Tag Archives: clean energy

Austin City Council and Electric Utility Commission name 8 of 9 members of Austin Energy Generation and Resource Planning Task Force; approves 150 MW solar plant

This week, the Austin City Council officially named 7 of the 9 members of the Austin Generation and Resource Planning Task Force, while the Electric Utility Commission named their member, solar advocate and local attorney Clay Butler. Remaining to be named is a member of the Resource Management Commission, which is expected to meet on April 15th to choose their member. Word on the street is the first meeting of the new Task Force will be April 16th. Task force is expected to make final recommendations on Austin Energy’s Generaton Plan through 2024 in June. Sierra Club will be on the committee through our Lone Star Chapter Conservation Director Cyrus Reed, who served on the original task force in 2010. The Task Force will look at future of solar, wind, energy efficiency, gas and coal in Austin’s generation portfolio. 

In other news, Austin City Council did approve the 150 MW SunEdison solar contract at a reported 4.8 cents per kilowatt hour. The two utility-scale projects would be built in West Texas and be operational by 2016, at which time Austin Energy would meet its 35% renewable energy goals. 


1. Barry Dreyling, Spansion (Mayor Leffingwell)

2. Cyrus Reed, Sierra Club (Mayor Pro Tem Cole)

3. Michele Van Hyfte, Seton (Council Member Spelman)

4. MIchael Osborne, Former VP at Austin Energy (Council Member Riley)

5. Tom “Smitty” Smith, Public Citizen (Council Member Morrison)

6. Carol Biedrzyck, Texas ROSE (Council Member Martinez)

7. Mike Sloan, Virtus Energy (Council Member Tovo)

8. Clay Butler, Butler Firm (Electric Utility Commission representative)

9. To Be Named,  Resource Management Commission 

Sierra Club turns up the heat in February in Texas with lawsuits and rate interventions against coal plants, oil refineries

Sometimes one doesn’t realize how active Sierra Club is throughout the state — from Houston, to Waco to West Texas. One only need look at February 2013 as an example. First,  the Sierra Club and Environment Texas is taking Exxon Mobil’s Baytown refinery and chemical plant to federal court in Houston, calling on the court to intervene by ordering the Irving-based oil giant to comply with its permits and issuing stiff penalties. Under a provision of the Clean Air Act that allows citizens to go to court to enforce the law in the absence of government action, Sierra Club and Environment Texas are claiming that the  company over an eight-year period illegally released about 5,000 tons of toxic pollutants into the air from its Baytown site. Previous filed Clean Air Act lawsuits against Chevron and Shell led to negotiated agreements that have cleaned up the air, but Exxon Mobil preferred to go to court. 

Second, in Waco, Texas this week, Sierra Club’s lawyers are alleging that Luminant’s large coal plants in East Texas are illegally spewing out far more pollution than is authorized by state and federal law and their permits. Essentially, Sierra Club is taking this “enforcement” action because our own regulatory agency — the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality — and the EPA have refused to. A recent article in the New York Times makes mention of how groups like Environment Texas and Sierra Club are taking these legal steps because of the lack of transparency and enforcement activity by our regulators. 

Finally, just last week, Sierra Club filed to intervene in a rate case in West Texas, where Southwestern Public Service Company is asking the Public Utility Commission if it can raise its rates and tariffs by approximately 10%. One of the reasons they cite in raising rates in West Texas is the need to clean up their coal plant to meet environmental regulations. Sierra Club member –as our motion to intervene makes clear — “have a unique interest in avoiding imprudent expenditures on coal-burning power plants, and ensuring that lower-cost demand-side management and renewable energy resources are fully developed.” In other words, maybe efficiently retiring one or more of the coal plant units, while adding new resources would ultimately be cheaper and better for the customers of SPS. A copy of our motion can be found here

New Study Finds 4,100 Solar Jobs in Texas: Texas Jumps to Sixth Place in National Rankings

AUSTIN, TX – A new report from The Solar Foundation (TSF), a national non-profit research organization, finds more than 4,100 Texans are now working in the solar power industry, marking a 28 per cent increase in solar jobs in one year. In addition, Texas has moved up to sixth place in national rankings for solar jobs, from eighth in 2012. Texas is also leading the nation in wind power production, and today’s new solar report clearly positions Texas as a clean energy leader. Growth in Texas solar power has been spurred by strong public policy, public and private investment that will continue to pay dividends and create jobs.

