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.

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