Unusual coalition of opponents of proposed Marvin Nichols Dam join together and tell Texas Water Development Board: No Dam Way!

It’s not often that representatives of the Texas House of Representatives most associated with the Tea Party join with large timber companies, homeowners and the Sierra Club for a common cause. But that’s exactly what happened in and outside a hearing in Arlington this week, where the Texas Water Development Board and local water utilities hosted a Water Planning public hearing. At issue was the process for adopting the regional and state water plans, and in particular, whether or not a water strategy favored by one region — Region C — basically the Dallas area — which is vehemently opposed by Region D – could be put in the Water Plan without even a reference to the other group’s opposition. The water strategy in question has been on the back burner for some 15 years and is called Marvin Nichols Reservoir. The gigantic reservoir would be placed in Northeast Texas along the Sulphur River and in the process destroy important habitat, homes, businesses and part of the river itself.

James Presley, veteran environmentalist from Texarkana, said the possible mandatory deletion of any reference to Texas’ bitterest water fight struck him as particularly heavy-handed.

“I call this the Chinese solution to a Texas problem,” he said, according to an article by the Dallas Morning News.

Speaking on behalf of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club was former director Dr. Ken Kramer, who decried any process where the TWDB would allow one region’s desired strategy to trump another’s. He asked the TWDB to carefully consider the implications of such a water planning process, pitting one region against another.

If there was a bright spot in the proceedings, it was the unusual coalition of opponents, which included Rep. David Simpson (Rep-Longview), Andrea Williams, staff for Rep. George Lavender (Rep.- Texarakana), Bill Ward of Ward Timber, International Paper, and the Cass County elect judge, Mayor of Douglassville, a big bus of East Texans interested in protecting their homes and Rita Beving, representing the Dallas group of the Sierra Club and a member of the Executive Committee of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Stay tuned for more on this issue.



Sierra Club’s Rita Beving joins Rep. Simpson and others and tells TWDB exactly what they think about Marvin Nichols!







Could Supreme Court Decision Impact ERCOT’s Reliability Needs? ERCOT latest report suggests not.

While there are a lot of what ifs, the recent Supreme Court decision to uphold the EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollutant Rule (CSAPR) at first glance could impact future generation and operating reserves in ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. In fact, back in 2011, in response to a request from the Texas Public Utility Commission, a preliminary analysis from ERCOT found that anywhere from 1,200 MWs to 6,000 MWs of Texas fossil fuel generation might be subject to closure or mothballing because of the impacts of the rules, putting Texas electric reliability at risk, especially at times of high demand or extreme temperatures. While the ERCOT preliminary analysis was admittedly rushed, and made some big assumptions,  it did suggest the timing of implementation of those 2011 proposed rules was going to be challenging for Texas at certain times of year. 

Well three years later, there is continued good news for development of more electric generation in Texas. Just a few days ago, ERCOT released its latest System Planning Monthly Report (March 2014), again showing there is a healthy interest in investing in Texas’s electric market. The report states that ERCOT is currently tracking 230 active generation interconnection requests totaling over 58,100 MWs of power. Again leading the way in these requests are wind — roughly 27,000 MWs in all — natural gas — at roughly the same — and solar — at some 3,300 MWs of power. In fact, the latest planning report shows that installed wind within ERCOT has already reached 11,065 MWs, and the expected amount of wind of those with signed interconnection agreements would reach 19,777 MWs by the end of 2017. 

Some are sure to paint doomsday scenarios where EPA rules — supported by the US Supreme Court — send Texas into a spiraling electric reliability crunch. Those poor coal plants just can’t meet those pollution rules and stay open they will say. While there will be challenges, and there is a need to support strong ancillary services like demand response to keep the lights on, expected investments in both gas, but especially in wind and solar, should keep Texas’ humming along economically. With implementation of CSAPR, we should also get some relief from all that coal pollution. 

US Supreme Courts Upholds EPA’s Cross-State Pollution Rule; Eventually should lead to more controls on Texas coal plants

?????????????In the ongoing tussle between states like Texas that have taken an-anti EPA position, and the Obama Administration and the EPA, the EPA won the latest round, as the US Supreme Court reversed the US Court of Appeals and found that EPA was within its rights to issue a Cross-State Air Polllution Rule (CSPAR) that required “upwind” states to control soot and ozone-forming pollutants that impacted down-wind states. Under the EPA’s rule promulgated in 2012, Texas’s largest and dirtiest coal plants would have been forced to make major reduction in their pollutants which impact nearby states like Arkansas and Oklahoma. Several states, including Texas’s Governor Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbot, immediately intervened and won a victory at the US Court of Appeals. With this week’s ruling, that victory was short-lived.

