Category Archives: Austin

Austin City Council approves negotiation with SunEdison for 150 MWs of West Texas Sunshine!

Yesterday, the Austin City Council approved a resolution to direct Austin Energy to negotiate a deal to procure up to 150 MWs of solar power from West Texas through a Power Purchase Agreement with SunEdison. Austin Energy will return next week to City Council with a more detailed contract for final approval. Under the limited information that has been released publicly and discussed at City Council yesterday, Austin Energy GM Larry Weis explained that the deal was a take and pay contract where Austin Energy is only obligated to pay for any electricity generated by the plant at a fixed rate of roughly $50 per MWh or 5 cents per KWh. That is well below the retail rate paid for by Austin Energy consumers and is often below the wholesale market rate of energy in Texas, especially during hot summer days when solar produces the most electricity.

While recent press articles suggest that some California utilities are pursuing even cheaper PPAs, the announced price of $45 to $55 per MWh would represent the lowest price in the US that we could find thus far and is a game-changer in the energy industry. As an example, Austin Energy’s deal with the Webberville solar PV plant costs roughly $165 per MWh, and was only built four years ago. While AE was originally only looking for 50 MW of solar capacity in this latest request, they took a larger position because the price is so much cheaper than expected. Weis said on Thursday that while more solar was available at similar prices, his recommendation for the moment was not to go beyond the 150 MWs of additional solar to be built by 2016 until Austin Energy does a fuller review of all its energy needs, future costs and scenarios. Previously City Council has asked Austin Energy to consider doubling their solar goal from 200 to 400 MWs by 2020, as recommended by the Local Solar Advisory Council, a position supported by the Sierra Club. Austin Energy has said wait until we update our generation plan.

 

The Webberville Project: Near Austin, Texas

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Separately, the Austin City Council is expected to name an Austin Energy Generation Task Force to begin looking at Austin Energy’s medium-range plans for future generation through 2024, including solar energy, its use of the existing coal and gas plants and the role of energy storage and demand response. In fact, Mayor Lee Leffingwell went ahead and announced his pick to the Generation Task Force: Spansion Facilities Engineer Barry Dreyling, who should be well versed on energy issues for large industrial consumers. Stay tuned for more info next week

Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director, Lone Star Chapter

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Austin’s 10-Year Energy Plan: Ramp Up Renewables, or Double Down on Fossil Fuels?

Stop Dirty Coal Rally, Austin, Texas

***MEDIA ADVISORY FOR TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 25th***

FOR PLANNING PURPOSES

Contact:
Dave Cortez, Sierra Club Beyond Coal,
David.Cortez@SierraClub.Org, 512-736-7600
Kaiba White, Public Citizen, Kwhite@citizen.org, 607-339-9854

Austin Energy Ratepayers Rally to Expand Affordable Renewable Energy Goals in Energy Plan Update 

WHAT: Clean Energy Rally Following First Austin Energy Stakeholder Meeting

WHERE: Front Lawn, Austin Energy HQ, Town Lake Center, 721 Barton Springs Road
WHEN: Tuesday, February 25th at 12:15 pm
(following the conclusion of Austin Energy’s first stakeholder meeting)

WHO:  Hosted by the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign and Public Citizen

VISUALS FOR CAMERAS: We’ll have 30 Austin Energy Ratepayers wearing yellow shirts and holding clean energy signs next to a large solar panel. A coal lobbyist clad in a suit and a large black smokestack costume will be doing all he can to remove the solar panel from the rally. Parents and children will also be in attendance to highlight the need to plan for clean future for our kids.
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Coal Monster
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FULL SCHEDULE OF AE STAKEHOLDER MEETINGS: 

Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014 – 10 a.m. to Noon
Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014 – 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014 – 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Austin Energy Headquarters
Town Lake Cntr
721 Barton Springs Road
First floor assembly room

AUSTIN – On Tuesday, February 25th at 12:15 PM CT, dozens of yellow-shirt clad Austinities will rally in support of clean energy and moving beyond fossil fuels outside of Austin Energy headquarters following the first of three stakeholder input meetings on the proposed 10-year update to the Austin Energy Resource, Generation, and Climate Protection Plan.

