Monthly Archives: December 2011

EPA (finally) releases toxics limits on power plants

(credit: www.eoearth.org)

 What a great holiday gift for America's kids. And other people who breathe and eat.

On Wednesday, with sign-off from President Obama, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced the first federal regulations limiting the amount of mercury, arsenic, acid gases, dioxins and other toxics that America's coal- and oil-fired power plants can release into our air. Of course, this is a big deal only if you think neurological damage, cancer, heart disease, birth defects, asthma attacks and premature deaths are big deals. At EDF, we do, and in a joint statement with a half-dozen other national environmental groups, we pointed out the new protections will prevent 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks among children — and save 11,000 lives. Every single year.

It wasn't easy. Environmentalists, evangelicals, moms and health professionals have been pushing to address this toxic threat for 21 years, and the electric power industry has pushed just as hard the other way — and with a lot more money behind them. The new regulations are a major step forward for the public's health and the health of the environment. Not surprisingly, some power companies are squealing like stuck pigs. But to their credit, fully three-quarters of the nation's largest coal-fired generators support the new rules and say they should be able to comply with them. In fact, the CEO and President of PSEG told the Wall Street Journal that the new regulations "provide a clear path for responsible coal generation."

And to those who insist on pitting the environment against the economy, we offer this: Fitting older power plants with new pollution control technology will produce an estimated 46,000 new short-term construction jobs and 8,000 new permanent jobs at power plants.

It was a long time coming, but Wednesday was a very good day.

Posted in Air Pollution, Environment, Environmental Protection Agency| Comments closed

ERCOT Reliability: “It’s Complicated”

It seems like only yesterday that ERCOT was issuing dire warnings of rolling blackouts as a direct result of regulations required by the court system to ensure cleaner, healthy air for Texans and our neighboring states.  Well, maybe not yesterday, but at least as recently as this month.  Buried deep within the report was ERCOT’s tacit acknowledgement that they have allowed companies to idle more than 1,000 MW of power plants because those plants are not economic in today’s hyper-competitive market.

(source: www.texastribune.org)

Of course, no announcement made as much news as Luminant’s claim that they were shutting down two of their Monticello lignite power plant units in response to EPA regulations.  Those claims have been pretty well debunked over the last few months as people began to realize that market economics and poor planning were responsible for Luminant’s decision.  As we discussed in September, it was as convenient for Luminant to blame the EPA as it was reflexive of Texas politicians and regulators to threaten rolling blackouts as a result of Luminant’s decision.  ERCOT’s decision to let other power plants shut down for economic reasons calls those claims into serious question, and their recent decision(password required) that idling the Monticello units at the heart of this debate  does not threaten system reliability will hopefully end this cycle of unfounded recrimination and backtracking.

As ERCOT has made clear, the real threats to system reliability are of our own making: market failures have lead to a lack of proper signals to encourage the building of new power capacity; and this year’s record breaking drought, made more extreme by climate change, has threatened to shut down more than 11,000 MW of power plants.  What all of this means is that ERCOT’s reliability issues are far more complicated than a political slogan, and getting rid of sensible regulations that protect our children, elderly and general population from real health risks will do nothing to solve our problems. 

Instead of focusing on the easy political score, our leaders should be looking for real solutions that don’t pose risks to human health or to our water supply.  The solutions are out there: dry-cooled power plants, energy efficiency programs like demand response, as well as wind, solar and other non-water consuming renewable energy. 

The most recent decision by ERCOT that idling Luminant’s power plants poses no threat to grid reliability should end the cycle of unfounded accusations for political gain.  It should focus our state leadership on solutions that will work instead of distractions that only delay solving the problem.  It should also serve as a signal to those who are all too ready to accept unfounded claims for the sake of a good story or a convenient target. When it comes to ERCOT and reliability, the issues are complicated, but the solutions are out there and it will take real focus and effort to prevent Texas from experiencing the same rolling blackouts we had last winter.  It’s winter again (even if it’s just barely starting to feel like it), and next summer looks to be another scorcher. We don’t have a lot of time, so let’s get to work.

Posted in Air Pollution, Climate Change, Drought, ERCOT, Extreme Weather| Comments closed

A Response To Attacks On Renewable Energy

This commentary was originally posted on the EDF Energy Exchange Blog.

