Monthly Archives: January 2011

CFLs Again. Different Story – Same Answers

By: Elena Craft

A recent article published in the Press Democrat repeats some of the same allegations (as well as some misleading information) that we’ve heard before regarding concerns about Compact Florescent Lights (CFLs), such as:

  •  Fluorescent lighting triggers migraines
  • Mercury can be released as a vapor if the bulb breaks
  • Fluorescent lighting emits  dangerous radio waves

The literature on the impact of CFLs in the marketplace is robust, and we at EDF have responded many times to the concerns raised. We list here some of the most frequently asked questions and provide additional resources for those who wish to investigate CFLs further.

Why are CFLs better for the environment?

CFLs use less electricity than incandescent lights, and therefore result in a reduced consumption of power (a 15-watt fluorescent bulb, for instance, generates the same amount of light as a 60-watt incandescent. This makes a fluorescent bulb about four times more efficient). Since approximately 45% of the energy generated in the US comes from coal, replacing incandescent bulbs with CFLs goes a long way with respect to energy conservation. In addition, since coal-fired power plants represent the largest source of mercury emissions in the US, reducing energy consumption through energy efficiency measures (like replacing incandescent light bulbs with CFLs) results in less mercury that ends up in our lakes and streams from power plants (even if all of the CFLs were to be disposed of in landfills, which we hope they don’t!) As a result, less mercury ends up accumulating in our environment, in wildlife, and in sport fish.

Are CFLs better for your pocketbook?

Because CFLs use less energy, your electricity bill will be lower. The savings vary of course, depending on how many bulbs you install and how long the lights are on. Assuming that the light is on for 6 hours per day and that the electric rate is 11.3 cents per kilowatt-hour, the Department of Energy has estimated that replacing an incandescent bulb with a CFL will save $105 over the life of the light. One public utility in Washington State has estimated that if every American household were to replace the five most frequently used light fixtures or bulbs with CFLs, then each family would save about $60 a year in energy costs. [They consider the five most frequently used light fixtures to be: kitchen ceiling lights, table and floor lamps in the living and family rooms, and outdoor porch lights].  If the average home converts all of the average 40 bulbs in a home from incandescent to CFLs it would roughly triple those savings.

Do CFLs contribute to migraines?

In the past, CFLs might have contributed to headaches. The contribution of CFLs to headaches was a result of the flickering of light produced by the magnetic ballasts that powered fluorescent lamps at about 60 cycles per second. Fluorescent lighting used today uses electronic ballasts that operate at 40,000 cycles per second, resulting in imperceptible flickering to the eye. For more information, see here.

Do CFLs cause electromagnetic interference?

The answer is that it is possible for CFLs to cause electromagnetic interference, but these electric and magnetic fields have not been found to pose a health hazard to the general population.

From EPA’s Energy Star website:

Similar to linear fluorescent lighting and other electronics, it is possible for CFLs to cause electromagnetic interference (EMI). Electromagnetic interference is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and ENERGY STAR includes these requirements by reference for CFLs. In addition, ENERGY STAR requires CFLs to use ballasts that operate at greater than 40 kHz, which limits the potential for interference. Finally, ENERGY STAR requires that the product package clearly state any devices that the CFL has potential to interfere with. This information is usually found along with other statements of known incompatibility with controls and application exceptions.

How much mercury is in the CFL bulbs?

The amount of mercury in CFLs varies, depending on the type and wattage of the bulb. If the bulb is rated as an Energy Star bulb (as most are), then it should contain no more than 5 mg of mercury (5 mg is barely enough to see with the naked eye; for comparison, the amount of mercury in a non-electronic thermometer or thermostat is about 500 mg). In response to concerns from the public about mercury in the bulbs, some members of the Association of Electrical and Medical Equipment Manufacturers have voluntarily agreed to minimize the mercury content in the bulbs. Under the terms of the commitment, participating companies have agreed to cap the average mercury content of CFL models of less than 25 watts at 4.0 mg per lamp. CFL models that use 25 to 40 watts of electricity have capped average mercury content at 5.0 mg per lamp. Environmental Working Group published a list of bulbs that have even lower levels (in the 1-2.7 mg/bulb range) of mercury. You can print out their mercury guide here.

Are there special considerations with regard to cleaning up broken bulbs?

Yes. Because the bulbs contain mercury, there are special considerations with regard to clean-up of a broken bulb. The recommended protocol for cleaning up a broken CFL is the following:

  • Have people and pets leave the room.
  • Shut-off the central system if you have one and air out the room for 5-10 minutes.
  • Carefully place broken bulb in glass jar, sealable plastic bag, or container and place outside (mercury vapors can escape the plastic bag, so don’t keep the bag in the house). Also, if a bulb breaks on the carpet, don’t vacuum it, just pick up the pieces as best you can and dispose of as described above (the vacuum cleaner could cause the mercury to be dispersed). Let the mercury vapor dissipate for a day or two before vacuuming.

