Tag Archives: Energy

Concerns about potential capacity market becoming a bi-partisan affair – Wendy Davis and Leticia Van De Putte enter the discussion

The ongoing discussion at the Public Utility Commission about whether Texas needs to add a “capacity market” to its “energy market” to ensure there will be enough power to keep the lights on during cold summer mornings or hot summer afternoons is raising concerns among a variety of stakeholders.

 At a recent interim committee hearing of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources held November 25th, Chairman Troy Fraser was unabated in his criticism of the decisions by the Utility Commission to consider such a market, arguing it would be equivalent to “an energy tax.” The conservative chairman argued that such a capacity market went against Texas tradition since 1999 of an energy-only market, and more importantly, was a decision the legislature – not the commission should make.

Others raising concerns have included the Sierra Club, Public Citizen, the Cities served by Oncor, the Texas Manufacturing Association, the conservative think-tank Texas Public Policy Foundation, the AARP and some retail electric providers like Direct Energy. Others – like generators Luminant, NRG and Calpine – have been bullish in their support for the need for a capacity market.

The latest to voice their concerns are the two senators now vying for the State’s top political positions, Governor and Lieutenant Governor. Wendy Davis, State Senator from Fort Worth, wants to be the next Governor. Leticia Van De Putte, State Senator from San Antonio, wants to beat David Dewhurst and become the head of the senate as Lt. Governor. Both raised concerns in letters sent to the Public Utility Commission this week.



Photo of Van De Putte and Davis campaigning in San Antonio — photo from San Antonio Express News 

In her comments, Senator Van De Putte wrote: 

“At the November 25, 2013 Senate Committee on Natural Resources hearing on resource adequacy you stated that the Public Utility Commission would only make changes if it made sense from a cost benefit standpoint. I was pleased to hear that but remain concerned that the cost benefit analysis may not contain a breakdown of costs for the different types of consumers including residential, commercial, and large industry.

I strongly urge you to include a cost analysis for the different types of customers and I would appreciate a response on the methodology of the cost benefit analysis. I also appreciate your willingness to have a complete cost benefit analysis before any decisions are made. I stand ready to work with you and the members of the Public Utility Commission to ensure reliable, efficient, and affordable electricity for our state.”

For her part, Senator Davis from Fort Worth, running to be the state’s governor, asked the Commission to conduct the analysis and answer three basic questions:

In the Senate Committee on Natural Resources hearing on November 25, 2013, you stated that you were “absolutely in favor of doing a cost/benefit analysis” relative to a potential change to

a capacity market. I am writing this letter to urge you to proceed with such an analysis and to consider the following as you engage in that analysis:

  • “What would the impact be on the costs of electricity to the average residential ratepayer, the average commercial ratepayer, and the average industrial ratepayer?
  •  What guarantee can be provided that switching to a capacity market will result in the construction of new generation, eliminating the specter of future capacity shortfalls?
  •  What might the impact to our state’s economy be were such a shift to occur, measured particularly by potential impact to the costs of doing business in the state and the subsequent impact that might occur to our state’s continued ability to attract and grow business? In this regard, I am particularly interested in determining the potential impact  that added costs might have to the energy production sector of our state’s economy? “

 And also filing comments were PUC Commissioner Ken Anderson, who is opposed to the capacity market, even as his two other commissioners express at least partial support for the concept. For his part, he had his staff conduct an analysis of a report filed by the  Charles Rivers Associates, on behalf of energy giant NRG, which found a capacity market would cost money — some $4 billion per year – but over several years would lead to more stable energy prices and ultimately cost a small fraction of that amount in return for reliable electricity service and little cost because of brown-outs or black-outs. The analysis by Anderson’s staff criticized the methodology used by the River Associates outfit, stating that they overestimated the cost of any brown-outs or lost opportunity for energy. The report concludes: “Based only on errors …., the CRA Study is 23.2 times too high in its value of dollar per un-served kWh.” A copy of the memo/study by Anderson can be found here

Comments from other stakeholders — including the Sierra Club — are due on December 16th. Stay tuned for more info!


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

Apply (or share the link) for the best internship in Texas!


The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club is looking for its next group of fall interns! If you’re in Austin and interested in protecting the environment, gaining valuable career skills, and networking with folks in the environmental community, this is an excellent opportunity for you.