Austin Energy has given no indication that it will incorporate City Council’s recommendation that the solar energy goal be expanded to 400 megawatts by 2020 – enough to power about 50,000 homes. Nor has it suggested increasing the overall renewable energy goal, despite the fact that it’s already has contracts to meeting the current goal 4 years early. Instead, the utility is proposing to keep the Fayette coal plant running through 2025 and to build an additional 800 megawatt fracked gas plant.

The rally is hosted by the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign and Public Citizen.

Find Out What is Keeping Our Parks in the Dark

Imagine a permanent haze smothering the panoramic view from the peak of your favorite hike at Big Bend in Texas, the Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma, or the Caney Creek Wilderness Area in Arkansas. Read on to learn how to prevent your childhood memories from being clouded over by pollution.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is finalizing a decision on whether dirty Texas coal plants will continue to release their haze air pollution without regulation. This haze pollution damages our beloved National Parks (NP) and wilderness areas in Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.

Image 1.1  - Pictures taken from Big Bend and Guadalupe on Clear and Hazy Days to illustrate the immense differences in visibility.Photo Credit: NPCA

Image 1.1 – Pictures taken from Big Bend and Guadalupe on Clear and Hazy Days to illustrate the immense differences in visibility.Photo Credit: NPCA

Haze is a visible and quantifiable measure of the levels of specific pollutants such as Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) and Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) that cause haze in the atmosphere (See image 1.1). These specific haze pollutants are released in large quantities from the northern and eastern Texas coal plants. The pollution travels from these locations into federally protected national parks in four surrounding areas: Big Bend NP, Guadalupe Mountains NP, Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge, and Caney Creek Wilderness Area.

EPA is finalizing its decision for whether Texas coal plants have to follow the same kinds of rules for SO2 and NOx pollution that other out-of-state plants have to strictly follow. Strong standards would ensure the protection of our national parks and federal lands. The decision will play a pivotal role in propelling Texas towards a breathable future.

The Texas Commission for Environmental Quality (TCEQ),  the state environmental agency in Texas, proposed a do-nothing plan that would allow the biggest polluters to keep on pumping out visibility and health-harming pollution. With an obsolete plan that requires no changes, no progress towards clear skies, EPA should reject the TCEQ plan and take action to protect the our environment until the coal plants in Texas do their fair share like many other out-of-state power plants.

How do I get started? Call EPA and ask them to follow the law and protect the environment from old, dirty, unregulated Texas coal plants. Tell them that the law requires EPA to hold polluters accountable and that they need to implement a plan that protects our national parks and defends public health by reducing pollutant emissions. As other states like Oklahoma move forward by reducing their power plant emissions, Texas coal plants should not be the forgotten and left in the dark.

With just a few minutes of your day, you could have an impact that lasts through generations – Let’s work together to get EPA to make the right decision! Click Here! 

by Sarah Sharif

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Invasive Species: Zebra Mussels Now In Texas

InfoCross_2_Strayer_USGS_zebra_mussel_map

Zebra mussels are an invasive species in the US. They first arrived in 1988 on European ships ballast. Lack of predators against the zebra mussels gave them the ability to infest eastern US waterways from the start. When they arrived here they increased competition for native aquatic species. They attach to our boats and are hard to see because they are only about an inch long. Zebra mussels spread faster than bunny rabbits- they multiply by producing about one million larvae per one single zebra mussel. Texas should be worried about their lakes because as you can see in the graph, they’ve now spread down here. According to texasinvasives.org, “Zebra mussels can cause tremendous environmental and economic damage – hurting aquatic life, damaging your boat, hindering water recreation and even threatening your water supply.” Find out about if zebra mussel are in our area here.

So what can you do? Firstly, you can spread awareness. Many people don’t know what invasive species are. Spreading awareness brings attention to people like Dan Molloy, a researcher who is trying to find a “natural killer” to eradicate the pests. You can find more information about his research here in this short article. You can also go on outings to help get rid of the zebra mussels.

Zebra mussels attach to many parts of your boat and clean thrive for days. To make sure they aren’t attached to your boat, clean all parts of, drain it completely, and dry the boat for at least a week before entering into a new body of water.

October storms kicking drought to the curb?