While it is unlikely that the EPA rule under dispute will be adopted in exactly its current form, expect to see a new EPA proposed rule with a slightly different timeline sooner rather than later. That rule is likely to give states some flexibility but it will require deeper cuts in pollution from Texas’s oldest fossil fuel plants. Likely impacted will be the big coal plants owned by Luminant for example. That’s good news for Texans living near the plant or in nearby cities that suffer the pollution, and also for our neighbors in Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma.  Afterall, it’s called the Good Neighbor Provisions for a reason!

If you want to read Sierra Club’s official position on this amazing legal victory — afterall we were one of many groups that filed a brief in support of the EPA — see this press release from national Sierra Club.

Texas’ Top Coal Owner — Energy Future Holdings — files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy

Well we expected it and it happened. Energy Future Holdings officially filed for bankruptcy in a Delaware Federal Bankruptcy Court. See here for information from EFH. The partnership – Energy Future Holdings —  that bought out TXU in the largest leveraged buy-out — some $45 billion — in history back in 2007 and owned the state’s largest transmission company – ONCOR – the state’s largest generation fleet — Luminant — and the largest retailer – TXU Energy — has had to resort to bankruptcy to product itself against its huge debts. Their bet on big coal plants in Texas’ competitive market has not gone according to plan. Under the reported terms of the bankruptcy deal, EFH will be split up into two units and this time run separately. ONCOR, the regulated transmission, will be protected and run as part of Energy Future Intermediate Holdings, which is part of EFH. Oncor is a regulated utility that operates the power lines serving much of North and West Texas.

Texas Competitive Electric Holdings — which includes the company’s unregulated power company Luminant Generation and retail provider TXU Energy — would be transferred to its first lien lenders in a deal that would eliminate approximately $23 billion of its debt, the company said in a news release. This would include the three mega oal plants — Big Brown, Monticello and Martin Lake – which are the subject of numerous Sierra Club legal actions and enforcement cases. How their new owners plan to run these plants is still unknown. We hope they put them on a just transition toward retirement and invest in cleaner forms of energy. Stay tuned for more!



Multiple New Reports Show Energy Efficiency Can Save Texas Businesses and Families More — Much Less Costly Than New Electric Power Sources

efficencyThis past month, Texas’ investor-owned transmission and distribution utilities filed their annual energy efficiency reports with the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) reporting on the savings produced through the state’s energy efficiency program. The results demonstrated that the programs are reaching their potential, but much more can be done.

The filings indicated that the 10 utilities reduced over 415 megawatts (MW) of peak electric demand in 2013, while saving Texas consumers nearly 550,000 megawatt hours (MWh) of energy through energy efficiency programs. The utilities reported that their 2014 program offerings are expected to produce a similar, but slightly lower amount of additional peak energy demand reduction and energy savings.

One MW is enough to power about 200 homes during periods when electric use is highest and about 500 homes during mild weather when less electricity is being consumed.

Furthermore, the 10 utilities only spent $136 million on these programs in 2013, meaning that the average cost per kilowatt of demand reduced was $328 and the average cost per kilowatt hour (kWh) saved was less than 3 cents per kWh, based on the 11-year average lifespan of the programs. Instead of the average home/business having to pay 8 cent to 12 cent for a kWh, these energy efficiency programs enabled the average home/business to avoid using that energy at a cost of less than 3 cents per kWh, while also reducing peak demand at a fraction of the cost to build new generation to meet that peak demand.

The utility reports confirm data from two recent national reports from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory that found that statewide utility energy efficiency programs continue to save energy and peak demand at a fraction of the price of generating additional electricity through traditional means. At about three cents per kilowatt hour, Texas programs are in the middle of the cost of programs throughout the nation.

“Once again, the utility energy efficiency programs continue to be a great value for Texas consumers, helping to reduce energy costs while helping meet energy demand through weatherization for working Texans, incentives for green homes, better windows, better air conditioners, better pool pumps and better insulation, as well as demand response to reduce loads during periods of peak demand,” said Cyrus Reed, Chapter Director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. “The average cost of a peak kilowatt reduced was much less than would be required to build a new power plant, while the average kilowatt hour of energy saved over its lifetime was far lower than the average cost for the same amount of energy that would be generated by a traditional power plant.”

While the utilities’ energy efficiency programs continued to grow slightly in 2013, expected demand reduction and energy savings is actually expected to shrink slightly to about 350 MWs of demand reduction and 545,000 MW hours, in the next two years. Two factors are constricting the ability for energy efficiency to realize its full potential.