“Falling solar prices combined with enormous solar resources will make Texas a huge solar market. With some smart policy, jobs in the solar industry could easily double or triple in the next three to five years,” said David Dixon, Chief Operating Officer for Native Inc. Native and the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter have partnered to bring residential rooftop solar and green building upgrades to Sierra Club members across Texas.

Texas’s largest municipal electric utilities – CPS Energy in San Antonio and Austin Energy in Austin – have enacted strong residential policies and incentives for rooftop solar power, spurring growth and leading to hundreds of rooftop solar installations in the two cities, enough to power hundreds of homes and small business. In addition, CPS Energy announced a contract with OCI Solar to build 400 MWs of utility-scale solar by 2017, powering 10 per cent of homes in the San Antonio area. CPS Energy will flip the switch on its first solar power project this year, producing the first utility-scale solar power for the utility.

“Smart policies and investments have expanded the solar economy in Texas, making these outstanding jobs numbers possible,” said Cyrus Reed, conservation director with the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. “We have the opportunity to do more to grow solar jobs in 2014. Here in Austin, the city council has asked Austin Energy to double our solar goal. If Austin takes this smart step forward, we’ll see more solar systems on homes and businesses in Austin being installed by local men and women in Austin’s solar industry.”

In addition, in 2011, the Texas Legislature listened to solar advocates and passed two statewide laws, including legislation to allow third-party leasing and financing of solar in Texas’s competitive electric areas. These laws have helped spread solar development in areas like Houston and Dallas.

“We want to see these figures increase, and we’re counting on municipal utilities like Austin Energy to lead the way by expanding job-creating solar policies,” said Dave Cortez, organizing representative for the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign in Central Texas. “When Value of Solar and our ten-year solar goals are scaled back, that drives down investment and kills well-paying jobs in Austin’s solar industry. For Austin Energy, the right choice is clear: more solar means more jobs.”

Texas will see two private solar projects begin to produce power for the grid in 2014. First Solar began the groundbreaking on its Barilla Solar Project in Pecos County near Fort Stockton, which would sell its output into the competitive market. White Camp Solar in Kent County, near Lubbock, has announced that it will begin operations of a 135 megawatt utility-scale solar plant by the summer. A variety of other utility-scale projects are being planned throughout Texas in 2014 through 2016.

State solar employment figures were generated using thousands of data points from a combination of high-quality sources, including TSF’s highly-acclaimed National Solar Jobs Census 2013, the Solar Energy Industries Association’s National Solar Database, and other sources. While the margin of error for some of the smaller solar jobs states remains wide, these numbers are believed to be the most credible and up-to-date state-level solar jobs numbers in existence. The National Solar Jobs Census 2013 was conducted by TSF and BW Research Partnership with support from The George Washington University’s Solar Institute.  The National Solar Jobs Census 2013 and separate district-level Census reports for California, Arizona and Minnesota, are available at www.tsfcensus.org.

About The Solar Foundation: The Solar Foundation® (TSF) is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is to increase understanding of solar energy through strategic research that educates the public and transforms markets. Since 2010, TSF has published its annual National Solar Jobs Census, which established the first credible solar jobs base line for the U.S. TSF is considered the nation’s authority on the solar labor force and advises many organizations on the topic. TSF is also a leading provider of educational materials on the economic impacts of solar for local governments through its work with the U.S. Department of Energy. In addition, TSF chairs the National Solar Schools Consortium, a group of stakeholders seeking to make solar a larger part of the national K-12 system. More at http://TheSolarFoundation.org.