You can find more details regarding the step-by-step clean-up instructions on EPA’s webpage.

Why should you recycle CFLs?

Because the bulbs contain small amounts of mercury, it is advised that you recycle the bulbs at any number of collection points, including places like The Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Ikea. Because the bulbs last longer than incandescent, the average home should generate very few bulbs per year. You can find a list of recycling resources here.

So what’s the final conclusion?

Are CFLs the perfect energy solution? No, but they are a big step in the right direction. To help determine what kinds of CFLs are right for you, check out this guide.

Posted in Energy Efficiency / Read 1 Response

TCEQ Buckles On Oil & Gas Rules Under Pressure From Industry

After a 10-month process, the TCEQ finally ended the suspense regarding what emissions safeguards the oil and gas industry will have to follow in order to protect the citizens of Texas.   On Wednesday, the TCEQ adopted a much, much weaker rule than the one it proposed in July (see details at the bottom of this post).  The rule was dramatically scaled back to apply only to those living near the Barnett Shale near Dallas-Fort Worth and, miraculously, the process will begin anew to decide what protections will apply elsewhere. 

If you are reading this, you are probably wondering what I think about the outcome.   I’ll answer by telling you what I am going to tell my boss, who will surely ask how my efforts – scores of hours attending meetings, writing comments, coordinating and consulting with experts on this topic (as well as having to watch industry unrelentingly bully TCEQ staff) – translated into results.   

It is a fair question given that I truly threw myself into this one.  I convinced myself (and my boss) that – this time – it was going to be different.  With all of the attention focused on the emissions from natural gas operations, including reports showing how the emissions from the oil and gas industry were much higher than everyone assumed, I thought this time we actually had a chance to help TCEQ do the right thing.   

The most favorable answer I can give is that “it could have been worse.”  Maybe, just maybe, had we not made the effort, the final rule might have been even worse.  What issues went in favor of public health?  The TCEQ did expand the proposed definition of “receptors” that must be protected to include hospitals, day cares, and certain businesses (although this definition is still less protective than many other agency rules).  Oh, and in response to our expert modeler’s numerous examples showing that the agency’s modeling did not represent “worst-case” conditions as claimed, the TCEQ changed their description to “reasonable worst case” (while making numerous other changes that allowed far greater emissions of harmful pollutants than originally proposed).  Sadly, that’s all I can say went in a positive direction. 

The TCEQ’s initial proposal in July would have established a basic framework that provided greater assurances of protectiveness to the public.  But industry firepower overwhelmed the TCEQ staff, which had little, if any, apparent support from their Commissioners.  The final rule was gutted with so many exceptions and loopholes (see below) that it almost makes me wonder if there is sufficient environmental benefit left to justify the regulatory burden.  Especially troubling was the number of sweeping changes made to the rule during a 6-week continuance, out of the public eye, during which time staff was asked to attempt to resolve industry concerns.  

In the end, I have no choice but to admit that my time would have been better spent on something else.  This story is yet one more example of why the legislature’s required sunset review of the TCEQ is so timely.  It is time for the TCEQ to put the protection of public health and the environment first.

On this last point, State Representative Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) who serves on the state’s Sunset Advisory Commission, ably captured the situation in an interview on KUT’s feature “Letters to the Lege” this morning:

“In hearings we’ve held, we’ve heard complaints from all over the state … and there’s definitely an issue at the TCEQ when it comes to the response to citizen complaints. There’s no doubt about it. The EPA is seriously put out with the TCEQ and there’s a real standoff going on right now between the Perry administration and the federal government on how the TCEQ regulates pollutants in Texas. And in my opinion, we need to shake the agency up and make it more responsive to the public.”

At EDF, we completely agree.     

