Monthly Archives: November 2012

ALEC & Heartland: Freedom Fighters?

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

As we approach a new Congress, and a new Legislative Session here in Texas, the Heartland Institute and their pal American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are gearing up to reverse state renewable energy mandates across the country.

This comes as no surprise as ALEC has a reputation for supporting unpopular agendas, like voter ID laws and the controversial Stand-Your-Ground law. So while many Americans from differing political affiliations support an increase in renewables – a nearly unanimous 92% of voters, including 84% of Republicans – it seems fitting that ALEC would be on the opposing side.

While the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) and the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA) are both members of ALEC, I wonder if they will join the ranks of Proctor & Gamble, Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods and a whole host of companies who have since parted ways with the “shadowy right-wing front group.”

And it’s not just ALEC that runs off its members. As we wrote back in April, GM announced they were pulling their funding from the Heartland Institute, citing Heartland’s climate change denial. Of course, weeks later Heartland doubled down on their denial with a series of billboards comparing climate change admitters to the likes of Ted Kaczynski, Charles Manson and Osama bin Laden.

So this ALEC-Heartland partnership is truly a match made in…well…

Adding to ALEC’s list of anti-environmental goals – including promoting legislation to kill climate policies and providing the framework for legislation that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating toxic coal ash – it now has its sights set on the 29 states that have renewable portfolio standards (RPS) and mandates in place.

And in typical Orwellian fashion this fight is dubbed the “Electricity Freedom Act,” as they deem state standards requiring utilities to get a portion of their electricity from renewable power “essentially a tax on consumers of electricity.” James Taylor, the Heartland Institute’s senior fellow for environmental policy, said he was able to persuade most of ALEC’s state legislators and corporate members to push for a repeal of laws requiring more solar and wind power use on the basis of economics, claiming that, “renewable power mandates are very costly to consumers throughout the 50 states, and that alternative energy, renewable energy, is more expensive than conventional energy.”

But whose freedom are they really protecting and whose freedom are they hindering?

Freedom to Save Money

In Texas, which passed its RPS in 1999 as Senate Bill 7, and whose renewable goal was met within the decade (six years earlier than targeted), renewable generation has reduced wholesale and retail energy prices during some periods and been instrumental in moderating price increases during periods in which the cost of natural gas was increasing. Furthermore, as the states own Public Utility Commission (PUC) clearly outlines in its Report to the 81st Texas Legislature entitled Scope of Competition in Electric Markets in Texas, prices are lower Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT)-wide when there are large amounts of wind energy being produced, and for each additional 1,000 megawatt (MW) of wind that was produced, the analysis showed that the clearing price in the balancing energy market fell by $2.38.”

In Michigan, the Public Service Commission has concluded that its current RPS law – 10% by 2015 – is saving money for energy customers. The Commission determined that new coal plants would cost ratepayers about 13.3 cents per kilowatt hour. But the new renewable plants under contract were coming in at about 9.1 cents per kilowatt hour.  Same for California where their PUC has concluded, based on the current 2011 RPS Solicitation, costs are decreasing, making renewable energy more competitive with fossil fuels. Xcel, the largest utility in Colorado, says that the state’s renewable energy standard will ultimately save their consumers as much as $100 million over 25 years.

Furthermore, there are many factors that influence electricity rates. In an analysis of utility rates, economists Ernst Berndt, Roy Epstein, and Michael Doane identified 13 reasons why a utility’s rates may be higher or lower than the average. They include things like the average use per customer, age of the distribution system, generation resource mix, local taxes and rate of increases prior to any implemented RPS, so faulting renewables for high energy prices is a bogus claim. According to Richard Caperton’s analysis at the Center for American Progress, there is no data showing a nationwide pattern of renewable energy standards leading to rate increases for consumers. Instead, the data show that these standards do not cause electricity rates to go up faster than they otherwise would have, and that the standards are not responsible for electricity rates increasing faster than average.

