spending levels.[1]

Perhaps the most cost effective program in TERP is the Diesel Emissions Reduction Incentive (DERI) Program, from 2001 through August 31, 2018, DERI has made possible:

  • 11,899 projects
  • $1.1 billion in grants
  • 179,878.45 tons of NOx reduction
  • At a cost per ton of $6,128.[2]

Within the DERI program, the Emissions Reduction Incentive Grants (ERIG) program funds replacements and retrofits of heavy-duty on-road vehicles, non-road equipment, marine vessels, locomotives, and certain stationary engines. According to the TCEQ:

The most recent ERIG application period closed in August 2018, with approximately $53 million in available funds. More than $100 million in grants were requested by applicants.[3]

This means that nearly $50 million in grant opportunities were left on the table. If this funding had been allocated and appropriated for projects that met the historical DERI cost effectiveness rate of $6,128 per ton of NOx, an additional eight thousand tons of nitrogen oxides could have been removed from our air.

We would also like to correct a misperception about the Light Duty Purchase or Lease Incentive Program (LDPLIP), which provides grants for the purchase of passenger electric vehicles. This program has been characterized as providing funds for “rich environmentalists to buy electric vehicles.” While we would love to meet some of these rich environmentalists, we aren’t aware of too many of them, and we note that the two most popular vehicles in the LDPLIP program are the Nissan Leaf, with a 2018 MSRP of $29,990 and the Chevy Volt, with a 2018 MSRP of $33,220.[4] We also note that the reduced fuel cost and lifetime operation and maintenance cost of these and other electric vehicles make them far cheaper to own than comparably priced internal combustion engine vehicles.

Because TERP is the most cost effective means to reduce air pollution, which will provide public health benefits and help Texas meet federal air quality standards, we support an allocation of $400-500 million in the 2020-21 biennium.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide this testimony, if you wish to discuss our position further, I can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 512-477-1155.

Respectfully,

Adrian Shelley, Texas Office Director

Public Citizen


[1] See Legislative Budget Board, “Overview of the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) Account” (May 2018) available at https://www.lbb.state.tx.us/Documents/Publications/Presentation/5266_HAC_TERP.pdf.

[2] See Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Air Quality Division, “Texas Emissions Reduction Plan Biennial Report (201-2018): Report of the 86th Texas Legislature” (Dec. 2018) available at https://www.tceq.texas.gov/assets/public/comm_exec/pubs/sfr/079-18.pdf. See also attached.

[3] See Id. at p. 7 (emphasis added).

[4] See Id. at p. 49.

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San Antonio’s draft climate plan – SA Climate Ready – is out for public comment until March 26 and is expected to be up for a vote at City Council in May. We hope that city staff will take the next several weeks to strengthen the plan, and that the City Council will then adopt it without further delay. You can weigh in here.

Climate change is already wreaking havoc on communities around the world, with the loss of life and damage to ecosystems, public infrastructure and private property already at unacceptable levels, and worse to come. So the most important thing is to avoid further delay in acting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are fueling climate change, and subsequently extreme weather, including droughts, wildfires, floods, and stronger hurricanes, as well as rising sea levels and melting permafrost

Greenhouse gas emissions actually increased in 2018, demonstrating why every city in the U.S. needs a climate plan and needs to implement those plans with a real sense of urgency. There is no time to waste and our federal government isn’t helping.

How does SA Climate Ready stack up? In short: it needs work.

At the most fundamental level, the plan doesn’t set goals that align with the scientific consensus on how quickly emissions must be reduced to keep global warming to 1.5°C (a level that will result in more disasters than we are currently experiencing, but will hopefully avoid ecological collapse). Likewise, it fails to recognize that U.S. cities, including San Antonio, have a responsibility to reduce emissions more quickly than cities in poorer countries with lower emissions. The reality of what is needed from U.S. cities (ending our addiction to fossil fuels over the coming decade) may seem daunting, but the least we can do is recognize the fact, even if we don’t have a clear plan to achieve the goal.

What the World’s Climate Scientists Say

Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its “Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C,” which made it clear that the window of opportunity to avoid catastrophic climate change that is irreversible on the human time scale is closing. We need big changes now. We will have the best chance of keeping global warming to 1.5°C if we can achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions on a global level by 2040. Postponing significant emissions reductions until after 2030, as is implied by the SA Climate Ready plan, won’t land us in a world we want to live in.

From IPCC “Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C”

Listen to the Experts on City Climate Planning

C40 Cities – the leading organization that works with cities in the U.S. and internationally to take on climate change has developed a very helpful guidance document called “Deadline 2020” to help cities develop climate plans that align with meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. The name of the report comes from the fact that global greenhouse gas emissions need to peak by 2020 to give us a decent shot of limiting warming to 1.5°C, but the report describes emissions reduction paths for cities through mid-century.

As an organization that works with the world’s largest cities, C40 Cities is intimately aware of the fact that not all cities can reduce emissions at the same rate and that it’s not fair to expect all cities to be on the same path. Cities in wealthy countries with high emissions – like the U.S. – have the responsibility and the ability to reduce emissions much quicker than average. According to the C40 Cities methodology, San Antonio should be on the “steep decline” emissions reduction path.

From C40 Cities “Deadline 2020” report

Big, but Achievable, Emissions Reductions Needed in San Antonio

The “Deadline 2020” methodology was developed before the IPCC released its latest and most dire report, so we think that, taken together, the IPCC and C40 Cities reports point to U.S. cities needing to reduce emissions by around 80% by 2030. That’s a big drop, but fully transitioning to renewable energy (which is possible and can be done affordably with planning) and electrifying transportation (which is already a growing trend), would achieve this goal for a city like San Antonio. It’s cities that are home to more polluting industries that will have a bigger challenge.