Aside from our lust garden boxes and rinsing off pollen from our cars the storms in mid-October added roughly 50,000 acre-feet to lakes Travis and Buchanan, pushing the lakes’ combined storage to more than 700,000 acre-feet for the first time since August 2011. 2011 was the driest year ever for Texas, with an average of only 14.8 inches of rain. The only comparable drought occurred during the 1950s, but no single year during that drought was as dry as 2011. It rained really hard here in Austin, but we can’t capture or store that water. We have no way to stop it from flowing downstream.stevie ray vahn at auditorium shores

The weekend storms are a good illustration of why the lower Colorado River basin needs not just rain, but rain in the right spot, to significantly increase the region’s water supply.

Parts of Austin were hit with as much as 12 inches of rain over the Oct. 12 weekend, turning Barton Creek into a raging river and flooding areas of South Austin. The heaviest rain fell in Austin near Barton Creek, which empties into Lady Bird Lake downstream of Lake Travis. That water cannot be captured downstream of Mansfield Dam in the Highland Lakes reservoirs and is flowing down the Colorado River toward Matagorda Bay, this influx of fresh water will help the health of Matagorda Bay.

It’s critical for rain to fall upstream of Austin in the lakes’ watershed. This is an 11,700 square-mile area upstream of Austin and stretching to the north and west out past Fredericksburg, Junction, Brady and San Saba. Lakes upstream of Austin, Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan, only gained about 20,000 acre-feet of water from the storm, most of that was in to Lake Travis.  The measurement there was acre-feet, by definition one acre-foot is 43,560 U.S. survey cubic feet. To us that’s less than 2 percent of the water needed to refill the lakes. But the lakes’ combined storage is 35 percent of capacity, still there is no end to the drought in sight.

 LCRA’s idea is to build a reservoir in Wharton County near the Gulf Coast with the intention to take advantage of rain events like these in the future, so that the flows that enter the Colorado River downstream of Lake Travis can be held for later use. The new reservoir is expected to be complete by 2017.

Nobody is singing rain rain go away come back another day. We have all experienced the drought as it’s has helped drain reservoirs , fuel wildfires, ruin crops and put a real strain on the state’s electric grid. bastrop fire

In February 2013, the state climatologist told the Texas Legislature that high temperatures related to climate change have exacerbated the drought. He said that the state temperature has increased by an average of about 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1970s.

This is what we looked like as of April 2011

This U.S. Drought Monitor map is released each week.

Meanwhile, I’m going to  learn a step or two from the indigenous as they managed to make it through the sizzling summers without our technology, but as always we’ll take any and all rain.

Coal Pollution Effects on Human Health

Coal fired power plants are the single largest source of pollution in any country. http://saferenvironment.wordpress.com/2008/09/05/coal-fired-power-plants-and-pollution/

Coal fired power plants are the single largest source of pollution in any country.

Coal-fired power plant emissions contribute to global warming, ozone smog, acid rain, regional haze, and – perhaps most consequential of all from a public health standpoint- fine particle pollution. Emissions from the U.S. power sector cause tens of thousands of premature deaths each year, and hundreds of thousands of heart attacks, asthma attacks, hospital admissions, and lost workdays. So why are these power plants still up and running, and more importantly, why are there still planned developments of new plants?

To simplify things, public health concerns have focused, for at least the last decade, on the role of very small airborne particles in causing or contributing to various forms of respiratory and cardiopulmonary ailments and increasing the risk of premature death. These fine particles are particularly dangerous because they can bypass your body’s defensive mechanisms and become lodged deep inside your lungs. In fact, research also indicates that short-term exposures to fine particle pollution is linked to cardiac effects, including increased risk of heart attack. Meanwhile, long-term exposure to fine particle pollution has been shown to increase the risk of death from cardiac and respiratory diseases and lung cancer, resulting in shorter life-expectancy for people living in the most polluted cities. So who are the people that are most likely to be exposed to these health risks? In general, the poor, minority groups, and people who live in the areas downwind of multiple power plants. And unfortunately, persistent elevated levels of fine particle pollution are common across wide areas of the U.S., mainly in the east.

The adverse effects, including abnormally high levels of mortality, occur even at low ambient concentrations of fine particles—suggesting there is no “safe” threshold for this type of pollution. Since most fine particle-related deaths are thought to occur within a year or two of exposure, reducing power plant pollution will have almost immediate benefits. Below is a very nice table that I found from Physicians for Social Responsibility, outlining various diseases/conditions connected to coal pollutants.

