Category Archives: Coal

Will Texas Step Up to the Plate on Energy Efficiency and Carbon Pollution Standards?

rp_Kate-Zerrenner-200x300.jpgA couple of weeks ago, I wrote about energy efficiency and the Clean Air Act section 111(d) provisions in anticipation of the SPEER Second Annual Summit, a gathering of top energy efficiency industry leaders from Texas and Oklahoma. At the Summit, I co-led a session on Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) push to regulate power plant emissions. Session attendees agreed that Texas would be an unlikely leader in developing innovative ways to comply with carbon pollution standards for existing power plants.

This is a missed opportunity on Texas’ part, as states will get the first crack at drafting plans to comply with new federal standards. This is an important opportunity because individual states are in the best position to craft frameworks that enable maximum flexibility and are appropriately tailored to local circumstances. So, this begs the question: is there an alternative, more constructive path that is most beneficial to Texas?  Read More »

Also posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Climate Change, Energy Efficiency, Environmental Protection Agency, GHGs, Renewable Energy | Tagged | Comments closed

We Can't Expect a Reliable Energy Future Without Talking Water

Kate Zerrenner

This commentary originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

It’s no secret that electricity generation requires substantial amounts of water, and different energy sources require varying amounts of water. Nor is it a surprise that Texas and other areas in the West and Southwest are in the midst of a persistent drought. Given these realities, it is surprising that water scarcity is largely absent from the debate over which energy sources are going to be the most reliable in our energy future.

Recent media coverage has been quick to pin the challenge of reliability as one that only applies to renewables. The logic goes something like this: if the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow, we won’t have electricity, making these energy sources unreliable. But if we don’t have reliable access to abundant water resources to produce, move and manage energy that comes from water-intensive energy resources like fossil fuels, this argument against the intermittency of renewables becomes moot.

Moving forward into an uncertain energy future, the water intensity of a particular electricity source should be taken into consideration as a matter of course.  Read More »

Also posted in Drought, Renewable Energy, Smart Grid, Solar, Wind | Tagged , | Comments closed

Clean Air Standards Create Opportunities, Not Problems for Texas

Jim MarstonOn Thursday, November 7, the Environmental Protection Agency opened its doors across the country to solicit public comment on the Carbon Pollution Standards for existing coal-fired power plants.  The EPA seeks to implement common sense, realistic limits on the air pollution emitted from fossil fuel power plants, the single largest source of climate pollution in the United States.

To date, the coal industry has had free license to pollute carbon without limitation, leading directly and indirectly to harm human health and the environment.

These rules will bring a breath of fresh air to Texans and other Americans across the county.

Sadly in a few states, such as Texas, officials are acting to protect the owners of a few dirty coal plants and undermine the economic and health benefits that EPA will realize with the new measure.

Christi Craddick, member of the Texas Railroad Commission, the state agency charged with regulating mining, published an editorial in the Abilene Reporter-News stating the proposed EPA standards will cause “detrimental effects on U.S. competitiveness in world markets, halt America’s energy boom and manufacturing renaissance and cost the U.S. economy.”  Craddick cites no evidence to support her claims.  Read More »

Also posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Environmental Protection Agency, Natural gas, Renewable Energy, Solar, Wind | Tagged | 1 Response, comments now closed

Texas To Benefit From EPA’s New Power Plant Standards

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its first-ever standard on carbon pollution from fossil fuel power plants. The landmark standard will limit the amount of carbon dioxide that a power plant can emit into the atmosphere. The new rules will have the greatest impact on coal power plants, which release more carbon dioxide than any other power source. EPA’s announcement comes as welcome news in this era of prolonged inaction on climate change. Nevertheless, opponents are already lining up to fight EPA’s standards tooth and nail.

Attorneys General from 17 states, including Texas, have banded together and pledged to fight any limits on carbon pollution. They claim that individual states should have sole authority to regulate emissions from sources within their boundaries. Unfortunately, states like Texas have demonstrated in the past that they are unwilling to regulate carbon pollution, a big statement considering that Texas releases more carbon pollution than any other state in the nation.

EPA’s announcement today is a common sense approach to solving the climate crisis. The proposed standards would set the first uniform national limits on carbon pollution from new power plants. They do not apply to currently operating, existing power plants. As a result, the standards will hasten the transition toward cleaner electricity sources with fewer carbon emissions and help drive U.S. policy forward reflecting that these clean energy technologies are the best option for powering America. Read More »

Also posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Climate Change, Environmental Protection Agency | Comments closed

NOAA Reports On Climate; Texas Politicians Stick Heads In Sand

This post originally appeared on EDF's Voices blog.