Senate Natural Resource Committee and Witnesses Grill Utility Commission for decision to consider “Capacity Markets”

Yesterday, November 25th, in a fairly contentious day at the Capitol, Senate Committee on Natural Resources Chair Troy Fraser grilled the two Public Utility Commissioners that made a decision earlier this year to require a mandated reserve margin which could lead to the implementation of a “capacity” market in Texas. He was joined both by conservative Senators like San Antonio Senator Donna Campbell and more liberal senators like Senator Rodney Ellis and Senator and Lt. Governor candidate Leticia Van De Putte (D-San Antonio), who all questioned the wisdom and authority of the PUC to consider major changes to the wholesale energy market.

For a pretty good report on the days events courtesy of  the Texas Tribune, see here.

So what is it exactly that had the Senators — conservative and less-so — so riled up, as well as one of the three PUC commissioners, and many of the invited witnesses, including the American Natural Gas Alliance, Valero, the Texas Association of Manufacturers, the Cities served by ONCOR, Walmart and the Texas Public Policy Foundation, among others? A preliminary decision by two of the three PUC commissioners — Chair Donna Nelson and newbie Brandy Marty — to declare in a non-binding vote that they were in favor of a required reserve margin, and the suggestion by Nelson and many electric generators that the best way to get there is by the imposition of a forward capacity market — which pays generators (and also potentially companies reducing energy demand through demand response) money for having the capacity to deliver energy as well as paying them for any energy they actually produce. This is common in some other markets in the United States. Analysis shows that such a market could be very costly — upwards of $4 billion per year — with no actual guarantee that it would lead, as Fraser put it, to “new steel in the ground.” Instead, existing resources like large inefficient dirty coal plants could get paid for just hanging around.

In addition to the cost and effectiveness of a capacity market, Fraser and even PUC Commissioner Ken Anderson — a capacity market critic — questioned whether PUC had the authority in statutes to change the market structure without legislative direction to do so. Both Marty and Nelson argued they did since they were charged with protecting consumers and insuring reliability, but Fraser stated that previous discussions on the subject had led to an understanding that the Energy-only Texas market decision was made in 1999, and only legislative action could change it. All Senators who spoke told the PUC to tread carefully and seek legislative guidance before adopting changes. Fraser in particular admonished Nelson and Marty for not “picking up the phone” before their vote to require a reserve margin. (Note; The vote was really an indication of their preference and no actual changes have been made to create a required reserve margin — still it was an indication of their preferences.)

In the meantime, the Commission has asked stakeholders for public input on a variety of questions, and will be holding a workshop on January 29 and 30th. The Sierra Club has been involved in the discussion, and has argued that a capacity market is not needed and that relatively minor changes to the energy-only market can help move Texas toward a clean energy future. One of our main efforts has been to change the way ERCOT – the Electric Reliability Council of Texas — projects our supply and demand of energy. We argue that ERCOT often overestimates demand — in part because they have not incorporated the gains made through energy efficiency and demand response — and underestimates supply — the amount of energy produced by wind and distributed solar to the grid during peak times of use. ERCOT is slowly changing its projections because of our and other efforts and it could be Texas discovers our supposed crisis in reliability has more to do with the amount of money big companies like Luminant want to make to pay down their debts, and less about ensuring the reliability of our energy markets. In the meantime, development of new rules and protocols to help loads, demand response, energy efficiency, solar and energy storage to participate more actively in our energy-only market can help meet our demand.


Gasland 2 Screenings Coming to Texas


If you live in Dallas, Fort Worth or San Antonio you are in for quite a treat next week. The much-anticipated sequel to 2010’s Gasland will see special screenings here in the Lone Star State. These three aforementioned cities will receive the special treatment with a Q&A session with filmmaker Josh Fox as well as rumors that Gasland interviewees will be in attendance at the Fort Worth screening.

The best part? These screenings are all free and completely open to the public. Whether or not this is an issue that you have been following for years now or are just becoming exposed to it, this is a great opportunity for community members to come together and educate themselves around this polemic issue.

