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Power plants generate debate

On an April afternoon in Dallas, not long after parts of the state had lost power in a series of rolling blackouts, Gov. Rick Perry made a get-tough proclamation. “We’re not going to let the bureaucrats jerk us around,” he said. The governor was talking about electricity that day — specifically 11 coal-fired plants proposed by TXU — and the bureaucrats he challenged weren’t those in Washington but the ones in the state government. Perry stood shoulder-to-shoulder with John Wilder, TXU’s CEO, when he made the pronouncement. The “bureaucrats won’t be allowed to hold up approval” for the TXU plants, Perry said. His support of those plants has become a hot issue in his race for re-election. Perry called last year’s blackouts a “wake-up” call for a state that needs more energy, but his major rivals say the state can find a more environmentally friendly way to meet that challenge.

On an April afternoon in Dallas, not long after parts of the state had lost power in a series of rolling blackouts, Gov. Rick Perry made a get-tough proclamation.

“We’re not going to let the bureaucrats jerk us around,” he said.

The governor was talking about electricity that day — specifically 11 coal-fired plants proposed by TXU — and the bureaucrats he challenged weren’t those in Washington but the ones in the state government. Perry stood shoulder-to-shoulder with John Wilder, TXU’s CEO, when he made the pronouncement.

The “bureaucrats won’t be allowed to hold up approval” for the TXU plants, Perry said.

His support of those plants has become a hot issue in his race for re-election. Perry called last year’s blackouts a “wake-up” call for a state that needs more energy, but his major rivals say the state can find a more environmentally friendly way to meet that challenge.

How should a fast-growing state secure power for the future? How should it clean up its air? What responsibility does it bear in combating global warming, and how expensive is too expensive? The plants proposed that afternoon in Dallas represent a crossroads for those questions, says Luke Metzger, an activist with Austin-based Environment... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

On an April afternoon in Dallas, not long after parts of the state had lost power in a series of rolling blackouts, Gov. Rick Perry made a get-tough proclamation.

“We’re not going to let the bureaucrats jerk us around,” he said.

The governor was talking about electricity that day — specifically 11 coal-fired plants proposed by TXU — and the bureaucrats he challenged weren’t those in Washington but the ones in the state government. Perry stood shoulder-to-shoulder with John Wilder, TXU’s CEO, when he made the pronouncement.

The “bureaucrats won’t be allowed to hold up approval” for the TXU plants, Perry said.

His support of those plants has become a hot issue in his race for re-election. Perry called last year’s blackouts a “wake-up” call for a state that needs more energy, but his major rivals say the state can find a more environmentally friendly way to meet that challenge.

How should a fast-growing state secure power for the future? How should it clean up its air? What responsibility does it bear in combating global warming, and how expensive is too expensive? The plants proposed that afternoon in Dallas represent a crossroads for those questions, says Luke Metzger, an activist with Austin-based Environment Texas.

“Energy issues generally are among top voter concerns,” said Metzger, whose organization opposes the new plants. “One of the most fundamental questions that voters should consider when picking their choice for governor is, where is the next governor going to take us with regards to the state’s energy needs?”

Environmental impact

Not long after the April 20 news conference, Perry signed an executive order accelerating the regulatory consideration of the TXU plants and six more proposed by other utilities. His major rivals, Democrat Chris Bell and independents Kinky Friedman and Carole Keeton Strayhorn, all urge restraint. Libertarian James Werner says Texas probably needs to pursue the new plants.

One of the major issues dividing the candidates is the potential effect on the environment. TXU and the governor say the coal-fired plants would dramatically increase the state’s power output and not hurt air quality. They cite a state-sponsored study showing that after factoring in other utility commitments, average ozone levels in Dallas and Fort Worth would decline with the new plants.

“These coal plants are going to be 80 percent cleaner than the national average,” Perry spokesman Robert Black said recently. “And we’re increasing energy capacity in the state. These are positive aspects.”

But environmental groups and the governor’s opponents question those figures. They note that the study also shows that the plants would significantly increase Metroplex ozone levels when the wind came predominantly from the south. Environmentalists note that the nine-country region around Fort Worth already fails federal ground-level ozone standards and that if the state doesn’t ensure further reductions from the utilities, then greater sacrifices may get foisted onto the public.