Last week, a coalition of environmental groups presented U.S. Senator Ted Cruz and other Texas politicians with “awards” for their persistent denial of basic climate science. In fact, climate change denial is all too common among Texas lawmakers. Governor Rick Perry, for example, calls climate change “a theory that has not been proven.”

In contrast, the international scientific community almost unanimously agrees that greenhouse gases associated with human activity are responsible for the global warming pattern we’ve seen since the mid-20 century. Earlier this month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its annual State of the Climate report. The report brings together leading scientists and academics to assess the state of the Earth’s climate. The 2012 report, which included contributions from 384 authors from 52 countries, is the most authoritative analysis of climate change and its global effects. Read More »

Also posted in Air Pollution, Climate Change, Drought, Extreme Weather | Tagged , | Comments closed

Abbott Fails In Fight Against Clean Air Protections

On Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit dismissed lawsuits filed by Attorney General Greg Abbott and a group of power companies that could have undermined the Clean Air Act and hurt efforts to reduce climate pollution.

The Clean Air Act requires that large sources of pollution, including greenhouse gases (GHGs), obtain permits when they are constructing or making a major change to their facility.  These permits require facilities to use modern emission control technologies to cost-effectively reduce their pollution.

Some states, including Texas, didn’t have the authority to issue these clean air permits for greenhouse gases under their state laws, so the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took the limited actions challenged here to ensure that sources in these states could get the permits they needed to begin construction.  Every state – except Texas – worked with EPA to make sure sources could get the permits they needed (either under state or federal authority).

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has been quoted as saying, “What I really do for fun is I go into the office, [and] I sue the Obama administration,” took the EPA to court over the agency’s efforts to ensure sources in Texas could get the permits they needed to construct.  All of this despite the fact that most facilities in Texas were already working to reduce their emissions and comply with the new federal standards.  On Friday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirmed that the Clean Air Act unambiguously requires large GHG sources, like coal-fired power plants, to obtain permits.  As a result, the court dismissed Texas’ lawsuit, finding that EPA’s actions didn’t cause Texas any injury.  Much to the contrary, they were necessary to ensure GHG sources could obtain permits that they otherwise could not obtain at all. Read More »

Also posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Climate Change, Environment, Environmental Protection Agency, GHGs, Renewable Energy, Texas Permitting | Tagged , , , | 1 Response, comments now closed

San Antonio Launches Clean Air Awareness Efforts

Dr. Joseph Dungan and his team from James Madison high school attended the forum and showed off their solar powered car.

If you haven’t heard already, San Antonio hosted its inaugural air quality forum this past week at the “Castle” headquarters of the socially conscious, innovative company Rackspace, and I felt fortunate to be an invited panelist at this groundbreaking event.

Mike Burke, chair and founder of the San Antonio Clean Technology Forum, and Scott Storment, executive director of Mission Verde Alliance, were leaders in developing the program, “Keeping It Clean: Our Air, Our Health,” to highlight San Antonio’s pressing need to focus on air pollution solutions and engage the local community on ways it can help.

In August 2012, San Antonio fell into “monitored non-attainment”, meaning the region failed to meet both federal ozone standards and the city’s own air quality goals established in the SA2020 plan. Known as a leader in taking proactive measures to address air quality challenges, the seventh largest U.S. city now faces rising levels of ground-level ozone. This increase has much to do with the rapid growth in population (a 16 percent increase in population between 2000 and 2010 according to U.S. census data) and the shift within the state’s energy landscape, with emissions from Eagle Ford oil and gas activities expected to contribute several parts per billion worth of ozone to the region’s airshed. Because city-dwellers have a heightened exposure to pollution, ground-level ozone is particularly dangerous in dense metropolitan areas. Research shows that urban residents are more at risk of respiratory health problems, such as asthma, heart attacks and lung cancer. Read More »

Also posted in Air Pollution, Environment, Natural gas, San Antonio | Comments closed

Supreme Court To Revisit Cross-State Air Pollution Rule

Source: EPA

June was a big month for the climate, and I’m not just talking about President Obama’s landmark speech on climate change. In a decision that could affect the lives of 240 million people across the eastern half of the U.S., the Supreme Court announced that it would review a lower court decision that overturned the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. See our earlier post here. The Cross-State Rule was enacted by the EPA under the “good neighbor” provision of the Clean Air Act. In July of 2011, the EPA finalized the rule, requiring twenty-eight eastern states to reduce power plant emissions that contribute to pollution from ozone and fine particulate matter in other states. The rule is meant to ensure that the emissions from one state’s power plants do not cause harmful pollution levels in neighboring states in the form of ozone and particulate pollution —otherwise known as soot and smog.