These screenings come right off the heels of a monumental gas drilling victory in Dallas as well as the recent lawsuit against Exxonmobil for contaminating more than 50,000 gallons of water in western Pennsylvania. The fight against fracking appears to be picking up steam here in the US.

In fact, just last week more news from the mill show threats to communities in northern Colorado, as several activists in Boulder County were posting photos of flooded frack wells to their facebook site. These groups have expressed concerns towards a lack of oversight of drilling wells near their community as well as industry efforts to cover up the risk of contamination.

“Our concern is that all of these sites contain various amounts of hazardous industrial wastes that are now capable of spilling into the waterways and onto the agricultural land. Many of these chemicals are carcinogenic, neurotoxic, and known disruptors of the human endocrine system. As of today there is no testing taking place, industrial, independent or otherwise to determine the extent of the contamination, nor any talk of it. And one can guarantee that this week the COGCC will be issuing more drilling permits even as the hydrocarbons flow into the rivers.” – East Boulder County United spokesperson Cliff Willmeng.

According to an August 2013 poll released by The Guardian, a whopping 76% of Americans are worried about the potentially hazardous effects of natural gas drilling. This trend appears to indicate growing support in anti-fracking policies spreading throughout the United States.

The fact that these screenings take place in Texas cities where fracking is already happening goes to show that Americans are really starting to question the safety hydraulic fracturing.

Here’s a quick snippet of what Josh Fox had to say of his film:

“‘Gasland 2’ features real people -ordinary Americans- whose lives have been upended by the dirty and dangerous process of fracking. That’s why I am working with environmental leaders and advocates across the country to protect our health, water, climate and landscapes and to prevent state and federal governments from allowing a path to destruction.”

Texas is just one several of states hit by recent fracking operations – including Pennsylvania, New York State, Colorado, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Arkansas, North Dakota and Louisiana.

Sierra Club others tell CPS Energy Board: Take 10 Actions Prior to Proposed October Rate Increase




Submitted to CPS Energy and San Antonio Mayor during the CPS Rate Case Input Session, Monday, Sept. 9, 2013.


The Re-Energize San Antonio Coalition opposes the proposed CPS rate hike because it promotes unsustainable growth, fueled by dirty energy, and unfairly burdens residential ratepayers, especially middle-class and poor San Antonians who have been disproportionately hurt by the Great Recession. Any change in costs to rate-payers must be prefaced – at the very least – by the following conditions and actions. 