Coal Pollution vs human Health

As it stands, we are at a turning point for determining the U.S.’s future energy policies. The health consequences tied to coal production are vast and have major impacts. We need to address the issue of coal-fired energy production, and we need to address it now. There should be NO new construction of coal fired power plants, and we must initiate plans to retire as many coal plants as possible that are currently in production.

Finally, as a nation, we must develop our capacity to produce energy from clean, safe, renewable sources in order to phase out the existing coal plants without compromising the ability to meet the nations energy needs. Instead of investing any more of our money into coal, the U.S. should fund conservation measures, energy efficiency, and renewable energy sources such as wind energy and solar power, which don’t have such a negative effect on public health.

Written by: Courtney Dunphy

The Corporate Coup and TPP

Written By:  Stephen Agwu, Labor & Trade Intern, Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter

The Corporate Coup

Systems of governance have always encountered entities which would create laws against/circumvent the will of the people. In grade school, we all learned that the Magna Carta started the proverbial wheel which eventually drove western society toward the height of democratic ideals, not seen since the time of ancient Greece. What is good to remember about these ideals is that the proverbial wheel goes both ways.

There has always been, and currently are, forces that would deny  the people their democratic voice. At this time there are corporations vying for their private interest, which seeks to overthrow the autonomous control of the people and their governments. This corporate coup d’état is being driven by the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations. The TPP is a set of secret negotiations being conducted between trans-pacific countries such as Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, Chile, Peru, and other countries such as the USA, Mexico, and Canada.

tpp

The negotiations include 29 chapters (with only about five focused on trade) with known topics ranging from intellectual property to investor state arbitration. Because the negotiations only take input from 600 of USA’s top corporations and none from average citizens, it is the corporation’s interest that is negotiated in place of the people of the USA, and it is corporations that are achieving their goal at the expense of the consumer. The fact that corporations are using these negotiations to create a set of rules that would benefit themselves while being deleterious to the majority of the population is not the main problem (you can decide how deleterious these changes are as these changes are illuminated later). The problem is the fact that their means for creating these set of laws involves circumventing our democratic principles.

Establishing Corporate Rule as Government Law

The important thing to remember about TPP is that of its 29 chapters, only about 5 pertain to traditional trade law (tariffs, subsidies, etc). The main point of the TPP is to get all the participating countries to conform to a set of non-trade related regulatory policies. For example, lets do a more in depth analysis of the effect TPP would have on copyrights and patents on intellectual properties, and other protections investors would gain with the ratification of TPP (this example is used because it is one of the few chapters leaked to the public).

Investor State Arbitration is one of most far-reaching clauses of TPP. This provides the corporation investing in a foreign country investment protection that ranges from patents with pharmaceuticals and information technologies, to changes in the host countries laws and practices. Investor state arbitration provides the investing corporation a means to enforce TPP standards and protect any investment that company might make.

An example of what would call for a investor state arbitration can be found here, with a focus on the suit filed by the Swedish company on the German government. In summary, Germany made a move to phase out nuclear energy following the tragic nuclear explosion which took place in Japan, their reason being the safety of their citizens and the safety of the environment. The protections offered to investors, however, allow the Swedish corporation to sue the German government for potential loss of profits due to their change in policy.

The point is that the people of Germany, which its government represents, are now under the rule of the Swedish investing corporation. The German government has lost autonomous control over its policies and laws which conflict with foreign corporate interest.

Under the TPP, this would become the standard. An international tribunal would be created, with corporate lawyers presiding as judges in the hearings. These judges will be able to assess loss of profits and bring government and domestic policies under the watchful eye of domestic and foreign corporations.

The implications are far, and frankly, terrifying. Take the Keystone XL pipeline, for example. If a foreign investor, say China, were to invest in the pipeline in Canada, then Canadians would need Chinese permission to stop the pipeline from operating. What’s worse, the investor need not worry about environmental or health cost or externalities because any attempt the host government made to protect themselves, or internalize the cost to the investors could land them in the international tribunal court. Environmentally speaking, the use of “dirty” energy would be further ingrained in society because the people may be unable to monetarily afford to democratically change their laws under the pressure from foreign corporations (more on environmental impact here, and for investor state impact here).