CPS Energy Must Take Responsibility

San Antonio, along with the rest of the world, needs to stop burning coal and natural gas to make electricity. Cheap wind and solar, paired with now cost-competitive energy storage, along with energy efficiency, can replace fossil fuel power plants that pollute the community and are the city’s largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. CPS Energy made a big deal about funding the development of the climate plan, but the utility failed to provide any analysis of options for phasing out it’s use of fossil fuels during the planning process. The city-owned utility is holding firm on waiting until 2050 to stop burning coal and natural gas. This simply isn’t compatible with climate action. That’s why we’re calling on CPS Energy to shut down the Spruce coal-burning power plant by 2025 and phase out it’s natural gas power plants by 2030

Our message to the city is this: Be straight about the facts and set goals that give the city a decent chance of meeting the challenge at hand. Do your fair share to preserve a livable planet.

If you live in San Antonio or are a CPS Energy customer, you can send the San Antonio City Council and the Office of Sustainability a message, asking them to strengthen and adopt the SA Climate Ready plan.

You can read our full comments on the draft SA Climate Ready plan here.

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In the week since we learned from news reports that state and federal regulators inexplicably rejected NASA’s offer to monitor air quality in Houston after Hurricane Harvey, Public Citizen Texas has asked the Texas Legislature to investigate this “willful negligence.”

“Both EPA and TCEQ officials must be held accountable for this inexplicable decision in the face of a grave public health threat,” Adrian Shelley, director of Public Citizen’s Texas Office said in a statement.

Public Citizen continues to discuss this with state lawmakers to ensure that they are aware of the issue and responding accordingly. Of course, we weren’t the only ones appalled that the EPA and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s decided to rebuff NASA’s offer to help in those environmentally hazardous days after Harvey.

Harris County (Houston) Judge Lina Hidalgo took to Twitter to voice her dismay.

“This is disturbing,” Hidaldo tweeted about the news. “By rejecting NASA’s plan to measure pollution post-Harvey, EPA & TCEQ missed a critical opportunity. Air quality is vital to the health of Harris County residents. We need more assessments not less of potential environmental hazards.”

The Houston Chronicle Editorial Board published an editorial asking “Why would Texas officials refuse NASA’s help?”

“Harvey knocked down smokestacks, damaged pipelines, broke chemical storage tanks, and flooded hazardous waste sites, causing poisonous runoff to spill into nearby streams,” the newspaper noted. “All hands were needed to assess the 2017 storm’s environmental impact and figure out what immediate steps should be taken to protect the public. Yet when NASA extended its hand, it was refused.”

Congress also wants answers. The U.S. House Science Committee last week wrote letters to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and Michael Honeycutt, chief toxicologist at TCEQ, demanding an explanation. The letter called the decision to reject NASA’s help “deeply troubling.”

This story isn’t over. We’re joining others in a call to Reps. Morgan Meyer, a Dallas Republican who chairs the House General Investigating Committee, and J.M. Lozano of Austin, who chairs the House Environmental Regulation Committee, to investigate the matter. Advocates have also requested that Sen. Brian Birdwell, a Granbury Republican who chairs the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development, open an inquiry.

We hope you’ll click the links on their names above for telephone numbers and join us in calling their offices and asking them to hold TCEQ accountable. The public deserves more information about why TCEQ rejected some of the world’s most sophisticated air quality monitoring equipment in the midst of an epic natural disaster.

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Election day as a state holiday

By Adrian Shelley, Director of the Texas office of Public Citizen

Today, Public Citizen supported, in the Texas House State Affairs Committee hearing, HB 935. A bill that would designate certain election days as state holidays. We are supportive because this bill would offer Texas voters more opportunity to vote and participate in elections.

Texas has the worst voter turnout in the nation.[1] I have personally experienced the difficulty of encouraging civic participation in Texas through my participation in the Houston in Action Coalition, which works to increase participation in voting and civic life in Harris County. Voter apathy and barriers to participation depress voter turnout in Texas. Texas’ population is increasingly young and diverse. The legislature should do everything possible to encourage civic participation among all Texans. When more Texans participate in elections, and in turn become more civically active, the democratic process benefits. Making election day a state holiday will surely increase voter turnout and participation in elections. And it comes with no fiscal impact to the state.


[1] See, e.g., https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/texas/article/Voter-turnout-in-Texas-is-dead-last-in-America-13241845.php.

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Public Citizen Texas today filed testimony in the legislature supporting a bill requiring landlords to notify renters if the dwelling they’re renting is in a flood plain or has been damaged by flooding in the past 20 years.

A FEMA representative looks at a house which shows the effect of flooding. Photo by Patsy Lynch/FEMA

Home buyers already receive such notice. Renters also deserve to know all of the risks that they are assuming when they rent. The bill has no fiscal implication to the state.

Texans should be informed if their residence is prone to flooding and we urge state lawmakers to support this common sense legislation.

Read Public Citizen’s letter to members of the House Committee on Business and Industry, which has jurisdiction over the bill, below.

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HBPublic Citizen Director Adrian Shelley wrote to members of the House Committee on Homeland Security & Public Safety today asking them to support HB 91, which would establish a disaster identification system for a declared state of disaster.

You can read the letter below.

Flashing Warning Light

HB 91 creates a standard system to convey that message: an illuminated display that uses a standard color scheme to communicate to first responders the needs of people and domestic animals.

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House Committee on Homeland Security & Public Safety. P.O. Box 2910 Austin, TX 78768

February 27, 2019

Re: HB 91, supporting testimony by Public Citizen

Dear Chairman Nevárez and members of the committee:

Public Citizen appreciates the opportunity to testify in favor of HB 91, relating to establishment of the disaster identification system for a declared state of disaster.