Strayhorn, the Republican state comptroller running as an independent, said she would reverse the governor’s executive order accelerating regulatory consideration. “I will [also] . . . order a review of any final permit issued, appoint a clean-air advocate to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and fight for clean energy using the latest technology,” she said.

Bell opposes the plants — at least as they are proposed by TXU — and says the state should insist on more-advanced anti-pollution technology. He opposes the governor’s fast-tracking executive order and said Texas should set a goal of producing 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2015. “While TXU and the governor disagree with me, I believe that fast-tracking outdated, dirty technology is just plain wrong,” Bell said.

Friedman has said the state should produce 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. The 61-year-old mystery novelist and musician also calls for a more aggressive crackdown on polluters, more funding for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, higher standards for electricity-saving devices and possibly the creation of a state energy department to coordinate policy and regulation.

Black said Perry supports the existing statewide renewable energy target of about 10 percent by 2025 and questioned whether the other candidates’ goals are realistic given the state’s future energy needs. “Governor Perry is actually solving the issue, not just talking about it,” Black said.

Global-warming debate

The candidates have also split over the proposed plants’ potential impact on global warming. Environmental Defense has said the proposed coal-fired plants would dump 77 million tons of carbon dioxide into the air each year in addition to the 255 million tons now produced by the state’s utilities.

Carbon dioxide has been linked to global warming. In a recent op-ed piece in The Dallas Morning News, Perry wrote, “There is a great debate in the scientific community about whether we are experiencing man-made global warming.” He wrote that he will not tighten limits on carbon dioxide emissions, noting that the federal government has no such restrictions.

“Setting standards that are more punitive than almost every other state and nation would cause economic ruin for the people of Texas,” he wrote.

But many environmentalists, scientists and even business leaders have said that a mounting body of evidence points to human activity as a contributor to global warming and that the question is no longer open. For instance, Gary Stix, in a cover story in a recent edition of Scientific American, wrote, “The debate on global warming is over,” and “carbon dioxide from SUVs and local coal-fired utilities is causing a steady uptick in the thermometer.” A July 21 article in The Wall Street Journal also notes that many top utility executives — with a notable exception of TXU’s Wilder — have accepted that coal-fired plants contribute to global warming.

Bell has said that Perry has ignored the facts about global warming and that Texas should insist on cleaner power plants while boosting the economy. He proposed the creation of a special task force so “state government can . . . play a role in providing a business climate that promotes the cleanest and most efficient electric generation in the country.”

Friedman has proposed economic incentives to encourage further development of renewable energy. He said the state could take money for that purpose from the Texas Enterprise Fund, which Perry uses to attract business to the state.

Libertarian Werner said the state probably needs the new TXU plants for its future energy needs. “But I would want to continue to assess the availability of newer and cleaner and more cost-efficient technologies,” he said.

Wind power

Last week, Perry touted growing private-sector investment in the construction of transmission lines to serve wind-driven electric generators. His office notes that Texas this summer surpassed California for electric generation from wind and in 2001 added more wind power capacity than all other states combined.

Perry earlier came under fire for signing budgets that sacked a low-income electric discount program. As a result, hundreds of thousands of poor Texans ended up getting de facto rate hikes.

The program’s funding came from a fee on all residential customers’ electric bills but got rerouted for unrelated purposes under the state budgets signed by Perry.

In August, Perry called upon the Texas Public Utility Commission to submit a spending plan that would restore the discount program. But his political opponents still chided him, noting that Perry ignored earlier opportunities to restore the program — including calls for help during the most recent special legislative session.

“He hasn’t done much of anything in office, including something as simple as helping people keep the air conditioner on,” said Strayhorn spokesman Mark Sanders.

That energy has become a political issue in Texas is not so surprising given the group dynamic in this year’s governor’s race, political analyst Harvey Kronberg said. He also said the general battle lines are not surprising.

For instance, many voters who name the environment as their No. 1 issue probably won’t vote for Perry, said Kronberg, editor of the online Quorum Report. So that means there’s not much of a political downside for the governor to support TXU’s plans, he said.

But motivated anti-coal-plant voters could become a useful building block for a challenger looking to create a winning coalition. “Right now, there is a race for second place, and those in second are trying to edge their way into first,” Kronberg said.


Source: http://www.dfw.com/mld/dfw/...

OCT 7 2006
http://www.windaction.org/posts/5108-power-plants-generate-debate
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