Grover Norquist asks us to “rethink” renewable energy, and I think he may be right.  But we differ on the best way to do that.

(Source: Reddit)

He seems to think that Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) and similar policies that level the playing field and create markets for renewable energy are “unfeasible,” as opposed to the current subsidies and rules that heavily favor fossil fuels.  In his op-ed, Norquist manages to wax poetic about free markets while dodging the billions of dollars in subsidies for fossil fuels and numerous impartial analyses that illustrate how renewable energy saves money for customers and adds much needed revenue to state budgets.

Obscuring the Facts
A recent analysis found that the five states with the highest amount of renewable energy (states that are encouraged by the policies Norquist asks us to rethink) have lower rates than the states with the least amounts of renewable energy.  In 2009 the Texas PUC declared that the state’s national leadership in wind energy, driven by their RPS, “has had the impact of lowering wholesale and retail prices of electricity."  The Texas State Comptroller said, “After the RPS was implemented, Texas wind corporations and utilities invested $1 billion in wind power, creating jobs, adding to the Texas Permanent School Fund and increasing the rural tax base.”

The story is similar in Colorado where, according to the American Wind Energy Association, the state’s RPS supported a total of 5,000-6,000 direct and indirect jobs, generating $7 million in state revenue and $4 million in leasing revenue for landowners who benefit from the policy.  Still, Norquist chooses to focus on a report – not yet released at the time of this writing – by the Beacon Hill Institute, a conservative group founded by Republican politician Ray Shamie, to support some rather speculative claims.  

“Choose Your Own Free Market”
Much like the old “Choose Your Own Adventure” children’s books, the fossil fuel industry would very much like to choose their own free market, one that gives fossil fuels an unfair advantage over all other resources.  Leaving the discussion there would simply perpetuate the junk science cycle that benefits the fossil fuel industry and their attempts to distract from the massive amounts of federal subsidies that these companies claim they need to continue operations.  A discussion on their terms would ignore the very real health impacts fossil fuel use has on infants, pregnant women, the elderly and the general population.   

 Fossil fuel use directly impacts human health and we subsidize fossil fuels heavily through increasing health care costs and other expenses. A recent report from Harvard Medical School found that these unwitting subsidies cost us $345 billion annually in emergency room visits, health impacts, loss of life and loss of tourism income among other impacts.  A true free market is one in which industry takes responsibility for the costs it imposes on society.  In this sense, the fossil fuels industry has failed miserably.

Growing Faster Than the Rest of the Economy
While fossil fuels have increasingly clear health costs, the ways in which clean energy production helps the U.S. economy are becoming clearer as well.  According to a study from the non-partisan Brookings Institute, renewable energy jobs – and clean tech jobs in general – have grown at a much faster pace than the rest of the U.S. economy, driven largely by state policies like the RPS (the only exception being hydropower).  Solar jobs alone have doubled in the U.S. to 100,000 since 2009; many of these local installation and service jobs cannot be exported.  Last year alone, U.S. solar energy installations created a combined $6 billion in direct value, $4 billion of which was accrued to the U.S.  Furthermore, Jackie Roberts, Director of Sustainable Technologies at EDF, recently wrote that the U.S. was a significant net exporter of solar energy products when the entire value chain is accounted for, with total net exports of $2 billion in 2010.
 
A Non-Partisan Issue
Perhaps it’s wishful thinking on Norquist’s part, but he certainly knows about renewable energy’s long history as a non-partisan issue – one where nationally recognized conservative Republicans like Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback have publicly supported the same policies that Norquist decries.  Polls across the country show strong voter support for renewable energy, reaching across political ideology and party lines.  In fact, the most recent Republican President and the previous Governor of Texas created the most successful Renewable Portfolio Standard in the country and reportedly consider it one of their proudest achievements in Texas.  Speaking in Dallas last year at the American Wind Energy Association’s annual conference, former President Bush noted that “when we diversify our energy supply, we create jobs.”
 