We support this bill because it will provide a means for emergency responders to locate victims in need of assistance during a disaster. Public Citizen has advocated for many years on behalf of communities and their needs during disasters.

We participated in two meetings called by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality with public health and environmental advocates to discuss the response to Hurricane Harvey. These meetings, held on September 12, 2017 and December 11, 2017, consisted of wide ranging discussions about Texas’ response to the public health and safety emergencies presented by Harvey. Through these meetings and our advocacy on this issue, we are well acquainted with the emergency response to Harvey, including areas where it could have been improved. In the midst of the Hurricane Harvey response, Texas Emergency

Management Chief Nim Kidd implored Texans in need of assistance “to make sure you put a signal out there, that you are still there, and you still need help, convey that message to first responders.” HB 91 creates a standard system to convey that message: an illuminated display that uses a standard color scheme to communicate to first responders the needs of people and domestic animals.

Because we want first responders to have every available tool to respond to people in need, and because we believe that HB 91 provides one such tool, we support the bill.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide this testimony, if you wish to discuss our position further, I can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 512-477-1155.

Respectfully,

Adrian Shelley, Texas Office Director, Public Citizen

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TCEQ and Social Media

Do you follow the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) on Twitter? How about Facebook? Did you know they have an Instagram page? LinkedIn? YouTube?

The TCEQ has about 18,000 followers across those platforms, with 10,000 of those on LinkedIn and 6,000 on Twitter. They also maintain the website and social media for “Take Care of Texas,” the less-successful younger brother of TxDOT’s “Don’t Mess with Texas” campaign.

Last week, at the first meeting of the House Environmental Regulations Committee during the 86th legislature, TCEQ Executive Director Toby Baker told committee members that he hoped the TCEQ could use social media more effectively in the future. We agreed at the time, and now we’d like to take this opportunity to identify three things the TCEQ does well on social media and three things it could do better.

1. Air Quality Forecasts

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality uses its Twitter page to post daily air quality forecasts. The air quality forecasts might look familiar to you if you know of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index and AirNow.gov website. Many people use these tools to get information about air quality and air pollution near them, including people who suffer from asthma and people who work outdoors. When elevated ozone levels are the difference between a safe run or an asthma attack, you can imagine why some people rely on these resources. The TCEQ provides an email option for air quality forecasts, but posting them on social media is a great way to build the audience.

TCEQ began posting air quality forecasts back to 2015, when they were still using the @TCEQNews twitter handle. This happened in response to criticism from Air Alliance Houston (where I worked at the time), which had been calling attention to TCEQ’s total lack of an online presence. TCEQ never directly acknowledged our criticism, but to their credit, they did start posting daily air quality forecasts. In my research for this post, I found an archived Air Alliance Houston blog post from 2015 in which I (immodestly) took credit for prompting TCEQ to action.

2. Drought Maps

Some time after the TCEQ started posting daily air quality forecasts on Twitter, they added regularly updated drought maps. This is another example of actionable content about environmental quality. People across Texas can use the drought maps to adjust their water use or decide which of Texas’ many lakes, rivers, and streams to visit. Seeing periodic drought maps is also a good reminder that Texas often faces water shortages. We hope that this fact will prompt people to speak up about the need to use water more wisely in Texas by, for example, limiting the use of water in hydraulic fracturing or investing in urban water infrastructure to minimize transmission losses.

3. Notice of Public Hearings

This is another example where public criticism caused TCEQ to respond and change its practices for the better. Perhaps three years ago, the old @TCEQNews Twitter account posted to announce the close of a public comment period with no comments received. I responded (again from the Air Alliance Houston Twitter account) that receiving zero public comments was nothing to celebrate, and that perhaps TCEQ should post notice of public opportunities when they begin, not when they end without participation. Again I didn’t get a direct acknowledgement of my criticism, but again TCEQ responded, this time by beginning to post notice of public hearings. The public hearing is an essential opportunity for members of the public to weigh on permits and other decisions that affect our environment, so TCEQ should do everything it can to encourage public involvement.

A recent public meeting in Houston.

Pointing out these past exchanges with TCEQ isn’t about any desire for credit, but rather to show that the TCEQ does sometimes respond to publicly raised concerns. These may be a few modest changes by the agency, but they are typical of what we see from TCEQ. There are many, many hardworking, conscientious staffers at the Commission. Much of the good work that TCEQ does happens among these staffers, quietly and by degrees. These are the people who are listening when we make recommendations to the TCEQ. They may not announce changes with fanfare, but they can often nudge the Commission in the right direction. With that in mind, here are three things the TCEQ could do better on social media.

1. Focus on the Public

Do you know who TCEQ’s customers are? You might think it’s the 28 million Texans who breathe air, drink water, and enjoy unspoiled natural land. In fact, in TCEQ parlance, a “customer” is a company that has a permit with the Commission. What we might call a “polluter.”

This focus of attention on polluters is evident in TCEQ’s messaging on their website, social media, and elsewhere. So, for example, you will find social media announcements for the Environmental Trade Fair and Conference, but you aren’t likely to see any announcements for a workshop about, say, filing an environmental complaint. (As an aside, if you want to know how un-user friendly TCEQ’s complaint process is, consider that the actual email address they use is [email protected])

2. Post permit notices and information Online

The TCEQ could promote public engagement by making more information available online. There is actually a bill filed in this legislative session by Rep. Jessica Farrar of Houston, HB 245, that would require TCEQ to post certain environmental and water use permit applications online.

The TCEQ could do this by choice if it wanted to. If online posting required more resources, the TCEQ could request those resources in its budget proposal to the legislature. Furthermore, posting permits online would free TCEQ resources in the filing rooms across the state, where records are required to be kept for public viewing. Online posting wouldn’t eliminate the need for public maintenance of records, but it would drastically reduce the number of members of the public who came to view records, thus relieving an administrative burden on TCEQ. Details aside, there is little question that moving toward storing information online will save resources in the long run. TCEQ has, to its credit, done a lot of work in recent years to combine and update its online databases. Posting permits online is a next logical step.

