Tag Archives: Technology

Phase Out Fayette Update

) A worker walks among solar panels at the Lie...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

A group of concerned Austinites have been meeting weekly to discuss and plan a way to move Austin’s energy out of the Fayette coal plant.  Our first mission is to get City Council to complete three studies by 2012 that they committed to in the Austin Generation Plan.  These studies are supposed to look at three aspects of Austin’s energy: accelerating the schedule in phasing out the Fayette coal plant, increasing the efficiency goal, and setting a goal for onsite, distributed renewable energy.  Basically, it’s the first step in getting the ball rolling so that we can ultimately begin the process of phasing out of Fayette.

Right now, we are asking organizations, businesses, and people to get on board with us, in various ways, in order to show our City Council members that we care about the implementation of the Austin Generation Plan.

If you would like to join us, the Phase out Fayette team meets every Tuesday from 6 to 7pm!

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Clean Energy Coming to Texas

Tuesday morning, the Public Utilities Commission of Texas listened to public comment regarding Project #35792, a.k.a. the “non-wind renewable energy rule.”

Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director of the Sierra Club, and I gave separate comments after a rousing declaration of support for “poor” Texans by a local nuclear energy advocate. I was most intrigued by the gentleman’s matrix for explaining how nuclear was the most affordable and accessible energy source available to these “poor” Texans, while solar, specifically, provided an overwhelming financial burden and is simply unaffordable to most Texans.

Take a moment to vent, laugh, and curse under your breath…

In the comments I submitted on behalf of the Texas Apollo Alliance, we make it clear that by simplifying the registration process for distributed on-site energy generation, by strengthening Texas’ Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to include more MWs produced by non-wind sources, and by implementing these modifications by 2015, ALL Texans will benefit.

Stronger standards will directly lead to more investment in the solar, geothermal, and biomass sectors. If we, as advocates for the people, collectively continue to advocate for strong renewable energy standards, and advocate for low-interest loans with on-bill financing, we can help make clean energy affordable to thousands of Texans, poor and wealthy alike.

Which leads me to the sexiest thing about stronger non-wind renewable energy goals: Jobs.

Investment in clean energy markets = jobs. There is no doubt about that. A 2009 report by Blue-Green Alliance estimated that a 20 percent renewables target by 2020 would generate over 60,000 jobs in Texas, including 20,000 in solar development. By taking action, the PUC can spark a renewable energy rush to Texas that will not only help curb our state’s outrageous levels of toxic emissions, but help put our people back to work.

The Texas Apollo Alliance will work aggressively to promote clean energy and safe, good-paying, green-collar jobs for Texans. For more information on our work and our members, head on over to our website.

Dave Cortez
Texas Apollo Alliance
512-736-7600 (cell)
512-477-6195 x21 (office)
512-477-2962 (fax)

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Austin City Council finally… officially.. adopts Austin Clean Energy Plan

After development of an affordability matrix this year, and after approval by the Electric Utility Commission, the Resource Management Committee, the Generation Task Force, and anyone else that mattered in 2010, and after initially approving it in April of 2010 — but requiring an affordability matrix — City Council finally took action.  The Lone Star Chapter and Austin Group of the Sierra Club commend the  Austin City Council  for finally — on a 7-0 — approving the Austin Energy Climate Protection and Generation Resource Plan for 2020 last week, which sets a goal of 35 percent renewable energy and 800 MWs of energy demand reduction through energy efficiency by 2020. The plan also commits Austin Energy to conducting several additional studies to look at developing further plans for energy efficiency, the development of onsite renewables and a specific look at how to get out of our addiction to coal at the Fayette Power Plant by 2020. Stay tuned as we pressure Austin Energy and City Council to also honor these committments.

And as the first step in the Clean Energy Plan, Austin Energy put out an RFP last week for 200 MWs of wind and/or solar to companies. A bunch of companies are already scrambling to put an RFP out there to Austin Energy. Most likely it will be wind from West Texas, but stay tuned..

Cyrus Reed, Sierra Club, Lone Star Chapter

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Changes in Committee Heads in House, Solar Legislation and Sunset heat up

So the Legislature is moving. The budget hearings on the House side began already, with key agencies up for public testimony beginning early Monday morning = including the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality — in House Appropriations, again led by Jim Pitts. Much as we like to malign the agency for failing to protect public health, that doesn’t mean we want major cuts to their programs. Look for more info on it here — on this blog in coming days.