Energy Conservation

  • CPS must prioritize energy conservation and efficiency. The rates must create energy-conservation incentives for all users, not just home-owners but also businesses, non-profit organizations, and governmental offices. City policies and CPS internal policies and budgets should prioritize energy conservation and create disincentives for unsustainable growth
  • To that end, CPS’s rate change should set up multiple tiers. For example, the first “x” kilowatt hours used each month (e.g., the minimum amount of electricity necessary for a family of five to maintain a healthy home) should cost less than the current rate. The next “y” kilowatt hours used each month (e.g., an amount between “x” and the current median household usage per month) could be billed at the current rate. The third tier (e.g., from the median – 50th  up to the 75th percentile of the current usage) of kilowatt hours per month could be billed at 105 percent of the current rate, and any usage above the 75th percentile could be billed at 120 percent of the current rate. 
  • Similarly, CPS’s rate change must not unfairly burden residential and small-business rate-payers. There should be no discounted or “wholesale” rates for energy-intensive businesses. If CPS needs to develop new energy-producing facilities, the funds should come from the businesses that use that energy to make their profits. Any rate “breaks” should be based only upon measurable social benefits that the business provides, such as employing large numbers of workers at living wages. Wholesale rates to other communities should be predicated upon their engaging in similar energy conservation efforts, linked with their retail rates for selling that energy. There should be multiple tiers of energy rates for businesses, too, to reward energy efficiency and conservation. Profitable businesses should be willing to invest some of those profits in San Antonio’s future. Already we have many examples of companies taking that “high road,” but CPS needs to embed such investment as a requirement in its rate structure. 
  • Most of the increased income from residential rate changes should be earmarked for extensive and effective programs for improving the energy-efficiency of homes – specifically, those owned by working-class or impoverished families. The remainder of the increased income from residential rate changes could be applied to help small-scale landlords of rental units upgrade the energy efficiency of apartments and houses.  Some of the increased income from business rate changes should be earmarked for investment in city-owned and public/private decentralized local renewable energy-production – to replace non-renewable sources now used, but also to prevent the city from being “captive” to some of the energy-producers from which we now buy wind-generated energy. Another portion could be earmarked for improving the energy-efficiency of not-for-profit institutional buildings, such as schools.
  • Emphasis on co-investment in local solar production should be expanded not reduced. Net metering is an excellent way to promote energy efficiency in homes and businesses and increase the amount of energy being produced in the community. And other models are worth exploring: e.g., encouraging homeowners to buy a share of a solar array located on a school’s roof, and then allowing that share to be sold as part of the value of their house. Community-based decentralized solar programs should be made accessible to all, including low-income families.
  • CPS should support dramatic changes to the city’s building code and other policies so that they require energy-conservation measures, such as solar hot water systems on all new or newly renovated apartment buildings. CPS should support immediate adoption of the 2012 IECC building energy codes for new residential and commercial construction. CPS should be proactive in rapidly implementing the higher energy efficiency goal suggested by the 2004 KEMA study. Furthermore, the KEMA study is almost 10 years old, so it does not take into account advances in technology. CPS should actively encourage a new study of how San Antonio could become even more energy efficient.
  • Existing customers should not shoulder the burden of increasing system growth by paying for the connection of new developments. CPS Energy should revise their interconnection policy and charge much more for large commercial and residential development, so that most of the cost of new growth is borne by those promoting (and profiting from) the growth. These charges could be reduced for development that exceeds the 2012 IECC codes by 20 percent or more.

Pollution and Public Health 

  • CPS must effect the rapid reduction of threats to public health due to its use of dirty or dangerous energy sources. CPS should put in writing its commitment to close the Deely coal-fired power plant by 2018 or earlier. The plant should be shut down as soon as possible, because the public has already paid too much in health costs.
  • CPS should prepare to close STP 1 and 2 (nuclear power plants) at the end of their original operating permits, if not earlier. This facility has been experiencing increasing problems, costs and risks as it ages. In fact, one of the units was inoperative for much of 2012 due to ongoing problems.
  • CPS must plan for decreasing use of natural gas-fueled power production. Although the actual combustion of natural gas may be less polluting than coal or petroleum fuels, the entire process of extraction, especially the use of fracking, is extremely polluting. The people of San Antonio should not have to pay for this relatively cheap non-renewable energy source by enduring air pollution, greenhouse-gas-induced heat waves, and other by-products of this CPS energy source. Until natural gas can be phased out completely as a fuel for CPS energy, CPS should buy gas only from producers following best practices and reducing pollution, waste and water use. By establishing standards to ensure that the gas it purchases, uses and sells is produced with the least polluting technologies all the way back to the well head, CPS can help establish new standards for the industry and reduce smog-forming ozone.
  • CPS must be pro-active in exploring and implementing technologies for genuinely renewable and environmentally friendly energy production to replace old, dirty, and dangerous energy sources. For example, CPS should investigate and procure geothermal energy production as a source of base-load renewable energy to meet the growth needs. Significant deep geothermal resources exist near San Antonio. CPS Energy should help develop these renewable and low-emission sources of energy for its generation portfolio. CPS Energy should update its generation plan and incorporate geothermal energy as part of its renewable contracts along with its large-scale investments in wind and solar energy.


The Re-Energize San Antonio Coalition includes Energia Mia, The Esperanza Peace & Justice Center, People’s Power Coalition, the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition, Public Citizen’s Texas office, and Sierra Club.

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