The Public Utility Commission set strict cost restrictions on the amount of money utilities are allowed to charge the public for the programs, even though the programs themselves must be shown to be cost-effective and save more money than they cost. Thus, utilities can not raise their “Energy Efficiency Cost Recovery Factor” above the cap – except by inflation – set by the PUC in 2012 to pay for the programs, in essence putting an upper limit on the amount of peak demand and energy savings they can help customers achieve.

The second factor is the result of a controversial rule established by the PUC in 2012 allows commercial customers who are connected to an industrial facility to opt out of the programs, which means they neither pay for nor participate in any of the programs, even though they benefit, along with all customers, from lower overall prices and increased reliability because of reduced demand and system benefits. However, as the numbers of participants is lowered, the utility budgets and goals for the programs have shrunk.

“It’s time for the PUC and the Legislature to revisit our cheapest form of meeting our electrical demand, and raise our energy efficiency goals to at least 1 percent of peak demand, raise or eliminate the artificial cost caps and require all commercial and residential customers to participate in the programs,” noted Reed.

Earth Day 2014: Keep the celebration going!

household_cleanersHappy (belated) Earth Day! Some celebrate the entire month of April as Earth Month, but we at the Lone Star Chapter would like to think that we work to protect the environment every day of the year (minus holidays and weekends, of course.)   In an effort to educate the public how each one of us can lessen our impact on the Earth’s resources every day of the year, the EPA has released its list of tips to act on climate change. Here’s a sampling of their tips, with some our own staff picks added to the mix for good measure:

1. Compost your food scraps and yard waste
Composting reduces the amount of waste sitting in landfills by nearly 34%. Everything from your vegetable and fruit scraps, egg shells, coffee grounds, grass clippings, to dryer lint can be composted. Composting can be as simple as throwing your scraps into a well shut container in your kitchen or you can build your own outdoor compost, check out this website to learn how to cheaply build your own.

2. Consider some new options before you clean out that garage or closet.
Before you throw something away to be hauled off to a landfill, consider your options. You could give it away to Goodwill or your local thrift store or post items on websites like Freecycle or Craigslist.  It is also possible to swap your belongings for something new by earning points with Yerdle. Or you could use your creativity to make it into something new.  Check out sites like Pinterest for ways to look at your old unwanteds in a whole new light.

3. Change your light bulbs
Have you not changed all of your light bulbs to Energy Star bulbs yet? According to the EPA, if you and four of your friends replaced five 60-watt light bulbs with 13-watt Energy Star bulbs, it would save over 50,000 pounds of carbon pollution over the life of the bulb. That’s equivalent to the annual carbon pollution from 5 passenger vehicles; the carbon pollution associated with 2,780 gallons of gasoline; or 3.4 homes’ electricity use for one year.

4. Bring your reusable bags
Some Texas cities already have or are working towards banning plastic bags. No matter where you live, you can do your part by bringing along a reusable bag when you go shopping. To further cut down on plastic waste, avoid buying bottled water on the run, and instead fill up your own reusable bottle at home to bring with you wherever you go. Don’t forget that you bring along your own coffee mug when going to a coffee shop. Places like Satrbucks will even give you 10% off.

5. Bike!
Ok. We know. In Texas, it’s usually either too dang hot or too dang cold to be outside for more than a nanoescond, but it’s Spring!  Take some time to enjoy the weather while you still can.  If you need to run down to the corner store or gym, how about keeping the car in the garage, and taking the bike out for a spin instead? If your community is not very bike-friendly, get involved with your local government and promote an urban trails program.  Your community will thank you later.

6. Make Cleaners from Home
Household cleaners often contain toxins that are bad for your health and the environment. Instead of spending money on chemical ridden cleaners you can beat the system by making cleaners right in your own kitchen. In fact, chances are pretty good that you already have all of the supplies! Most household cleaners can be made from basic ingredients such as: baking soda, white vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, fresh herbs and citrus, olive or vegetable oil, and water. For a full  list of how to make everything from bathroom cleaners to laundry detergent to wood polish and beyond, click here.

7. Eat more vegetarian meals
The United Nations reports that 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions results from the livestock supply chain. Feed production and processing, methane produced during animal digestion, manure decomposition, and processing and transporting livestock all factor into this equation. The amount of water used in producing  meat is also thousands of times greater than in vegetable production. By increasing your vegetarian intake you can reduce greenhouse emissions and help save on water.

8. Use Water Sense Showers
Water is becoming an ever more precious resource in Texas. If every home in the United States replaced existing shower heads with WaterSense-labeled models, we could save more than 2.2 billion in water utility bills, prevent carbon pollution and save more than 260 billion gallons of water annually.