3. Engage!

To recap, much of the story I have told here is one of advocates such as myself calling out TCEQ, and TCEQ quietly responding. At times the Commission seems singleminded about not engaging with the people. Perhaps they are concerned about creating liability or upsetting their customers. Whatever the reason, probably the biggest flaw in TCEQ’s social media strategy is the unwillingness to engage people where they are. To enter into frank exchanges about the hazards Texans face and what they can do about them. Nowhere is this more evident than during a natural disaster or an accident such as a fire or chemical release. These incidents often lead to robust discussions on social media, including people looking for information about risks and how to avoid them. In these up-to-the-minute conversations, the TCEQ is nowhere to be found. I suspect we could get an answer from some lawyers about why TCEQ cannot weigh in on a disaster as it is unfolding, but from our perspective that answer will simply be a justification to continue to not engage a willing public.

If the Commission is serious about improving its social media presence, our last suggestion is to loosen up, engage with people, and pull back the veil a bit. If people see the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality willing to engage with them, then perhaps they will be more willing to make that complaint, attend that workshop, or file those public comments. We have to believe that this is what TCEQ actually wants from average Texans, and social media is one way to encourage it.

Honorable Mention: TCEQ Executive Director Toby Baker

In conclusion, we have to applaud TCEQ’s Executive Director Toby Baker for having his own twitter account, @ctobybaker, since 2012. Mr. Baker has shared some fun tweets over the years, though at some point there was an addition to his twitter profile that is quite revelatory about the TCEQ’s current approach to social media. It reads, “Due to TX laws, I can’t receive certain communications– all ‘mentions’ are screened”

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The nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) examined the 16 Texas power plants that are required to monitor groundwater under the Federal Coal Ash Rule, and found that 100 percent of the coal plants (16 out of 16) are leaking contaminants, including arsenic, boron, cobalt, and lithium, into groundwater at levels that would be unsafe for human consumption. For a detailed discussion of our study’s methods, see page 17. Some of the main findings include:

•   Thirteen of the sixteen coal plants have unsafe levels of arsenic in groundwater, with concentrations sometimes exceeding 100 micrograms per liter – ten times higher than the EPA Maximum Contaminant Level for arsenic.

•   Ten plants have unsafe levels of boron, which is toxic to both humans and aquatic life. Multiple wells at the San Miguel plant south of San Antonio have boron concentrations of more than thirty milligrams per liter, exceeding EPA’s health advisory by ten-fold.

•   Fourteen plants appear to be leaking unsafe levels of cobalt, which can harm the heart, blood, and other organs. The groundwater protection standard for cobalt is six micrograms per liter. At the San Miguel plant, Gibbons Creek facility northwest of Houston, and Welsh plant east of Dallas, cobalt in groundwater reaches more than 600 micrograms per liter, which is more than 100 times higher than safe levels.

· Lithium is associated with neurological effects and other health risks. Eleven Texas coal plants have unsafe levels of lithium in groundwater, with concentrations frequently exceeding 1,000 micrograms per liter, 25 times the health-based groundwater protection standard of 40 micrograms per liter.

In addition, with one or two exceptions, none of the coal ash ponds in Texas meet EPA requirements for liners, meaning that they lack underground barriers made of plastic or other waterproof materials that prevent them from leaking. 

The plants in the study are Oak Grove and Twin Oaks coal plants in Roberson County, Sandy Creek coal plant in McLennan County, Limestone coal plant in Limestone County, Sandow coal plant in Milam County, Fayette coal plant in Fayette County, Monticello and Welsh coal plants in Titus County, Pirkey coal plant in Harrison County, Martin Lake coal plant in Rusk County, Big Brown coal plant in Freestone County, Gibbons Creek coal plant in Grimes County, Calaveras coal plant in Bexar County, San Miguel coal plant in Atascosa County, Parish coal plant in Fort Bend County, and Coleto Creek coal plant in Fannin County.

The report goes on to say the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) can address the coal ash threat in the following ways:

•         Require coal-fired power plants to remediate coal ash contamination from any onsite ash dumps, regardless of whether these dumps are active or inactive.

•         Prohibit the dumping or burying of coal ash in places where it remains in contact with groundwater. The only way to prevent contamination from coal ash is to keep the coal ash contained and dry. Ash ponds at the Monticello and Welsh plants east of Dallas are in contact with groundwater, and the owners of these plants are planning to close the ponds in place. Leaving ash in these ponds will result in ongoing, long-term contamination of groundwater.

•         Require owners to post all groundwater monitoring data as soon as the data are collected, and require owners to follow the assessment monitoring schedule laid out in the Coal Ash Rule, not the creative interpretation suggested by industry groups and sanctioned by the Trump EPA. Assessment monitoring should begin no later than 90 days after finding statistically significant increases in detection monitoring, and the assessment monitoring data should be analyzed for significant increases within 90 days of initiating assessment monitoring.

•         Require owners to select background monitoring wells that are unaffected by coal ash from any coal ash unit, regulated or unregulated. This is what the federal Coal Ash Rule requires, and EPA and Texas should strictly enforce this provision of the rule.

•         Require testing of any residential or municipal drinking water wells within one-half mile of coal ash ponds and landfills.

•         Consider environmental justice and avoid disproportionate impacts of coal ash disposal on low-income communities and communities of color.

To read the entire report, Groundwater Contamination from Texas Coal Ash Dumps

http://www.environmentalintegrity.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Texas-Coal-Ash-Report.pdf

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Texas press must Cover Climate

Climate change is the defining issue of our time. Public Citizen believes that journalists and media outlets should give climate change the media coverage it deserves. Seven in ten Americans agree that they are interested in climate change and that the media should cover it more. Our “Cover Climate” campaign was launched to call attention to media outlets that are not adequately covering climate change.