When the Texas PUC voted in October to raise the wholesale electric price cap to $9,000 to encourage new fossil fuel plants, which would certainly raise costs for consumers, ALEC and Heartland weren’t rushing to “free” Texas electric customers from higher costs. There was not even a comprehensive analysis of consumer impact done before that vote and the estimates of those costs have varied – from $4-$5 per household to an increase amounting to $48 to $50 per month for an ordinary Texas household.

Freedom to Make Money

Another benefit to consumers is the fact that distributed renewable generation is the only type of generation for which consumers can be directly compensated. So not only are their bills lower, they are receiving payments – as is the case in California, where the California PUC made “feed-in tariffs” available for the purchase of up to 480 MW of renewable generating capacity from small facilities (1.5 MW or less) throughout the state.   These feed-in tariffs present a simple mechanism for small renewable generators to sell power to the utility at predefined terms and conditions, without contract negotiations.  Additionally, customers can get a return for the rooftop energy they produce but do not use, called a Net Surplus Compensation (NSC) rate.

In New Jersey, when a renewable energy system produces more electricity than the customer actually uses, the customer will be compensated with credits at the full retail value of the electricity for the production over and above what they use.

For states that don’t have explicit net metering requirements, renewable standards and mandates should be stronger, not weaker. Renewables are good for energy consumers. But it’s clear that as they help lower electricity prices, they aren’t so good for traditional fossil fuel generators who would prefer to make as much money as possible.

Speaking of Money

It is no surprise, then, that these same fossil fuel interests are the ones who fund Heartland and ALEC. Peabody Energy, the largest private-sector coal company in the world, was the 2011 winner of ALEC's Private Sector Member of the Year Award, and served as a "Chairman" level sponsor of the 2011 ALEC Annual Conference, which in 2010, equated to $50,000. ALEC also has received $1,474,200 from ExxonMobil since 1998. The foundations controlled by the billionaire Koch brothers gave ALEC over $200,000 in 2009 in addition to the undisclosed membership dues paid by Koch Industries. Not to be left out, Heartland gets love from the Koch brothers too. In its 2012 Fundraising Plan, Heartland received $25,000 from the Koch Foundation in 2011 and a projected $200,000 for 2012! It also received $25,000 from the US Chamber of Commerce, and $2,500 from Marathon Petroleum.  Listed "sponsors" for the Heartland Institute's 2009 "International Conference on Climate Change" amounted to $47 million from energy companies and right-wing foundations, with 78% of that total coming from the Scaife Family of foundations.

And let’s not forget that when it comes to subsidies, ALEC and Heartland aren’t complaining about the billions in taxpayer dollars that go to fund their fossil fuel friends. In my recent blog, I highlight that from 2002-2008, the fossil fuel industry received $72.5 billion in subsidies, many written into the permanent tax code, while traditional renewables like wind and solar received $12.2 billion over that same time. And, in a recent EDF video on the Triple Bottom Line Benefits Of Clean Energy, we highlight the fact that the fossil fuel industry receives 75 times more subsidies than clean energy sources Since 1918, oil and gas have received $442 billion compared to the 5.6 billion renewables have received since 1994.

If ALEC and Heartland were really about free markets they would support true competition and innovation and not try to suppress their competitors to monopolize the energy market for their fossil fuel cronies. I suppose freedom to them is just a façade.

Posted in Legislation, Renewable Energy, Solar, Wind| Comments closed

TCEQ Extends Deadline To Apply For Clean School Bus Grants

As we told you earlier this week, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) operates a Texas Clean School Bus Grant Program that is designed to improve the health of school children and bus drivers by reducing emissions of diesel exhaust from school buses. I am pleased to share that TCEQ has extended the application deadline for the program to December 14, 2012.

The TCEQ provides grant money to purchase and install devices on school buses to reduce emissions. All sizes of diesel-powered school buses are eligible. The bus must operate on a regular, daily route to and from a school and have at least five years of useful life remaining.