Interns with the Sierra Club will work with a professional staff-person as a mentor in order to learn how to effectively create change in multiple environmental sectors. Interns are paired with a staffer based on specific mutual interests, so they are able to work on (and learn about) issues that are important to them. Interns will have the opportunity to help organize a grassroots campaign, work in communications, and conduct policy research, among other projects and tasks. Interns will learn real skills through professional training workshops and apply their new knowledge to their work at the Club and beyond.

Internship duration: 9/9/13 – 12/6/13

To Apply:

Before applying, please review the job description here.

If you are interested in applying, please email your resume and cover letter to our Internship Coordinator Diego Atencio at texas.internship@sierraclub.org and CC Staff Adviser Dave Cortez at david.cortez@sierraclub.org by Monday, Aug. 26.

Proposed EPA Regulation could force Cleaner Energy and Protect Health

In a world and nation where water and energy are two things our growing population is starving for, an issue that combines both is of the utmost importance. This is why I’d love to inform you about a recent regulation proposed by the EPA that would place limits on the amount and type of toxic metals and other pollutants that can be discharged by steam electric power plants (coal, oil, and natural gas) into our waterways. These regulations, dubbed Effluent Limitation Guidelines, will have the greatest effect on coal plants so I will address it as pertaining to coal henceforward.

Toxic waste discharged from power plant

Toxic waste discharged from a coal plant

This bill is extremely important in guiding the future state of human and environmental health as well as the phasing into cleaner sources of energy. It is going to be implemented but what has yet to be decided is which option out of four will be chosen to be implemented. “The four options are based on varying levels of treatment for seven different waste streams generated by the plants and differ in the stringency of the treatment controls to be imposed” said the congressional research service. There are allegations being made that the White House Office of Management and Budget is attempting to weaken the proposed standards in response to coal industry demands. The coal industry will obviously be fighting for the least strict regulations, which brings in the underdog, “we the people”, to stand up for more regulated water pollution.

I will now make a claim as to why it is so important that the strongest regulation (option 4 out of 4), which will reduce annual pollutant discharge by 2.62 billion pounds and reduce annual water usage by 103 billion pounds, needs to be implemented.

These regulations need to be in the strongest form possible because, as a study conducted  in North Carolina by Duke University revealed, coal plants have implemented scrubbers and other technologies to reduce the amount of toxic air pollution (coinciding with the Clean Air Act) but those pollutants are just ending up in the waste water that the coal plants produce, defeating the purpose of the “CLEAN” Air Act. The study also uncovered other disturbing information: the highest concentration of contaminants were found in a waste water pond that was being directly released into a primary drinking water source for Charlotte, North Carolina. After testing the water, the scientists found a couple of areas that exceeded the EPA guidelines for safe drinking water and aquatic life. These unhealthy levels were also found in two popular recreational lakes in the northern part of the state. This is just 1 example.

Why doesn’t the Clean Water Act regulate this water pollution problem?

For one, existing guidelines that limit the pollutants emitted into the water by coal plants have not been updated in over 30 years. Also, many regulators have said the Clean Water Act is inadequate because is does not mandate limits on the most dangerous chemicals in power plant waste and it is also claimed to have loopholes that the energy industry takes advantage of. In addition to that, 90% of 313 coal plants that have violated the Clean Water Act since 2004 were not fined or penalized by federal or state regulators, according to a New York Times Analysis of EPA records.

There is countless information that supports the need for this nation-wide water pollution regulation in its strongest form, so I proceed… Here is a link to fish consumption advisories in Texas due to water pollution. All the water bodies surrounding my hometown, including some I have previously caught fish in (and eaten), are polluted with the following advisory given for a couple: “Persons should not consume any species of fish from these waters”.  Although coal plants cannot be solely blamed for this (as it is hard to trace back pollution), they are definitely a large contributing factor. Some other unfortunate statistics found in a report produced by a coalition of environmental and clean water groups: “Of the 274 coal plants that discharge coal ash and scrubber waste water into waterways, nearly 70% (188), have no limits on the amount of toxic metals like arsenic, mercury, boron, cadmium, and selenium they are allowed to dump into public waters.” When you consider this pollution which produces horrible health effects such as reduced growth and development, cancer, organ damage, nervous system damage, and death, one begins to hope that policy decisions regarding this pollution are really going to be made on our behalf.

I digress from the smorgasbord of depressing health and environmental data on this pollution and focus on what this bill will do. It will:

1.  Set national standards that limit the amount of toxic chemicals discharged into our waterways by coal plants and is based upon technological improvements in the industry over the last 30 years.

2. Require coal plants to monitor and report the amount of pollution dumped into our waterways. (We deserve to know this!)