A new report by Public Citizen’s Cover Climate campaign shows that media outlets typically do not discuss climate change when covering extreme weather events like heat waves, droughts, and hurricanes. The report, Carbon Omission: How the U.S. Media Failed to Connect Extreme Weather to Climate Change in 2018, shows that media outlets only mention climate change in conjunction with heat waves 34 per cent of the time, for droughts only 34 per cent of the time, and for last years hurricanes Florence and Michael, only 10 per cent of the time.

Interestingly, papers in Florida, Louisiana, and Texas–all states affected by hurricanes in 2017 or 2018–are actually worse than their peers in other states at mentioning climate change in conjunction with natural disasters.

This is especially concerning in Texas, which is more vulnerable to natural disasters than any other state. In fact, based on an analysis by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, Texas has experienced 44% of all billion dollar disasters in the United States since 1980.

The United States has experienced 238 billion dollar disasters since 1980, with 105 of those occurring in Texas. Meaning our state is second to none in its vulnerability to natural disasters and should be very concerned about the relationship between these disasters and climate change.

Despite this, Texas Governor Greg Abbott remains defiant on the question of climate science. Earlier this month, Governor Abbott was presented with a letter from climate scientists explaining that there is a scientific consensus on climate change and that we can expect to see increasing consequences for our failure to act.

Abbott’s response? He can’t weigh in on the question of climate change because he is not a scientist.

This is not an adequate response. Nevertheless, it is a favored talking point by climate deniers. The argument that one must be an expert to make policy decisions is simply absurd. One can imagine the reaction if Governor Abbott, after a briefing by Texas teachers, asserted that he couldn’t make decisions about school finance because he isn’t a teacher. Or how about a Governor Abbott who wouldn’t weigh on the the abortion question because he isn’t a doctor?

In these areas, our Governor believes he is qualified to make policy pronouncements–as indeed any capable leader would. We rely on our elected officials not to be experts in each and every field, but to have the wherewithal to consult the experts and make policy decisions based on their recommendations.

This is all we ask of Governor Greg Abbott. No one expects him to become a climate scientist. His protestations that he cannot weigh in on the issue without personally possessing the expertise are a dodge, nothing more. If he refuses to answer important policy questions for the state, it is only because he knows he is out of step with mainstream science and public opinion on the issue.

This is why climate coverage by our state’s news media is so important. We cannot let our lawmakers dodge the issue any more. They need to know that when we discuss droughts, flood, heat waves, hurricanes, and yes, even polar vortexes, we will also be having a conversation about climate change. If the media continues the conversation, our policymakers will fall in line.

We aren’t asking them to be experts. We’re just asking them to listen to the experts.

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By Rita Beving

On Wednesday, the Dallas City Council approved the selection of AECOM, an international, Fortune 500 consulting firm, to help develop a climate and environmental plan for Dallas and the surrounding community.

Rita Beving speaking at Dallas City Council meeting that launches Dallas’s efforts to mitigate climate change.

AECOM has given assistance in climate and sustainability planning to other cities including Mexico City and Los Angeles.

The vote marks the beginning of the climate planning process for Dallas to reduce its carbon footprint.  The planning process offers many different avenues to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including electrifying transportation, investing in green energy, retiring fossil fuel generation, securing commitments from industrial emitters and promoting energy efficiency.

The planning process will immediately commence in the upcoming weeks with an eye on a final plan to be reviewed in the spring of 2020.

It will involve a public process with stakeholders from business, industry, academia, the environment and the community.

Along with the selection of the consulting entity that will help develop the climate plan, the City of Dallas passed a multi-faceted resolution directing the City Manager to take the necessary actions to join the network of C40 cities.  The C40 is an association of the world’s largest cities committed to addressing climate change, connecting 96 of the world’s greatest cities to take climate action.

Additionally, the resolution also directed Dallas to support federal action on climate, supporting a proposal by Citizens Climate Lobby for congressional approval of a national carbon fee and dividend.  The carbon fee and dividend concept is part of the bipartisan Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act introduced in Congress in 2018.  The act provides for a national, revenue-neutral carbon fee-and-dividend system (CF&D) which would place a predictable, steadily rising price on carbon, with all fees collected minus administrative costs returned to households as a monthly energy dividend.

Dallas took the necessary steps this past Wednesday to chart a course toward rapid and decisive action at both a federal and local level to combat climate change.  And I applaud their broad and aggressive action. It is time that other cities in the DFW area also take the challenge to step up for their citizens and the region by pursuing their own climate plans and other initiatives to help clean the air and cool the planet.

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Earlier this month, Governor Gregg Abbott released a new report on Hurricane Harvey. “Eye of the Storm,” The Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas (Nov. 2018) (available at https://gov.texas.gov/uploads/files/press/RebuildTexasHurricaneHarveyEyeOfTheStorm_12132018.pdf).

Harvey’s magnitude was unprecedented in Texas. Sixty eight people lost their lives; 780,000 were evacuated; and 122,000 were rescued by first responders. All told, the storm was estimated to cost Texas $125 billion. The Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas was created to develop a path forward for recovery from the storm and preparedness for the next one. Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp chaired the commission. The report that resulted is a comprehensive look at Hurricane Harvey and Texas’ needs. In many areas we agree with the commission, and we encourage everyone to look at the report and judge for themselves. There are some areas where we disagree or would have recommended stronger action. Below we have commented on a few specific subjects covered in the report.

Climate Change must be identified as a contributing factor to Harvey and future storms.