Key Examples Of How The July 2010 Oil & Gas Permit by Rule Proposal Was Weakened:

  • Applies only to Barnett Shale. A new rule will have to be developed by January 2012 to apply to the rest of Texas
  • Allowable hourly emissions of benzene increased by up to a factor of 20X
  • Eliminated formaldehyde emissions limits and protectiveness review
  • Increased VOC and other pollution limits, and removed limits for others
  • Created an exception for “small operations,” specifically projects with a maximum engine horsepower (450 hp or less depending on fuel), or five defined combinations of emissions sources and components.  These only have to maintain equipment in good working order and maintain a minimum 50-foot setback with no notification to TCEQ required
  • Protectiveness review only required for new or modified sites within ¼- or 1/2- mile from a receptor (depending on size of facility), and excludes consideration of existing emissions at modified sites if the off-site concentrations are less than 10%-25% of an Effects Screening Level
  • Removed prohibition against increasing emissions of applicable pollutants in an Air Pollutant Watch List Area (where pollution levels already exceed the TCEQ’s own acceptable risk levels)
  • Replaced Executive Director’s right to deny a permit for good cause with limited additional pre-conditions for a permit
Posted in Climate, Natural Gas, Texas / Read 4 Responses

Texas Energy And The Reality Of Energy In Texas

Steven F. Hayward and Kenneth P. Green’s report “Texas Energy and the Energy of Texas” written for the Texas Public Policy Foundation and published last week is pseudo-economics underwritten by the Koch brothers (some of the world’s biggest polluters).  The report simply ignores the health and economic costs of the pollution caused by coal production.

Most egregiously, the report claims that “only modest Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) reductions – if any – [will] be achieved by switching from coal to natural gas” (page 11).  The fact is that in 2009, using data from the EPA’s public emissions database, natural gas power plants in Texas emitted 73% less NOx than did coal-fired power plants per unit of electricity produced.  In addition, reducing Texas’ use of coal by switching to natural gas would reduce emissions of Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) by 99.9% and eliminate 100% of power plant mercury emissions.   These estimated environmental benefits say nothing of the economic benefits of new jobs related to natural gas exploration and production as well as increased royalties and taxes for the state.

Every year of delay in a switch to natural gas means Texas sends another $1.91 billion to out of state to coal companies in faraway places like Wyoming.  It protracts the challenge to cities like Dallas-Ft. Worth, San Antonio, Houston and Austin to comply with federal clean air standards, making it harder for them to attract new businesses and increasing the cleanup burden for businesses already located in Texas.  

I have one thing to say in response to Hayward and Green’s “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It” conclusion:  Come down and tell that to the children losing funding for health, education and wellness programs, their mothers and fathers who fear losing their state jobs or the almost 4 million living with lifetime asthma in Texas.

Posted in Natural Gas, Texas / Read 1 Response

Homegrown Energy Solutions

We want to commend  Lt. Governor David Dewhurst who announced his interest last week  in increasing Texas’ use of its abundant natural gas resources by using market-based incentives to shift power plants from burning coal to natural gas.

This move would have a tremendous impact on the Texas economy when we need it most.  We can finally stop the one way train filled with the $2 billion Texas sends to other states every year in exchange for coal that provides no real benefit to our economy and pollutes our air.  Natural gas will help create jobs through exploration, construction and maintenance of new facilities.  It is homegrown and could help solidify Texas’ continued energy dominance as we reduce our dependence on imported fossil fuels and focus on Texas’ domestic energy resources, including renewable energy.  

Texas could maximize the economic benefits of natural gas if the Legislature would adopt proposals to reduce the unnecessary waste of natural gas.  An October 2010 report by the US Government Accountability Office says that 4.2% of gas produced on federal leases is lost through venting or flaring.  And at least 40% could be captured with available technologies that pay for themselves with the additional revenue from selling the captured gas.  As noted in the Comptroller’s recent “No Regrets” report, changing state policy to require the economic capture of vented and flared gas – meaning that 40% of the 4.2% now vented or flared would be captured — could enable the state to collect an additional 1.7% in income from royalties and severance taxes.   We estimate that this would translate to a range of $50 million to as much as $100 million for the state over the biennial budget period.  As the 82nd Legislature scours the budget, program by program, those millions of dollars mean more teachers in classrooms or more doctors in our hospitals.

Posted in Natural Gas, Texas / Read 1 Response

Let The Science Do The Talking At Weyburn

By: Tim O’Connor

Canadian academics, government officials and petroleum industry insiders have undoubtedly had their hands full these past two weeks. 

On January 11, EcoJustice, a Canadian non-profit organization broke a story that Canada’s most prominent carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) project in Weyburn, Saskatchewan had been leaking CO2 for several years, expressing concern that no one in Canada was doing anything about it.   

The press release, citing a recently published site assessment performed by Petro-Find, referenced measurements of high CO2 concentrations in the air and soil, nearby animal carcasses, visible oil sheens, algae growth and foaming gravel pits as indications that something was drastically wrong with the project that has been injecting CO2 1,500 meters below the surface for the past 11 years.  

If these observations reflect leaking CO2, the Petro-Find report would call into question one of the world’s best examples of a successful CCS project (more than 13 million tons sequestered up to this point), dealing a major setback to a technology that many consider a critical tool for fighting climate change.

