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February 4, 2010: In This Issue. . .

Austin Energy Generation Plan presented to City Council

Following approvals by the Austin GenerationRenewable Power Task Force, Electric Utility Commission and Resource Management Commission, Austin Energy’s Director Roger Duncan finally presented its 2020 Generation Plan to Austin City Council last month. The plan calls for at least 800 MWs of Energy Efficiency, more than 1,000 MWs of wind and 200 MWs of solar while running the Fayette Coal Plant about 25 percent less. The plan would meet City Council goals of getting at least 30 percent of electricity from renewable energy by 2020 and reducing energy efficiency by 800 MWs by 2020. The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club participated in the Mayor’s Task Force and endorsed the Austin Energy Plan, as well as nine major recommendations for going forward, including a recommendation to publicly reassess the plan every two years and study the potential to reduce output from the coal plant even more.

According to Mayor Leffingwell, the City will hold a public hearing on February 22 nd for further input with a decision on the plan itself in mid-March. Sierra Club and its allies have produced a website – cleanenergyforaustin.org -- with information about the plan and a place to sign on in support of the plan and the Task Force recommendations. Presently, more than 15 organizations, 50 businesses and 300 individuals have signed on in support of the Plan. Sierra Club is also urging its Austin members to take action by communicating with City Council through the following link. Click here --


San Antonio reconsiders nuclear option amid lawsuit

A year ago, the 40 percent investment by CPS Energy, San Antonio’s municipal utility,Radioactivein the proposed expansion of the South Texas Project’s nuclear power plant was being painted as a done deal. Now, it seems much more likely that CPS Energy will pull out of its joint nuclear investment altogether. The original price tag of $13 billion for 2700 MWs for the nuclear plant investment between CPS Energy, NRG and a Japanese manufacturer was optimistic; the price tag would be more like $18 billion or more. Turns out that CPS Energy officials had known about the higher price tag for months but kept the information from the San Antonio City Council. In response, new Mayor Castro asked for the resignation of several CPS Energy officials and board members.

Now, CPS Energy has entered the courtroom, asking a state judge whether it can get out of its current $330 million investment in the nuclear plant, and a judge has said yes. The lawsuit between CPS Energy and NRG over the terms of their contract and how to proceed, and the currently proposed rate increases for San Antonio residents –regardless of any investment in nuclear energy – makes it less and less likely that CPS Energy will ever invest in a stake in the nuclear plant. CPS is also suing NRG for $32 billion, which includes the value of the South Texas Plan property and punitive damages. Without CPS Energy investing in the project, it is unlikely that NRG itself will proceed. The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, the local Alamo Regional Group, Public Citizen, the SEED Coalition, and dozens of other organizations have been opposing the nuclear option and proposing a much less risky combination of energy efficiency, renewables and natural gas to meet future San Antonio needs. For more information: http://texas.sierraclub.org/Conservation/energy/energy1.4a.asp.

Rad Waste Authority to publish rules allowing imports

During an often testy meeting, the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal CompactRadioactiveCommission voted on January 22nd to publish proposed rules that would allow for the potential import of low-level radioactive waste into the Compact Disposal Site that would be operated by Waste Control Specialists. The rules will be published in the Texas Register in early February for a 60-day public comment period and could be approved at the next scheduled meeting on May 14, 2010.

In deciding to publish the rules, the eight-member Commission took the first step in allowing low-level radioactive waste from outside the compact between Texas and Vermont to be imported into Texas.

Several organizations, including the SEED Coalition and Sierra Club, argued that given the large amounts of capacity needed to dispose of Texas and Vermont waste, it made little sense to open Texas to the added risks, costs and potential liability resulting from out-of-compact waste.

Sierra Club argued that its appeal of the granting of the low-level radioactive waste license in state District Court and the fact that the present license would not allow out-of-compact waste to be imported meant it was the wrong moment to move forward. Rep. Lon Burnam (Fort Worth) also asked a series of questions about the intent and wisdom of publishing an import rule at this time.

Several commissioners were opposed to publishing the rule, but did manage to propose added protections in the rules.

A copy of the initial draft rule can be found at the Commissions’ website at http://www.tllrwdcc.org/. Sierra Club’s initial response can be found at http://texas.sierraclub.org/Conservation/energy/SCwasteimportcomment20100203.pdf

SECO stakeholder meeting discusses updating energy codes for new buildings

At a stakeholder meeting January 28th, the State Energy Conservation Office (SECO) offered initial ideas on raising the state minimum energy codes for new residential and commercial construction and heard from a variety of stakeholders.Solar Panels SECO announced that they expect in the coming weeks to begin a rulemaking process that would raise the state minimum standards from 2001 International Energy Conservation Codes to 2009 IECC for commercial buildings and a similar process to raise energy codes for residential construction. While all the stakeholders in attendance – including the Sierra Club, Public Citizen, Texas Homebuilders Association, Texas Construction Association, Dow Chemical, the Responsible Energy Codes Alliance – generally favored raising the standards, there was a difference over the timing and whether or not SECO has the statutory authority to adopt the 2009 IECC for all construction types or must – as the Texas Homebuilders Association argues – continue to make the less stringent energy efficiency codes found in the 2009 International Residential Codes the law of the state.