Much attention was paid to how the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas—and Governor Abbott himself—did or did not mention climate change in the report. Neither the Governor’s press release announcing the report or the 178 page report itself says the words “climate change.” This is a disservice to Texas, as it’s hard to prepare for something that you refuse to call by name.

We have improved since 2011, when Texas censored a report about climate change and sea level rise in Galveston Bay. This report includes some oblique references to climate change. The Rebuild Texas Commission states that, “The clearest and most important message we took from the commission’s work is that Hurricane Harvey was a warning we should heed.” (Eye of the Storm at p. iv.) The report also acknowledges that, “The current scientific consensus points to increasing amounts of intense rainfall coupled with the likelihood of more intense hurricanes.” (Id. at 42.)

This language is tacit acceptance of the existence of climate change, but it simply isn’t enough. According to the 2018 Climate Opinion Maps from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, 56% of Texans believe that our governor should do more to address global warming. (See http://climatecommunication.yale.edu/visualizations-data/ycom-us-2018/?est=governor&type=value&geo=state&id=48.) He can start by saying “global warming” or “climate change” in public and by publishing the words in official state reports.

But this isn’t enough. A plan to actually prepare Texas for climate change will account for the new reality of hotter temperatures, longer droughts, more frequent and intense rain events and hurricanes, sea level rise, and changing flood patterns. Texas will never develop such a plan if its Governor will not hold honest, open conversations about the issue. (There are, however, legislative proposals that would move Texas in the right direction.)

Notification of community members should be improved.

The report notes that, “Effective communication among responder groups and citizens during a crisis greatly increases the success of response.” (Eye of the Storm at 62). One interesting development during the rescue operations was the impromptu use of social media to alert first responders of where rescues were needed. The commission recommendations focus on “interoperability” of communications systems—that is, the ability of different agencies and first responder groups to communicate with one another on channels such as radio.

We think that new channels are also needed to communicate with the public. For several years now Public Citizen has called for Texas to develop a more modern system of emergency notifications for chemical emergencies. In the 85th legislative session we supported HB 1927 to do just that. Hurricane Harvey also showed that more modern emergency notification systems are needed. Cell phones allow “push notifications” that can be highly geotargeted and are sent unless users opt out. We believe that such a modern notification system should be developed and accessible for use by agencies and local governments statewide. Such a system could be used for chemical emergencies, floods, wildfires, and other natural and manmade disasters.

Better planning is needed for Temporary Debris Management Sites.

Harvey generated 13 million cubic yards of debris (or, in Texas units, 16 Kyle Fields worth of debris). (Eye of the Storm at 72.) Managing that debris required the approval

Screenshot of the TCEQ’s TDMS map with contact info.

of 228 temporary debris management sites (TDMSs). (Id. at 73.) In conversations with TCEQ staff, we were told that TDMSs go through a pre-approval process that includes an opportunity for public notice and comment. Neither Public Citizen nor its allies were aware of this pre-approval process before Hurricane Harvey. Many communities across the region were alarmed to find that debris management sites popped up overnight in their communities.

We suspect that the pre-approval process for these sites was lacking, and we encourage TCEQ to engage in a more inclusive effort to notify the public when approving future TDMSs. To its credit, the TCEQ did create a comprehensive map of all TDMSs that includes location and a contact phone number. That map is available at https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1hfhU9C6qfnGnGWuT5x6JgAHyz8s&ll=29.15144754529617%2C-97.10440749999998&z=7.

Rule suspensions must stop.

For eight months after Hurricane Harvey, Governor Abbot left in place the suspension of forty-six environmental rules spanning air, water, and waste regulation. Public Citizen and its allies objected to the prolonged suspension and successfully lobbied for their removal in April 2018. (You can see our comments on the rule suspension here and a rule-by-rule analysis here.)

We object to any rule suspensions during disasters. It may be that extenuating circumstances during a disaster make it difficult or impossible to comply with one or more environmental rules. If that it is the case, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has enforcement discretion it can exercise to forgive entities that could not comply with rules. But blanket suspensions of rules send the wrong message about accountability during a disaster and potentially create a legal defense to any liability for actions during or after a disaster. For these reasons, Public Citizen will as a matter of policy oppose all future rule suspensions during disasters.

The Rebuild Texas Commission recommended that the Governor’s office, “Compile and maintain a comprehensive list of all the regulatory waivers needed during a disaster to expedite suspensions in any future event.” (Eye of the Storm at 99.) For the reasons stated above, we believe that no waivers are needed.

Air pollution and petrochemical industry vulnerability must be addressed.

The Commission to Rebuild Harvey included virtually no discussion of air pollution in its report. The report does acknowledge a “particularly severe” impact on “water systems and the chemical, oil and transportation industries.” (Eye of the Storm at 122.) Some of the impacts catalogued include:

  • 77 boil water notices.
  • 19 water systems and 31 wastewater systems offline.
  • 16 hospital closures.
  • 15 dams affected.
  • 336,000 electricity customers lost power.
  • Three highways inundated (I-10, I-45, and US-59).
  • 500 roads closed.
  • 13 bridges requiring repairs.

Absent from this list is the millions of pounds of air pollution that was released; anywhere between 1.7 million and 8.3 million pounds depending on who’s counting.

Interestingly, the report states that two very large incidents, including the Arkema chemical plant disaster—possibly one of the most widely reported on disasters resulting from Harvey—were “never publicized.” (Eye of the Storm at 23.) It is true that there was a critical lack of information about the Arkema situation as it was unfolding—a situation that led to at least 15 first responders seeking medical care or hospitalization due to exposure to the disaster. But after the fact the Arkema disaster was the subject of much analysis culminating in the release of a report by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board.