The Supreme Court’s decision to review the lower court’s ruling is especially significant to Texas. Opponents of the clean air standards, including our own Attorney General Greg Abbott, sued to block them. Their chief concern: that the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule might affect Texas’ dirtiest coal-fired power plants. In August of last year, a deeply divided three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit vacated and remanded the Cross-State Rule to EPA. Read More »

Also posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Environment, Environmental Protection Agency, Texas Energy Crunch | Comments closed

El Paso Electric Inks Solar Deal That Is Cheaper Than Coal

This commentary was originally posted on EDF's Energy Exchange blog.

On the heels of our blog post last week, showing how competitive wind and solar power have become in recent years, is news of possibly the cheapest solar deal yet in the U.S. (that we know of publicly, at least). Even more interesting is the fact that the deal was made between Texas-based El Paso Electric and First Solar, an Arizona-based solar manufacturer. While it’s a little sad that a Texas-based company has to go to New Mexico to build solar, it’s at least heartening that they could partner with a U.S. company to get the project done. First Solar has been one of the leading solar manufacturers for several years, and last year their suite of projects made them the #2 solar panel supplier in the world (up from #4.)

Marty Howell, the City of El Paso’s Director of Economic Development and Sustainability, said that “El Paso Electric’s recent solar contract with First Solar is another example of our great partnership with El Paso Electric and how El Pasoans are working together to make our community more sustainable.”

This new 50 megawatt (MW) project in New Mexico comes in at 5.79¢/kilowatt hour (kWh), which is almost half the cost of a new “advanced” coal power plant (12-14¢/kWh), according to the Energy Information Administration. It is helpful to note that the deal did benefit from subsidies, as detailed in an article by Renewable Energy World, including the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) – which provides renewable energy projects with a tax credit equal to roughly 30 percent of a project’s costs. If we were to remove that credit and the benefit of local incentives, the project would come in right around the cost of a new advanced coal plant, even if the coal plant lacks carbon capture and storage technology.

Time will tell whether this deal is an exception or the new rule, but growing signs of price parity for solar power, and the continued growth of competitive wind energy, consistently point to a critical shift in our energy infrastructure. With continued declines expected in both wind and solar prices, this First Solar project seems more likely to become the norm than not. The only question is whether utilities and regulators are ready for such rapid growth in wind and solar power.

In New Mexico, they certainly seem to be ready. However, in many other states, including El Paso Electric’s home state of Texas, that’s still an open question.

Also posted in Solar | Comments closed

Is Senator Inhofe really looking out for Oklahoma?

(Credit: New York Times)

This blog post takes a detour from Texas issues and covers a regional issue in our neighbor state, Oklahoma.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to understand the disconnect between Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe and the threat of rising temperatures to his own constituents. Last year, Oklahoma endured the hottest summer ever recorded in U.S. history. According to the National Climatic Data Center, Oklahoma's average temperature last summer was 86.9 degrees.

The previous record for the hottest summer was set in the midst of the Dust Bowl, again in Oklahoma. The Dust Bowl literally blew Oklahoma’s farmers off their land, along with their topsoil. No one wants a repeat of that.

What’s alarming is that the previous record of 85.2 degrees, set in Oklahoma in 1934, was almost two degrees cooler than summer 2011!

A permanent rise of two degrees, according to climate experts, is enough to turn America’s heartland into desert. From Montana to Texas, a sustained increase of two degrees would turn the wheat and corn fields of the West and Midwest to dust. In Oklahoma alone, more than 77,000 family farms provide wheat, cotton, meat, poultry, dairy products and jobs that will all go away if the summer heat of 2011 proves to be the norm rather than the anomaly.

Meanwhile, Senator Inhofe continues his attempts to undermine EPA standards that will help reduce rising greenhouse gas emissions. Senator Inhofe has a history of attacking climate change, science, and clean air standards.

But last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued a unanimous opinion affirming EPA’s protective carbon pollution standards issued under the Clean Air Act. The court thoroughly rebuked those, like Inhofe, who attack science. The court confirmed EPA’s analysis that global warming is caused by humans and is a public health threat, saying “[t]his is how science works. EPA is not required to re-prove the existence of the atom every time it approaches a scientific question.”

Natural gas prices are very low. One thing that may cause prices to rise is increased demand for gas to replace dirty coal. Inexplicably, Senator Inhofe and royalty owners support out of state coal businesses to the detriment of Oklahoma natural gas companies. Rather than encourage jobs in his state, the Senator chooses to protect coal jobs in West Virginia and Wyoming. As Oklahomans suffer from record heat, watch their energy bills rise and see their crops die, they should thank Senator Inhofe for refusing to do anything to improve the outlook for future summers in the Sooner State.

Also posted in Air Pollution, Climate Change, Environmental Protection Agency, GHGs, Natural gas | 3 Responses, comments now closed
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