Applications will be considered on a first-come, first-served basis through the extended deadline. While there is not a limit on the amount of funding that can be applied for, the amount award is at the discretion of the TCEQ. You can download the request for grant applications at www.texascleanschoolbus.org.

Additionally, please check out our recently released EDF report, “Review of Texas’ Clean School Bus Programs: How Far Have We Come and What Is Still Left to Do?”, which highlights the efforts of state and regional programs in administering clean bus programs, and details the progress made with retrofits and replacements.

Posted in Air Pollution, Clean school buses, TCEQ| Comments closed

The State of Texas And TCEQ Fight Against Cleaner Air For Texans

The State of Texas and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) are once again fighting against clean air rules that will save Texans’ lives. This time, it is the first-ever standards limiting the amount of mercury and other toxics power plants can emit. The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) will ensure that 90 percent of the mercury content in coal burned by power plants is not released into our air. Given that power plants are responsible for half of all mercury emissions in the U.S., these reductions will be a substantial protection in keeping our air, waterways, and fish from toxic mercury pollution.

TCEQ, the Texas attorney general, and others are challenging the standards in court, saying that the toxic pollutants covered by the mercury standards do not "pose public health hazards.” The reality is that power plants in the U.S. are a major source of many toxics such as mercury (50 percent), arsenic (62 percent), chromium (22 percent), acid gas (77 percent), and nickel (28 percent). These pollutants are linked to cancer, neurological and development impairments, and many other harmful health and environmental impacts. Other sectors have cleaned up their toxic pollution and now it is time for power plants to do the same.

A report EDF released last year demonstrated that Texas had an oversized share of the top mercury emitting coal plants in the U.S. in 2009. Contaminated water bodies and, subsequently, food fish sources, as shown below, illustrate the legacy of mercury pollution in and around Texas.

Leaders in Texas and TCEQ are misguided in their attempt to upend these life-saving standards, which will prevent up to 11,000 deaths each year. Up to 1,200 of the deaths prevented will be in Texas, and Texas stands to benefit the most in terms of avoided premature deaths among all the states. The monetized value of the health benefits from these regulations is estimated at between four and ten billion every year beginning in 2016.

Public health interests, some power companies, and, and other stakeholders support MATS and have intervened in support of it in the Courts. Among them is Texas’ own Austin Energy. The Lower Colorado River Authority has also indicated it is “well-positioned” to comply. We need TCEQ and the state of Texas to stand up to harmful pollution instead of standing in the way of public health protections.

Posted in Air Pollution, MATS, TCEQ| Comments closed

New School Bus Report Highlights Progress On Clean Bus Programs In Texas

Clean school bus programs in Texas have made significant progress toward improving air quality on our state’s school buses, though much work remains to be done according to an analysis EDF just released: “Review of Texas’ Clean School Bus Programs: How Far Have We Come and What Is Still Left to Do?” The report highlights the efforts of state and regional programs in administering clean bus programs, and details the progress made with retrofits and replacements.

Coincidentally, funding opportunities with impending application deadlines were just announced from two different sources, which seek to address the more than 17,000 buses remaining to be retrofitted or replaced (details below). The challenge, as it has always been, is continuing to motivate Texas Independent School Districts to take advantage of this and other available funding.

Health Concerns of Dirty Buses
Diesel engines power most of the estimated 480,000 school buses in the United States. The World Health Organization recently classified diesel exhaust as a known carcinogen, specifically noting a causal link between exposure to diesel exhaust and lung cancer. One of the most dangerous components of diesel exhaust is particulate matter (PM). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is particularly concerned with these smallest-sized particles, because they are known to aggravate asthma, cause lung inflammation, lead to heart problems, and increase the risk of cancer and premature death.