The report also pointed out a lack of coverage of the Magellan Midstream Partners tank farm accident in Galena Park. That accident was initially reported to have released more than 2.5 million pounds of air pollution, though that amount was eventually revised down to a little more than 56,000 pounds. Interestingly, the Environmental Integrity Project released a report showing that companies who revised their pollution estimates almost always decreased them, and often dramatically (see p. 21 of the report).

We agree with the Commission to Rebuild Texas that air pollution events were underreported in the hours and days after they began. But there has been extensive coverage of that fact in the months since the storm. By failing to detail the specific incidents and their causes, the Commission to Rebuild Texas has omitted a significant vulnerability: the petrochemical industry. The report does not identify specific weaknesses such as floating roof tanks and includes no proposals to harden the petrochemical industry.

For our part, Public Citizen believes that responsibility for preparing that industry for the next storm should not be borne by taxpayers. Indeed, the members of the petrochemical industry are in part responsible for Hurricane Harvey due to their contribution of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change. If anything, industry should be contributing to the state’s cleanup effort. Texas and Texas taxpayers should not have to bear any cost at all of industry recovery or resiliency planning.

Harvey recovery should be funded by the Economic Stabilization Fund.

It’s called the “Rainy Day Fund” for a reason. Right now the Economic Stabilization Fund has a balance of about $12.5 billion. Governor Abbott declined to call an emergency session to provide Houston with rainy day funds before the 86th session. Now it will be up to the legislature whether to develop an aid package for coastal communities impacted by Harvey. Certainly there is a need for funding from all available sources to continue to the path to recovery and resilience. The Commission to Rebuild Texas did not make a recommendation regarding use of rainy day funds. We recommend the use of rainy day funds and believe they are absolutely necessary to achieve the goal set by the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas: not simply to replace what was destroyed by Harvey, but to increase Texas’ resilience before the next storm.

 

The people of Texas, our first responders, and our government officials deserve credit for their response to Hurricane Harvey. We worked together to minimize the damage from one of the worst natural disasters in state history. Public Citizen commends those who helped out during and after the storm. We commend Governor Abbott for commissioning this report as well. There is work to be done to rebuild and prepare, and the state should follow through with the recommendations in this report.

But there are some areas where the state should go further. Our leaders must be willing to call out climate change for the existential threat that it is. And we must allocate emergency funding when emergencies leave lasting unaddressed need. Texas will not soon forget the lessons from Harvey, nor will the recovery be completed any time soon. This report is a good step forward, but much is left to be done.

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Public Citizen’s Texas office wishes you and your loved ones a safe and happy holiday season.

Our offices will be closed Tuesday, December 25th, Monday, December 31st and Tuesday, January 1st.

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Or, why diversity of energy sources is good, and why you shouldn’t believe misinformation from the fossil fuel industry.

If you’ve heard anything about energy in Texas lately, you may be wondering what our ever-changing market means for the future of energy consumption. How is Texas’ clean energy sector performing? Why are so many coal plants closing? What does it all means for consumers?

The short answer is that the market is changing for the better. Energy remains cheap and we have more clean sources of energy online than ever before. Texas generates so much wind energy, for example, that it outpaces the other 49 states combined.

In order to understand the current state of things, we should start with some basic facts about energy in Texas. There are 28 million people in Texas and 90% of them are served by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). ERCOT predicts our energy needs and ensures that we have sources available to meet them.

Texas’ energy market entered its present state in 1999, when the state legislature deregulated the market by breaking up large public utilities. Before deregulation, consumers relied on one single, local energy provider to generate, distribute, and market energy to consumers. In Houston, for example, that provider was Houston Lighting and Power (HL&P).

In a deregulated market, that single provider is divided into three entities: generators, transmission and distribution, and retail providers. In HL&P’s case, those entities became Reliant Energy, CenterPoint Energy, and what is today known as NRG Energy.

In Texas today, generators compete in an open market to provide energy at the lowest possible price. Transmission and distribution utilities are still regulated by the state—this makes sense, as we don’t wants multiple sets of power lines and transmission infrastructure built by competing entities. Retailers compete for the business of individual energy consumers by offering power contracts at competitive prices.

Market competition can lead to uncertainty. Since deregulation, competition has led to energy getting cheaper and cleaner across Texas. But in recent months the uncertainty inherent in a competitive market has led to some dangerous misinformation.

The Changing Face of Energy in Texas

In addition to deregulation, Texas took other steps to ensure that our state’s energy market continued to improve. We passed the Renewable Portfolio Standard, which set targets for renewable energy generation that were easily surpassed as Texas developed into a clean energy leader. And we invested $7 billion into Competitive Renewable Energy Zones, building transmission infrastructure to bring wind energy generated in West Texas to cities across the state.

These investments paid off, and today Texas provides some of the cheapest, cleanest energy available. We lead the nation in wind energy production, with 24,000 MW of wind capacity and more than 24,000 wind industry jobs across the state. And Texas is rapidly adopting solar energy, with 2,465 MW of solar installed and 8,873 solar jobs.

Meanwhile, older sources of generation—especially coal—are finding it impossible to complete in Texas’ market. This year Vistra energy closed three coal-fired power plants in Texas, Monticello, Sandow, and Big Brown, with a combined capacity of more than 4,600 MW. CPS Energy in San Antonio will close the JT Deely power plant on December 31. AEP announced it will close the 700 MW Olkaunion plant by 2020. And Xcel Energy announced plans to go carbon free by 2050, with an 80% target by 2030, signaling the closure of its five fossil fuel powered plants in Texas. These closures are largely driven by market forces, and although cheap and abundant natural gas plays a starring role in cheap energy in Texas, renewable sources such as wind are increasingly driving markets.

Different stakeholders have responded to these changes in different ways. Many traditional power generators are investing heavily in clean energy sources. (Xcel, for example, will open 12 wind power plants with a combined generation capacity of 3,700 MW by 2021.) Energy Secretary Rick Perry took a more reactionary approach, proposing a dead on arrival plan to subsidize coal, nuclear, and other antiquated sources.