The current rulemaking is the direct result of HB 3693 by Rep. Joe Straus, now Texas House Speaker, which passed in 2007. That legislation required the Energy Systems Laboratory housed at Texas A & M to review any new editions of the IECC or IRC and recommend to SECO whether the new codes should be adopted to save energy and reduce emissions from power plants due to the reduction in the use of electricity (and natural gas). Following the receipt of more than 700 comments from organizations and individuals, ESL did recommend to SECO to raise the standards and further noted that the 2009 IECC would lead to more energy reductions than the 2009 IRC for most single-family new homes. For more information about the codes and Sierra Club’s recommendations, see http://texas.sierraclub.org/Conservation/energy/energy1.5.asp.

PUC releases draft “strawman” on 500 MWs of non-wind renewable energy

The Public Utility Commission has released a “strawman” rule that would for the first time create a requirement that electric providers in Texas invest in at least 500 megawatts (MW) of non-wind renewables like solar, geothermal and biomass.Solar Panels Despite approximately a dozen pieces of legislation filed to expand the “non-wind” renewable portfolio standard, the 2009 Legislature failed to approve legislation on a non-wind renewable portfolio standard. However, a 2005 Law – SB 20 – already created a 500 MW target for non-wind renewable energy by 2015 giving the PUC authority to proceed. There have been considerable debate since 2005 about whether the 500 MW target should be considered a mandatory, or voluntary goal, but subsequent legislation has given the PUC clarity on the issue. Under the proposal, Texas retail electric companies can either purchase power from new renewable energy sources, purchase renewable energy credits from these sources or pay an alternative compliance payment. The proposal would include a set-aside for energy from solar technologies of 50 MW. The deadline for receipt of comments is February 16th.

The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club with our allies will be offering comments focused on making sure that distributed renewable technologies like on-site solar and geothermal heat pumps can help meet the 500 MW target and making sure the solar set-aside is a floor and note a ceiling. See the proposed strawman at http://www.puc.state.tx.us/rules/rulemake/35792/35792.cfm.

PUC publishes proposed rule on energy efficiency goals for large utilities

At their regular agenda on January 29th, the three commissioners at the Public Utility Commission (PUC) approved publication of a proposed rule on raising the energy efficiency goal for the state’s nine major Transmission and Distribution Utilities. The proposed rule would essentially triple the present energy efficiency goal large utilities in Texas must meet from 20 percent of growth in Efficiency Jobsdemand this year to 50 percent of growth in demand by the end of 2014, or one percent of total demand, whichever is greater.

The proposed rule would also allow up to 10 percent of any energy efficiency program to be spent on onsite or other distributed renewable projects, and also create a budgetary cap on proposed programs to prevent price spikes in electricity bills. Customers pay for the residential and commercial energy efficiency programs through their utility bills in the competitive areas of the state, and the TDUs are allowed to recover the costs to run the programs, plus a potential bonus if they exceed the mandatory goals.

During stakeholder meetings held at the PUC, the proposed increase in the energy efficiency goals was strongly supported by the Lone Star Chapter of Sierra Club, other environmental groups, and many companies that earn their living through energy efficiency programs like more efficient appliances, insulation, air conditioning systems and windows. The proposal builds on legislative efforts during the 2009 Legislative Session of Rep. Rafael Anchia (HB 280) and Sen. Troy Fraser (SB 546) to raise the efficiency goals, and a 2009 report that concluded that raising the goals would save consumers money by reducing the need for additional power plants and use of natural gas plants at peak electricity use times.

The proposed rule would raise the goal from approximately 150 MWs today to approximately 550 MWs in 2014 of reduced peak demand and similar levels of reduced electricity consumption. See http://interchange.puc.state.tx.us/WebApp/Interchange/Documents/37623_5_640336.PDF . Sierra Club will be suggesting small changes to improve the rule during the 30-day public comment period. Suggestions will be posted to the Lone Star Chapter website.

The State Capitol E-Report is a monthly electronic update from the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club reporting on Texas environmental policy issues of statewide interest. Contact us at: lonestar.chapter@sierraclub.org ...Header photo by Marinell Turnage
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