As we have written before (see PARENTS: Act Now Before Funds Run Out for Cleaner School Buses), Texas children riding to school in buses built before 2007 may be breathing air inside the cabin of the bus that contains 5-10 times higher concentrations of PM than found outside the bus. These older bus engines spew nearly 40 toxic substances and smog-forming emissions. Children, who breathe in more air per pound of body weight than adults, are therefore exposed to even higher health risks because their lungs are still developing.

Report Highlights
As of the 2010-2011 school year, the Texas Education Agency reported that nearly two-thirds of current school buses were over six years old, emitting at least 10 times as much PM as newer buses, and much more in many cases because a large proportion of the fleet is even older. More than 700,000 children are impacted, meaning that nearly half of the students relying on school buses for transportation in Texas still ride dirty buses.

Despite the considerable number of older buses that are still on the road, many of the state bus programs have made considerable progress in turning over fleets. Through the end of the 2011 calendar year, 7,068 buses were retrofitted, 700 buses were replaced, and several other projects related to clean fuels and idle reduction were successfully implemented in Texas. Over $38 million has been spent on these projects, with funding received from the federal and state government, as well as from local donors. This is certainly money well spent in protecting our children’s health from particulate matter.

Moving Forward

With momentum from successes to date, our EDF report recommends that communities, ISDs, and government officials carry on the clean school bus momentum by:

  • Continuing to seek funding for these types of projects;
  • Completing existing clean school bus projects; and
  • Investing in these projects through budget and legislative funding allocations.

In addition, as mentioned earlier, two recent funding announcements from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and EPA make more progress possible. Schools need to move quickly though, as these deadlines are approaching.

Under the “Texas Clean School Bus Program,” TCEQ is accepting applications for grants during the next few weeks through November 30. This is a comprehensive program designed to reduce diesel exhaust emissions through school bus retrofits. All public school districts and charter schools in Texas are eligible to apply for this grant. Private schools are not eligible for funding. Public school districts that lease buses are also eligible, according to TCEQ.

EPA also just launched a new rebate funding opportunity for school bus replacements under the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act. Once more, applicants should act swiftly as the application period is just a month long, from Nov. 13 to Dec. 14.  The first round of rebates will be offered as part of a pilot program and will focus on the replacement of older school buses in both public and private fleets. If the pilot proves successful, EPA will look at rebates for other fleet types and technologies.

In conclusion, work still remains to be done to protect the health of Texas children and improve the air quality in and around school buses – until all of Texas’ oldest buses are either replaced or retrofitted. It’s up to those of us who care about kids in Texas to keep this public health issue a priority.

Posted in Air Pollution, Clean school buses, Environmental Protection Agency, TCEQ| Comments closed

International Dialogue Highlights Global Opportunities for Supply Chain Sustainability

Complete supply chains are inherently international and logistics decisions made in Bentonville, Arkansas can have impacts in ports such as Callao, Peru just as carrier choices made in Santiago, Chile may affect operations in Houston, Texas. While these complexities present challenges to the transportation and logistics sectors, they are also opportunities to collaborate across regions, companies, and industries. Much of the work required to improve air quality in transportation hot spots and drive efficiency gains in routing and distribution networks involves myriad actors. Of course, carbon accounting and technology adaptation are practices that are not limited to the U.S. and there is growing international interest in making supply chains more sustainable.

An example of new opportunities to engage more broadly on supply chain sustainability comes from last month’s Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) Annual Conference. I met a representative from the Buenos Aires-based radio program “Hablemos de Logística” and we discussed trade growth in Latin America, environmental challenges facing the region, industry views on supply chain sustainability, and EDF’s vision and goals for regional efforts on transportation and logistics environmental programs. This interview (in Spanish), which aired on the October 23rd broadcast of “Hablemos de Logística,” captures some of our discussion. The radio program’s media group also includes Foro Logística, an event-based group that hosted the 4th Forum on Sustainability and the Supply Chain on November 6 in Buenos Aires. While the media group focuses on all aspects of supply chain and logistics topics, they understand the growing role that sustainability will play in this sector.