IN other leg news from the Capitol, some key committees changed heads. Most notably for energy and the environment, Byron Cook is no longer chair of Environmental Regulation, but instead will be the head of State Affairs, which often deals with issues related to energy and the electric grid. Leaving his post as head of State Affairs is Burt Solomons, who will still have a seat at the table, but now heads over to Redistricting Committee, which may take some time. Taking over the reins at Environmental Regulation is Republican Wayne Smith from the gulf coast. Energy Resources, which will deal with natural gas, as well as likely some renewable and energy efficiency issues, is still being lead by Republican Dallas-area Jim Keffer. Unfortunately, one of our strongest allies on environmental issues — Rafael Anchia — is no longer on that committee, instead being placed over on Land Resources

In Sunset news, the leaders of the bills have yet to be announced, but in the Senate, inside sources tell us Senator Hegar will be the lead on Railroad Commission, and Senator Huffman will be lead on TCEQ. Bonnen, Vice-Chair of Sunset, will decide next week on House sponsors.

Solar legislation is also heating up — Senator Fraser filed his solar incentive bill — SB 492, which would create a state solar incentive for both rooftop and utility-scale solar, while Senator Seliger filed his Clean Energy Districts — allowing cities to loan out money to individuals for solar, water conservation and energy efficiency — and then pay it back over time through property taxes – as SB 459. Senator Watson’s Non-Wind Renewable Bill — SB 330 — was referred to Senator Fraser’s Natural Resources Committee, though a hearing has not been set. In energy efficiency news, Senator Corona filed SB 552, which would create a Energy Efficiency Coordinating Council between the different state agencies to coordinate programs and policy on energy efficiency.  All three of these bills are supported by the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director, Lone Star Chapter, Sierra Club

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Get Your Cycle Down, Cycle Up going, Texas

Sierra Club and Public Citizen Call on Texas Legislature, Public Utility Commission, and ERCOT to Investigate Cause of Forced Outages

Outages show why State Must Renew Efforts for a Comprehensive Energy Plan for Texas

(Austin)  As Texans experience forced, intermittent electricity outages, Sierra Club and Public Citizen call on Governor Perry and the Commissioners at the Public Utility Commission, (PUC) and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, (ERCOT) to investigate the cause of the outages and the response by the state’s regulated and unregulated electrical utilities.

“The Texas State Legislature, the PUC, and ERCOT must conduct a thorough investigation at this time into public allegations that the power outages appear to have been at least partially caused by 1) unweatherized pipes at two new coal plants – Oak Grove and Sandow, and mostly, 2) by the lack of a better organized and comprehensive demand response system to reduce peak demand during these types of extreme weather events,” said Cyrus Reed with Sierra Club.

A reserve margin is set to ensure the reliable operation of the bulk power grid in case of major outages or unusual temperature extremes.

“Texas’s electricity grid has plenty of power. In fact, ERCOT recently increased Texas’s reserve margin from 12.5 percent to 13.75 percent with assurances that the grid would perform safely and adequately for years to come,” said Reed.  “The problem is not about availability of power.  The problem is our current over-reliance on large, centralized fossil fuels with all of their pollution, associated risks, and increasing costs.  Consumers and smaller retailers need more control over energy price spikes through such tools as accessible energy efficiency programs, demand management tools, and distributed generation like on-site solar power.”

INDUSTRY MADE MILLIONS ON OUTAGES During the power outages this week, electricity prices peaked at the cap of $3,000 per megawatt hour. Real-time Texas electricity prices are available for viewing online at ERCOT’s website –  http://www.ercot.com/content/cdr/html/20110202_real_time_spp

Tom ‘Smitty’ Smith with Public Citizens reviews the recent history of price spikes during power outages, “Wednesday’s blackouts are reminiscent of the market manipulation by Luminant on a cold and icy night in 2003.  This is also similar to the blackout that occurred just before TXU announced their plan for 11 new coal plants in April 2006.  This Wednesday morning, electricity prices shot up 66 times from 3:00 through 11:00 AM and the electricity companies made hundreds of millions overnight.  There should be an investigation to see if Luminant pulled off a fast one and shut down 2,900 megawatts  of coal because the ‘pipes froze’ — and  then profited as the prices skyrocketed.”