The strongest proposal is common-sense, affordable, and is already being used by some coal plants. This regulation will force coal companies to internalize the cost of pollution, justly relieving that burden from the health of our communities and precious water sources. If you feel strongly about this issue, make your voice heard! It will take a strong force to overcome the corporate interests that are going to fight their hardest for the lowest regulation for what they can dump into our waters.

Things you can do:

1. Make a meeting with your Senator or Representative to let them know you support the strongest regulations

2. Write a Letter to the Editor and submit it to your local newspaper

3. Educate your friends!

More information on the bill can be found here

Teaching Kids to Care

The Beyond Coal project is the top topic in the Lone Star Chapter, and rightfully so. With the Rally for Renewables last Thursday, I had planned on blogging specifically about the Fayette Coal Plant and the potential follow-up options after its future closing. Yeah, sure, why not? It seemed the obvious choice. Until some youngster indicated otherwise.

While filming the rally, I ran into a kid who, despite his fatigue from the heat, readily answered my questions on the state of the environment. I’m afraid that I cannot upload any video here yet, but to provide a quick summary, this little guy said he thought coal is bad for the environment and that people shouldn’t have to breathe the chemicals and ash it pumps into the air. He also said he would want wind and solar energy instead. And he has hardly entered the first grade.

The fact that the kid didn’t have to stop and think about his answers (and that his dad wasn’t prompting him) impressed me most with this interview. His readiness made me recall the importance of raising awareness of the environment in students in primary education. As part of UT Austin’s Club for Environmental Outreach, I have focused on this issue for some time. So, I think the time has come for me to shed some light on this issue.

We at the Sierra Club understand the significance of educating the public on the environment, and we pursue that end tirelessly – just as global conditions tirelessly worsen. The millennials will have the greatest challenge yet in confronting this mounting terror. Should we not focus on involving them in the future of the environment, for their own safety if not for anything else? Many have leapt up in an effort to do this, but not before many sprung up to prevent America’s failing education system from crashing altogether.

I came across a recent NPR article about the popular new “Common Core” standards that have been adopted in 45 states. They might not address scientific educational standards that would include environmental curricula, but these changes at least show some desire to redirect the US education system. It would seem that some hope lay in sight for the nation’s posterity.

But for the generations of future Texans, such hope is about as visible as Rick Perry is credible. Just look to this map of the 45 continental states that have given the green light to Common Core (credit goes to corestandards.org); it probably won’t surprise:

Screen Shot 2013-06-30 at 11.03.29 PM

Yes, Texas stands alone in the South as one of the 5 stubborn states opposing Common Core. Now, I’m not naive enough to believe that a step forward for Texas education will come soon in science, of all things; I still fear that my nephew will ask me for help with drawing a venn diagram comparing Evolution and Creationism (all eyes still on the Texas State BoE).

On the subject of young students, however, I return to the importance of educating future generations about their environment and how to be eco-friendly. Clearly, the public education system at large cannot commit to this, especially in Texas. So, it is the duty of environmentalists – as members of our local and state communities, as teachers, as big brothers and sisters, as parents, aunts, and uncles – to inform future generations of the looming (and melting) obstacles ahead. If we do not, they might run into calamities of titanic proportions.

Still, the full force of environmentalism cannot inform these students if their core educational principles do not change. So let us take a step back: if public schools cannot educate students on such important issues as the environment, what can it do? Well, for a start, it might better learn how to teach future voters how to form a caring opinion. The voter turn out in the US is increasingly deplorable, and that is no secret. Perhaps this stems from the education system’s paranoia of politics and appearing to take a particular stance. Sorry, Everytown ISD – time to grow a backbone.

No need to herald some political leaning or endorse a candidate here. Just teach kids the importance of forming their own opinions – it’s part of teaching citizenship. More importantly, teach students to inform themselves of their own free will. I do realize that environmentalism ideally would not be considered a “political” issue, since it concerns forces that affect all humans and that no government can control or alter. However, with that in mind, the ideal result of teaching students the value of seeking information in earnest would generate general support for environmentalism. Even more ideally, the US Government would run far more smoothly and voter turn-out would improve as citizens rushed to provide their involved, informed consent at the polls.

I salute the aims of Common Core, but the true goal may be missed here: the time has come for the public education system  to start teaching students how to choose and how to inform themselves with care. Once such values are in place, then we environmentalists can truly turn these millennials into little green men and women by involving and informing them. Perhaps then the government that all too often slows the will of the people, would drive us to a more agreeable – and hopefully, greener – future.

– Harry Watson, Conservation Intern