Perry’s ill-advised plan shows the desperation of the fossil fuel industry. Fossil generators know that they may be sitting on some of the largest stranded assets in history, and they are trying anything they can to wring value out of their holdings at the expense of consumers, the planet, and anyone who likes to breathe clean air.

Saving Fossil Fuels: an Exercise in Misinformation

Desperate times call for desperate measures. The fossil fuel industry has marshaled an army of resources to spread the misinformation required to convince Americans that further investment in dirty energy is needed.

These sowers of misinformation rely on the complicated nature of energy markets to promote their agenda. But there’s really only two things an average consumer needs to ask themselves about energy in Texas:

  • Did I experience blackouts this summer?
  • Did I pay more for energy than I expected?

Chances are you answered “No” to both questions, because the market performed just fine last summer. But the fossil fuel lobby has tried to confuse you about what really went on. Here are a few ways they did this.

Myth: “Baseload” means that old, uneconomic sources must stay around for some reason.

Beginning with Secretary Perry’s unfortunate proposal, the idea that “baseload” means something very specific and important for electric reliability gained traction. The argument is that certain sources of energy—coal, nuclear, and natural gas—are inherently more reliable than their clean energy counterparts. A fossil plant can begin generating at the flip of a switch, we are told, whereas wind plants and solar farms must wait for the wind to blow and the sun to shine.

This is misleading for a number of reasons. First of all, energy generation from fossil fuel plants can also experience outages. There are many recent examples of these “baseload” sources not performing in times of crisis. After Hurricane Florence hit the Carolinas in September 2018, solar and wind energy sources were back online the next day. Coal fired power plants were down for two weeks. After Hurricane Harvey in August 2017, NRG had to switch two of the coal-fired units at its WA Parish plant to natural gas for the first time since 2009. The reason? Coal piles were too saturated with rainwater. After Hurricane Maria, Puerto Ricans had trouble getting delivery of the fuel oil they needed to run backup generators. There were even reports of coal piles freezing and becoming unusable during 2014’s famous polar vortex.

Another theory behind the importance of baseload is that fuel can be stored on site. But as the examples above show, fuel storage comes with complications. Reliance on fossil fuel feedstocks also ties Texas’ (and the United States’) energy consumption to global commodities markets. Wind and solar, by contrast, rely on fuel sources that are always free and never tied to the whims of foreign oligarchs.

Myth: Clean energy sources are unreliable

This next sin of clean energy sources is said to be responsible for a host of imagined problems in energy production in Texas. It turns out that the wind doesn’t blow all the time and the sun sets. Solar producers even have to suffer the indignity of solar eclipses. (Watch out America. There’s another one coming in 2024 and another in 2045!)

Because these clean energy sources sometimes cannot produce, we are told that they are hurting energy production in Texas. This is simply not true. Yes, the wind blows at night, but we still consume power at night. Overproducing sources of clean energy have even led to energy prices going negative, a situation in which generators actually paid to put their energy into the market. But far from a perversion of the market, this is just an example of how clean energy sources can reduce prices for consumers—energy prices fluctuate, and a negative price just means lower overall bills. If a given source of generation finds it economic to pay to put power into the market, so much the better for power purchasers.

The idea that generation has to exactly meet demand at all times will soon become obsolete anyway. In Texas, all generators compete for the business of all consumers. We don’t have to purchase energy generated close to us in space; our competitive market allows us to purchase form anyone in the state. (There are still many energy consumers located in places with municipally owned utilities, such as Austin and San Antonio. These consumers do not have purchase choices. But the MOUs they buy from are themselves generating and buying energy in the competitive market.) Soon we won’t have to worry about whether energy is generated close to us in time either. Energy storage devices like batteries are finding their way onto the grid. In the near future, when renewable sources overproduce, they can store energy in batteries for dispatch during periods of high demand. Batteries will also allow us to make more economic investment in energy infrastructure, opting for example to purchase a battery for several hundred thousand dollars instead of spending a few million on new transmission and distribution infrastructure (so called “non-wires alternatives”).

Myth Energy markets will continue to function as they have in the past

Possibly the biggest misconception of energy alarmists is that the energy market will continue to function as it has in decades past. Energy demand will continue to increase and large, centralized sources of generation such as coal and natural gas plants must be built to meet that demand. In reality, there are a number of other mechanisms at play:

  • Energy efficiency measures will slow the steady increase in energy demand.
  • Distributed generation means that a decentralized network of small generation sources (think solar panels on your roof) will supply increasing amount of energy.
  • Demand response programs will allow ERCOT to adjust energy demand in real time, taking some loads offline when demand becomes high.
  • A diversity of sources of generation will compete in an open market to provide cheap, clean, reliable energy to Texans.

This last point is all that the average energy consumer needs to know. There was a conversation before Summer 2018 about whether demand would be tight. The market responded, with marginal participants entering the market to take advantage of anticipated demand. We set records for energy demand this summer, and out reserve margin even slipped below 9%, but ERCOT never initiated any conservation measures and energy prices never spiked too high.

The Future is Bright for Energy Consumers

In other words, back to the average energy consuming Texan: the lights stayed on and the bills stayed low. Energy markets did exactly what they were supposed to do, and they did so with more clean sources such as wind and solar on the grid than ever before.

If this makes a few fossil fuel barons uncomfortable, so much the better. They can slow the progression toward clean sources, but they cannot stop it. We may see in the coming years increasingly desperate attempts by fossil generators to stay profitable in a market where they can no longer compete. We may even make a few missteps along the way—after all, the fossil fuel lobby still dominates Texas—but the outcome is all but certain: clean, reliable energy for all Texans.

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