MORE DEMAND RESPONSE NEEDED FOR ENERGY SECURITY Sierra Club and Public Citizen applaud progress in demand response and call for more.  Much of ERCOT’s grid already includes mechanisms to decrease energy use during peak hours to help avoid energy constraints and control energy use during times of extreme heat or cold weather. However, in Texas, these programs are generally only available to large industrial customers, whereas many other electrical grids in the country take advantage of programs to help smaller businesses and residential customers cycle down their use during certain times — and even allow them to get paid for it.

Cyrus Reed with Sierra Club explains, “Increasing demand response capacity in the ERCOT grid will help stabilize the grid and help avoid future power outages.  Right now, some utilities like CPS Energy and Austin Energy have programs for homeowners to help reduce power use and save money, but with some changes at ERCOT and the PUC — or through legislative action — we could allow retail electric providers, utilities and third-parties to work with smaller energy users to bid into the market with demand response programs and get paid for reducing demand in the same way that electrical generators get paid by the market for selling generation.”

RENEWABLE POWER KEEPS THE LIGHTS ON Sierra Club and Public Citizen emphasize transitioning Texas’s electric sector away from pollution heavy coal plants to cleaner, more reliable alternatives — energy efficiency, conservation, and renewable energy such as wind, solar, and geothermal power.  During the current extreme winter weather, wind power performed reliably according to a statement issued by the American Wind Energy Association:

Cold and icy conditions caused unexpected equipment failures at power plants, taking up to 50 fossil-fired power plants totaling 7,000 megawatts of capacity offline.  Wind energy played a major role in keeping the blackouts from becoming more severe. Between 5:00 and 7:00 AM,  this morning (Wednesday the peak of the electricity shortage) wind was providing between 3,500 and 4,000 MW, roughly the amount it had been forecast and scheduled to provide. That is about 7% of the state’s total electricity demand at that time, or enough for about 3 million average homes.

Texas is currently number one in the nation for wind power production and, with 10,000 megawatts of wind energy, easily surpassed modest initial goals set by the Texas Legislature in 2001 in the state’s first Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS).  The PUC is currently considering a rulemaking that would finally implement a provision of the RPS that would required that 500 MWs be generated by renewable resources other than wind such as solar and geothermal power.

Cyrus Reed continued, “Wind power performed strongly and reliably during these recent outages.  Texas’s initial RPS set goals for the state a decade ago in 2001 and drove over 10,000 megawatts of investment in West Texas, why wouldn’t this state legislature look to drive that aspect of Texas’s economy again by pursuing a stronger RPS to drive more investments now in solar and geothermal power?  This will also have the great benefit of addressing serious air pollution problems by reducing the burning of coal for electricity. ”

COMPREHENSIVE TEXAS ENERGY PLAN NEEDED Sierra Club and Public Citizen call on the Texas State Legislature to avail of its opportunity in the current 82nd Texas State Legislature to continue the efforts to develop a comprehensive Texas Energy Plan that will increase energy security and create a stable grid in times of extreme weather.

“We appreciate ERCOT’s response to minimize these forced outages as much as possible, but this event demonstrates why Texas needs a comprehensive energy plan that includes efficiency,  renewables, and demand response with accountability measures,” said Cyrus Reed of the Sierra Club.

Reed urged — “We recommend that Texas’s comprehensive Energy Plan do the following:

  • Expand energy efficiency goals to lower overall electricity use;
  • Further open up the market for demand response in order to lower energy demand during peak times of use during extreme weather;
  • Expand our renewable portfolio standard to include solar and geothermal power either through regulatory action at the PUC or legislative action; and
  • Most importantly, make the market work for distributed forms of generation like on-site solar and geothermal heat.

Reed concludes, “These measures will give us more tools in the future to deal with extreme weather conditions.”

Tom ‘Smitty’ Smith urges State leadership to respond, “Now is the time for some vision by the Texas Legislature to make Texas a leader in energy production again. While ERCOT should be applauded for its rapid response, the legislature should focus on providing a way forward with more emphasis on renewables and efficiency measures and less on coal generation that can’t responsibly manage a three-day cold spell.”

Posted by Donna Hoffman, Communication Coordinator, Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club

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