Mr. Norquist asks us to rethink renewable energy, and I think he may be right. Recently, fossil fuel industry-funded attacks on renewable energy have grown, which makes me think they are beginning to feel the pressure from cleaner renewable energy with no fuel cost.  Pseudo scientific claims like those found in Norquist’s op-ed make front page news while the incredible growth rates of renewable energy projects and jobs in the U.S. barely make the back page, which leads me to believe that the media is more focused on reporting controversy than facts.  The public remains committed to clean energy, while public officials waver, seeking to catch the political wind.  All of this makes me think that we need to recommit to a cleaner energy future with less pollution, healthier children and more local jobs.
Posted in Air Pollution, Environment, Renewable Energy| Comments closed

Pecan Street Named #1 Electric Vehicle Initiative Of The Year

This commentary was originally posted on the EDF Energy Exchange Blog.

As the Christmas season revs up and a New Year fast approaches, you may have noticed the sentimental commercials of couples giving each other new cars amidst snowy scenes and jolly music or well-choreographed salespeople urging you to shop thedealership as eager car companies showcase their new model year offerings. This happens every year around this time, some obviously more ridiculous than others. But with each year as more hybrid and electric vehicles join the marketplace, these companies are touting their environmental acumen as much as their sleek body styles and luxurious interiors. While there are still hurdles to overcome, the age of electric vehicles (EV) is beginning.

(Source: Pecan Street)

2012 will see the 100% gas-free Ford Focus, now taking reservations, Mitsubishi’s MiEV’s as the cheapest offering in the EV market, and the all electric Honda Fit, released initially as lease only until 2013. With a limited supply of Fits coming to the US, Engadget even suggests “you may want to add your local Honda dealer to the holiday card list — it certainly can't hurt your chances of getting Fit next summer.” One analyst believes by “model year 2015, the new car market will have 108 electric-drive models.” And a University of California at Berkeley study predicts that by 2030, 64% of light vehicle sales in the US will be EV.

All of this excitement and momentum begs many questions about the state of infrastructure for these new ways of driving. Will batteries evolve and will prices come down? Will the better buy be a car with gas back-up or will towns be equipped with adequate charging stations? What will emission profiles look like for those charging in the Northeast versus those out west in sunny, solar California? While this will be a dynamic process for many years, luckily there are some groundbreaking projects underway that are working to answer these questions and build the transportation revolution. And our own Pecan Street tops the list of the Top Five Electric Vehicle Initiatives of the Year! Greentech Media calls it “certainly the most ambitious EV-solar-smart-grid integration project in the United States.”

As we wrote back in September, Pecan Street announced that Chevy GM will be jumping onboard, making “102 Volts available to people living in the 172-home test area. The cars will come with double the current $7,500 federal rebate to try to boost sales. It will likely represent the largest non-fleet concentration of EVs in the country, which will offer valuable data regarding use, grid strain and even basic things like how long the wait will be at available charging stations. Combined with a push to optimize solar for the conflicting needs of EV charging, battery storage and regular old grid supply, the Pecan Street initiative will provide a number of valuable answers.”

As we reflect on the past year and look forward to the new one just around the corner, we are excited that Pecan Street’s EV ambitions have been recognized as #1! Of all the car commercials we will be bombarded with this December, perhaps the timeliest one of all is from the Nissan Leaf which puts gasoline and energy use in a whole new perspective. Here’s to a 2012 that uses less.

Posted in Clean Car Standards, Smart Grid| Comments closed

EDF Releases Ten Recommendations For The First Offshore CCS Projects In Texas

This commentary was originally posted on the EDF Energy Exchange Blog by Tim O'Connor.

(Source: Southeast Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership Region)

On December 2nd, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) completed a 2-year long research project funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to support a University of Texas (UT) project to find suitable sites to sequester carbon dioxide below ground in Texas’ offshore state waters. The research report, which directs site selection, anticipates environmental risks and provides recommendations during project siting and development, was generated to safely and efficiently guide offshore carbon capture and geologic sequestration (CCS) projects to minimize risks to human health and the environment.

Given that a CCS project off the coast of Texas would likely be the first of its kind in U.S. history, the report offers valuable insight to help guide a future demonstration project which may open the door to a potentially huge CCS industry. In 2010, the U.S. DOE evaluated the gulf coast region and found vast potential for storing CO2 in deep saline formations (underground salt-water deposits) as well as in depleted oil and gas fields throughout the area. Similarly, in 2006 the University of Texas evaluated geologic formations across the coastal region, finding exceptional geology for engaging in CCS projects.