As EDF helps bring sound science and market-based economics to solving some of the world’s greatest environmental challenges, we are regularly looking for new partners and new opportunities. The global nature of supply chains and growing international awareness of transportation-related environmental concerns means there is better availability to work with diverse stakeholders on supply chain sustainability. This work translates to carbon reductions and air quality improvements for numerous regions as sustainability practices (such as those highlighted by my colleague Elena Craft) become more fully integrated in global supply chains.

La logística es internacional por su naturaleza y el interés en la sustentabilidad de la supply chain va creciendo cada año en América Latina. EDF se ha dedicado a solucionar temas de la huella de carbono, la eficiencia en transporte de carga y la contaminación del aire con varios socios del sector comercial, transportación y público. En la conferencia de CSCMP tuvimos la oportunidad de conversar con Fabio Contino, Director de “Hablemos de logística” un programa de radio basado en Buenos Aires. Hablamos sobre  los desafíos medioambientales en la región, el rol de sustentabilidad en la supply chain y la visión de EDF para una logística más eficiente y sustentable. La entrevista fue emitida en el programa del 23 de octubre y también online. EDF espera avanzar estos temas en América Latina y trabajar con autoridades portuarias, el sector del transporte, coordinadores de logística y el sector comercial para realizar una supply chain más sustentable.

 

Posted in Ports, Transportation| Comments closed

CNN Gets It Wrong On San Antonio’s New Solar Project

San Antonio is soon to be the home of the largest public utility solar project in the United States. The 25-year plan will create five solar plants that produce a total of 400 megawatts of power, which is enough to power 130,000 typical U.S. households. OCI Enterprises and ERCAM Energy of Spain, a leader in the solar energy market, created a joint venture to complete the operation with CPS Energy, San Antonio’s energy utility company. Instead of receiving praise, however, the City of San Antonio, particularly its mayor, has received some harsh accusations regarding the project.

CNN aired a special that attacked Mayor Julian Castro for partnering with a foreign company, saying this decision would “send hundreds of millions of dollars in profits from [the] solar energy deal to South Korea.” The clip went on to criticize OCI Enterprises’ lack of experience in solar power and claimed the company quoted a higher price than several American companies.

Mayor Castro spoke openly about the project and confronted the accusations in several interviews the following Tuesday. He explained that San Antonio based the decision on price, experience, and jobs for San Antonians. "The firm that got this, OCI Solar, is moving its corporate headquarters to San Antonio," Castro said. "It does have a Korean parent company, but the company that we're actually dealing with is American OCI Solar."

“These are skilled and professional jobs,” said Frank Almaraz, vice president of corporate development and planning for CPS Energy. “We’re not uprooting companies and bringing them here. They’ll be doing job fairs here. It should be a real boost to employment here.”

The partnership will create 800 permanent jobs in San Antonio with an average salary of $47,000, which will result in an annual pay roll of $40 million. These are jobs that would be going to Wyoming if the city had chosen to use coal instead of solar.

In addition to creating jobs in San Antonio, OCI Enterprises’ decision to partner with ERCAM Energy will bring 12 years of solar energy experience to the table and make San Antonio a leader in renewable energy.

This new project will reduce the amount of power used from coal plants, which means that San Antonians will be less at risk for respiratory, cardiovascular, and neurological diseases.

So what about pricing? CNN’s Tim Rowlands claims that OCI’s bid was actually a higher cent per kilowatt hour than competitors. The reality is that calculating the true costs of a project of this caliber is never easy. The cost of land for the solar farm and the manufacturing site’s location are also critical factors. Also, CPS Energy does not publicly disclose pricing, so it is unclear where CNN obtained the numbers for this segment.  CPS CEO Doyle Beneby has only revealed that the price is “very, very competitive.”

CNN needs to review their facts. San Antonio’s priorities are in the right place: cleaner air and more jobs for San Antonio.

Posted in San Antonio, Solar| Comments closed
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