Texas Clean Air Matters

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.

Also posted in Air Pollution, Climate Change, Drought, ERCOT / Comments are closed

Environmental Costs Of Our Inaction Have Arrived. Is This Really What We Want?

1.2 million acres have burned, tens of thousands were left homeless, hundreds dead due to freak tornadoes and the Southwest is running out of water while the Mississippi breaches its banks. What is to blame?

Why are weather forecasts (that were once at least somewhat accurate) now hopeless?  These questions may not have easy answers, but the issues surrounding them deserve our nation’s full attention.  One explanation is that climate change is affecting extreme weather events.

(Credit- www.publicradio.org)

Climate Communication, a non-profit science and outreach project made up of scientists across the globe, says:

All weather events are now influenced by climate change because all weather now develops in a different environment than before. While natural variability continues to play a key role in extreme weather, climate change has shifted the odds and changed the natural limits, making certain types of extreme weather more frequent and more intense. The kinds of extreme weather events that would be expected to occur more often in a warming world are indeed increasing.

 “Extreme events are a manifestation of climate change,” according to Thomas Karl, Director of the U.S. Climatic Data Center and lead author of a 2008 report by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, which showed that extreme weather events linked to climate change are happening right now in the United States. 

Karl added this in a March 2010 broadcast for EarthSky, “We may be fine for many years, and all of a sudden, one particular season, one particular year, the extremes are far worse than we’ve ever seen before.”

Over the last 50 years, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reports that the number of natural disasters in the U.S. has more than QUADRUPLED. And, according to the insurance giant MunichRe, since 1980, the total economic losses attributed to natural disasters has more than TRIPLED.

(Credit- Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Here in the Lone Star state, researchers from Texas A&M University said, “The months-long Texas drought is sapping the record books bone dry and is racking up dire statistics that have never been reached since reliable record-keeping was started 116 years ago.” This is exactly the kind of abrupt change Karl predicted.

Joplin, Tuscaloosa, the Wallow Fire, the flooding Mississippi, droughts and wildfires across Texas: these events have caused us all pause in the past year.

Earlier this year, we asked our supporters to share stories of the extreme weather they have experienced in 2011; more than 2,200 individuals sent in stories that include a variety of extremes – from heat, to blizzards, to floods, to drought. These stories inspired our 2011 Extreme Weather Video and our Postcards from the Edge. We also created the “Yes, I’m Worried” petition to share with our leaders in Washington who are unwilling or unable to take the climate crisis seriously.

We saw what happened with DDT.  Many ignored the concerns for years, said there must be other explanations.  As they did, people got sick, bird populations dwindled and the problem grew larger.  Debate is good, questions are good, but actively ignoring sound science and the inescapable power of nature is irresponsible.

 We need your help.  Please sign up here to join the movement to support bold action to stop run-away global warming.

Also posted in Climate Change, Drought / Comments are closed