To understand the issues raised by the report, the Canadian research institution Petroleum Technology Research Centre (PTRC), a group comprised of Canadian CCS experts from academia, government and industry, released its own report on January 19, questioning the methods and findings of the Petro-Find study. 

Where Petro-Find had concluded that high CO2 concentrations were from the CCS project, PTRC noted that natural soil biological processes were likely responsible for the observed patterns.  Where Petro-Find said it was practically irrefutable that Weyburn was leaking, PTRC found problems with the analysis and suggested that the conclusions were flawed, questionable at best, with little evidence that anything was happening.

So, what’s the truth?  Is this a case of whistle blowing, exposing problems with decades of international scientific research corroborated by the International Energy Agency, or is it, in the words of one skeptic, a hoax involving a dead cat?  Well, the truth has to be based on where good science leads us, and something that both CCS supporters and opponents need to focus on: the science, not the rhetoric.

In the rush to find the silver bullet to solve climate change, there will be some good ideas that work, and there will be some ideas that remind us of the early reports of cold fusion from the 1990s.  While we aggressively work on real solutions, it is important to remain outcome neutral and let the science do the talking.  If the science shows that the solution works, great.  If the science shows that we have a busted hand, let’s ask the hard questions and be open to exploring other ideas.

CCS is a solution that has been corroborated several times by science.  Yet science tells us that you can’t just dig a hole, stick a pipe in and expect it to work.  The trick is following the correct procedures, choosing an appropriate location and performing rigorous monitoring to make sure everything is going according to plan.  Weyburn, by all reports, seems to have been doing things right for years. 

Of course, the reports of oil sheens on surface ponds and bubbling soil pits near Weyburn are concerning– especially if people or animals have been affected.  The Canadian research institution IPAC-CO2 is said to be looking into the Weyburn situation and doing more scientific measurements at the site. This sounds like the right way to go to me.

Posted in General / Read 1 Response

A Texas Sized Solution for a Texas Sized Problem

It’s true what they say: everything is bigger in Texas, even the hole in our budget.  Today the Comptroller’s office released their estimated revenue projections, and according to most calculations, given state budget needs for the next cycle our deficit weighs in at a hefty $27 billion dollars.  Compare that big budget deficit to another number from the Texas Comptroller’s office (that’s right, the same office):$19 billion dollars.  That’s how much they estimate in a new report Texas could save annually through energy efficiency, smart building standards and other strategies that have environmental benefits and save money at the same time.

The report is the result of legislation passed in 2009 by Sen. Kirk Watson called the “No Regrets” bill, which asked the Comptroller to look at strategies for the state that would save money in Texas, and also reduce CO2 emissions.  The final report is the product of exhaustive work on the part of the Comptroller’s and Senator Watson’s offices, along with the PUC, Railroad Commission, TCEQ, the General Land Office and a broad set of stakeholders including oil and gas companies, manufacturers, businesses, electric companies, environmentalists, Texas A&M, and UT Austin to name a few.

With a set of stakeholders that broad it’s never easy to come to an agreement on even a single strategy.  To Comptroller Combs and Senator Watson’s credit, they shepherded a process that lead to full stakeholder agreement that 20 of the 44 proposed strategies would both save the state money and reduce carbon dioxide.  According to an analysis from the final report, the total annual savings of enacting these strategies would be almost $20 billion.  Of course, saving money for Texans isn’t the same as saving money for the state government, but some of these savings translate directly into state budget savings, while others could be used to offset the need for budget cuts.

During the last budget cycle state leaders were able to patch the budget gap with federal stimulus money but this time around we won’t have that option. Tough decisions will need to be made and Texans have made it clear they’re not interested in new taxes. If you compare Texas’ deficit to other states with Texas sized economies like New York ($9 billion) and Florida ($3 billion) as economist Paul Krugman did in a column last week, you start to get an idea of the sort of trouble we’re in.  Even California’s deficit is about 20% of their general revenue, compared with about 31% for Texas and with an economy about two thirds the size of California’s.

State leaders have been vocal that this time around some difficult decisions will have to be made.  Texans will likely have to deal with longer Emergency Room visits (and more of them!), larger classroom sizes, fewer police officers and firefighters and less care for our grandparents.  State leaders are right to be worried about the looming budget shortfall and the need to tighten our belts, and the No Regrets Report lays out a good roadmap to begin to do that. In the mean time as has been mentioned by my colleagues Elena Craft and Jim Marston, the state could save money immediately by dropping their frivolous lawsuit aimed at circumventing a unanimous decision by the Supreme Court.

Posted in Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy, Texas / Read 1 Response