EDF’s recommendations, included in Section VII or the report, provide guidelines for use in site selection and development for offshore CCS projects in Texas, including:

  • Following threshold standards to avoid negative effects on human health or coastal natural resources;
  • Taking an overall precautionary approach wherever possible;
  • Performing site-specific evaluations within the full zone of potential impact, even if not required by law;
  • Choosing sites with the least potential for leakage;
  • Applying recently adopted U.S. EPA rules for groundwater protection even if not required by law;
  • Locating sites as far from shorelines and existing aquifers as feasible;
  • Reusing or collocating equipment new project footprints;
  • Selecting back-up sites where possible;
  • Developing site specific monitoring, verification, accounting, and reporting plan; and
  • Evaluating feasible mitigation measure prior to site operation.

To complete the research project, EDF energy and oceans experts performed an in-depth look into the current state of the Texas gulf coast environment and extrapolated lessons learned from operations analogous to CCS to analyze the potential for impact and recommend ways to mitigate overall risk. EDF used examples and best management practices developed for offshore oil drilling, onshore enhanced oil recovery, acid gas and wastewater injection, and offshore CCS projects in other countries to make its suite of recommendations.

Posted in Environment| Tagged | Comments closed

Former Utility Executive Talks EPA, On-Bill Financing And “Waterproof Power”

It’s always nice to hear a guy say things that you agree with; it kind of makes you think you might be as smart as him, at least on the topic at hand (even if you know that’s not really true).  When it’s a person who has probably "run more public power agencies than anyone in history" including the Tennessee Valley Authority Texas’ Lower Colorado River Authority it makes you feel extra smart.  EDF has been a strong advocate of market based clean energy solutions like demand response, on-bill energy efficiency financing and clean energy in Texas, but hearing S. David Freeman talk about those issues with the Texas Tribune yesterday added some much needed perspective to the energy discussion.

Credit: LCRA

It’s well worth the full read here. But here are some of my favorites:

On the ongoing battle between Texas and the EPA:

… this is a kind of a almost childish reaction to something you've got to do that people are now saying they don't want to do. We have gone from 1970 to 2010 with people recognizing that the most precious, the most finite, the thinnest resource we have is this thin layer of air around the earth in which we have to breathe, and we have been steadily trying to put less and less poison into the air. Now, all of a sudden in 2011, because there's a recession and people are hurting economically, folks are trying to blame the environmental laws. Well, that's almost like blaming your momma for making you go to church.

On industry’s concerns about regulation:

I lived through an era when the electric power industry took out full-page ads in the paper saying, "We don't know how to build a scrubber," at the same time the engineers were learning how to build a scrubber [a piece of pollution control equipment]. And we've built scrubbers and we've installed them. The electric power industry has bellyached about the environmental laws while obeying them for the last 40 years…

On environmental progress and historical perspective:

…I'm not sure that the current public is quite as familiar with what's going on as we were in the 1970s and 1980s, because back then the Cayuga River was on fire and you couldn't breathe in Los Angeles or Houston. But because of the EPA, and only because of the EPA, the air quality has gotten a lot better. It's still not healthy. And so this is a march of progress that has gone on for a long time, and at every step of the road there have been affected industries.

On solar power:

If I were in charge of Texas right now, I would make sure that we initiated the load management [i.e., demand response] program immediately… I would do on-bill [energy] efficiency. And I would pick up the phone and call First Solar or one of these major solar companies and say, "I got a bunch of land in West Texas, near substations. How many megawatts can you put in between now and June?”

On “water proof” power:

Water, more than anything else, is the limiting factor on power production. It's time that we start, in a practical state like Texas, beginning to face the fact that electricity that can be generated without heating up or consuming water is far more practical than large nuclear, coal or even gas-fired plants… So we don't have all the power capacity we think we have, looking at the future. And therefore it puts a whole new look on the value of wind and solar and storage… And that's with waterproof power.”

Posted in Air Pollution, Energy-Water Nexus, Environment, Environmental Protection Agency, Ozone, Solar| Tagged | Comments closed
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