9. Fill your dishwasher
You don’t need to jump the gun on washing a half-empty load of dishes. Wait until it’s full. Filling the dishwasher can prevent 100 pounds of carbon pollution and save you $40 per year on your water bill.

10. Use a smart thermostat
A programmable thermostat can save you about $180 every year in energy costs. Some models, allow you to warm and cool your home remotely before you return from a long workday. Check with you utility provider to see if rebates are available in your area.

11. Be a better driver!
Why stop at ten items, when we can add an eleventh?   This one is for you – bad drivers of Texas. (Of course, we’re not talking to you, dear reader.) It turns out that being an overly aggressive, angry driver is not only bad for your mental health (and those around you), it’s not that great for environment either. Aggressive driving can reduce your gas mileage by 33% on the highway and 5% in the city.   That can be a expensive hissy-fit, so invest in some meditation tapes and take the anger off the roads.

An Electric Car Company Makes a Proposition to the Big Oil State

Tesla-gigafactoryTesla, the electric car manufacturer led by Silicon Valley billionaire, Elon Musk, is considering four locations for what would become the world’s largest battery factory, producing 30 gigawatt hours of energy per year. Among the prospective hosts for the gigafactory are Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas. The factory is projected to provide $5 billion in direct investment and create approximately 6,500 jobs to the lucky community chosen to host the site.

Wherever the new Tesla plant is built, the factory itself will represent a giant step forward in the effort to create new technologies that reduce our carbon footprint. While adding more fuel-less cars on our roadways would reduce our mobile emissions, Tesla seems to also be mindful of the impact that production of such vehicles can have on the environment and climate. Tesla plans to source only North American raw materials for battery production, and post-production of the battery will only need to be transported to their headquarters in California. The factory itself will be run on solar and wind sources operated at the plant, while using batteries to store excess generated energy.

The plant is projected to increase the company’s production from 35,000 vehicles a year (2013 production) to 500,000 cars a year by 2020. The cost of the battery will be reduced by 30%, eventually allowing Tesla to not only sell luxury vehicles costing over $70,000 but to also sell a sedan at a mere $35,000, the average price for a vehicle.

The timing of this cheaper sedan couldn’t be better for Tesla. The Obama administration has declared that all tailpipe emissions must be reduced by 80% by 2018. If mainstream car companies are forced to compete with a low-cost, zero-emissions alternative, in the not too distant future, an 80% reduction goal might seem conservative in retrospect.

Texas, specifically San Antonio, is one of the most desirable sites for the gigafactory. By placing the factory in Texas, Tesla would extend its influence from California to second largest state in the union. Texas has an ample number of skilled workers available to fill positions at the new plant, and it is also the only state that isn’t landlocked which makes it perfect for exporting new goods. Despite the significant benefits of placing the factory here in Texas, there is a major legislative roadblock preventing Tesla from selecting the Lone Star state.

The greatest threat Musk sees to the success of his electric cars is selling them through a traditional dealership. “Existing franchise dealers have a fundamental conflict of interest between selling gasoline cars, which constitute the vast majority of their business and selling the new technology of electric cars,” Musk wrote. For the success of Tesla, Musk sees no other option than direct sale to consumer.

In some states, including Texas, it is illegal for car companies to sell directly to consumers. Car dealers claim that the dealership model encourages a healthy auto market because dealers must compete with other dealers on pricing.  Tesla prefers to sell its products directly to consumers, cutting out the middleman and the additional cost to consumers.

Currently there are two Tesla stores in Texas, located in Austin and in Houston, with a third coming to Dallas. These stores operate legally as “showrooms” with a layout very similar to that of Apple stores. A model car sits on the floor with sales representatives waiting to assist customers. However, in order to comply with the law the salesperson cannot answer questions about leasing, financing, pricing, the reservation process, servicing or warranties; customers aren’t even permitted to test drive the cars.

Why would Tesla want to benefit a state that won’t even allow them to disclose the price of their vehicle? This is the major hurdle that the Texas legislature would have to address before Tesla would give Texas the thumbs up.

Amazingly, Governor Perry seems to side with Tesla, acknowledging that “the cachet of being able to say we put that manufacturing facility in your state is hard to pass up.” Perry believes legislatures need to have the discussion about whether the “antiquated” law still needs to exist, though he has opted to not bring the Legislature back for a special session to consider the issue. The question as to whether the company will wait until 2015 to decide on the location of the new plant – when the Texas Legislature comes back to Austin for its biennial regular session – remains to be seen.