Medicinal and Pharmaceutical copyrights and patents would be more uniform under TPP. Patents on pharmaceuticals would continue to last for 20 years, but even more extensive patent protections would be introduced onto the world stage. This would make the process of “evergreening” or the extensions of patents over a drug more frequent and longer lasting (very nearly indefinite). TPP would also require that surgical practices, treatments, and medical tests be patented, reducing its availability in less affluent nations.

If these TPP measures are enacted, a rise in the global cost of health would ensue as generic drugs became less available. At the same time, medical practices and innovations would not focus on the most prevalent diseases if the people afflicted came from a poorer nations, because they would not be able to afford rights to the patent, instead innovation would be monetarily driven to less prevalent diseases that afflicted more affluent people. Both these patent protections would drive the global medical industry towards one that is focused on making money from the consumer, not one which focused on making the consumer healthy, much like the one in the USA, which is considered highly inefficient when it comes to treatment cost per capita (more on Medical impact of TPP here and here )

The Intellectual Properties chapters would seem very familiar to anyone familiar with the Stop Internet Piracy Act (SOPA) of 2011-12. SOPA was an attempt to redefine copyright infringement so as to combat online piracy. The act was controversial in its redefinition of copyright infringement and ended up never being drafted as a bill due to widespread public protest against such legislation.

TPP seeks to not only bring back such copyright re-definitions, but to make them global. Similarities include the criminality of unauthorized streaming of copyright content (even if it is not for profit), blocking of sites which facilitate copyright infringement, and allowing copyright owners to interfere with a sites ability to host advertising. (For a full account of TPP chapter of information technology click here, for SOPA click here). The danger of this provision in TPP is that as a democracy we have already expressed our discontent at such changes. SOPA attempted to make these changes through the proper democratic processes and failed. TPP should not be able to force these changes upon a democratic body which has voted against it. (More here).

TPP revitalizes SOPA without public input

TPP revitalizes SOPA without public input

The secrecy in which the negotiations are being held can be identified as the main moral problems with TPP. The specific problems highlighted in the leaked chapters highlight other problems which all consumers would be subjected to at the hands of corporate investors, but they are moot points if these trade laws were to be debated in public.

The rub is that the negotiators know this. As it is, only a select 600 corporations and the United States Trade representatives are allowed to participate in the negotiation process. Other members of congress may view the document, but are forbidden to talk of it. When asked why the need for secrecy, US Trade Representative Ron Kirk claimed the secrecy was needed to preserve negotiation strength. He and all the business men of every country know that if this information reached the ears of the masses we would revolt. We would shoot these propositions down quickly, decisively, and most importantly, democratically. If that wasn’t enough, there are even talks of using fast track negotiation authority which would prevent the public from seeing the final TPP proposal, and our lawmakers from amending the document before it is ratified. (More here).

The Fight What we must realize is that more is at stake than the individual mandates which change copyright infringement laws, or the duration of patents. What is at stake is the ability for the people to be able to decide these changes themselves. What is at stake is the fundamental principle of democracy which we have established in our government; the ability to contribute the formation of laws and to have litigation contested by our peers; not to have laws decided and evaluated for us like commoners had done for them by nobles.

The time of the Magna Carta may have passed, but the fight for democratic control over the decisions made in society still wages. In our time the players are corporations and their personal interest using the vehicle called the Trans-Pacific Partnership as a means to create a new nobility system which supersedes the democratic body of the people represented by their government. To put it shortly, the TPP is corporations attempting to assume over governments, and through governments, the individual. We must fight back! As the dream of America has progressed it is believed that the democratic ideals for which this country was founded on has extended through demographics: to women, to the African American ethnicity and now the frontier of sexual orientation.

Though the United States practice of democracy has not always been perfect, we all would like to believe that each year, each generation, we come closer to achieving these ideals. In order to continue to move forward we must get the TPP to be discussed openly and with input from all demographics so as to achieve an end that benefits all those in society.

*Interested in this topic and want to get involved? Its as easy as getting in contact with your representative and demanding that they release the negotiations over TPP to the public. Or you can like or comment on this blog post. Comment on the blog and lets make change happen together!