Energy Dept. to Texas: Chill Out. You Can Keep the Lights On And Still Meet Pollution Regs

Categories: The Environment

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Ever since the EPA announced new pollution regs that would come down hardest on dirty power plants, there's been considerable Sturm und Drang from the industry, who've been making all sorts of dire predictions about rolling outages resulting from burdensome, onerous, expensive federal regulation. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation grid reliability report singled Texas out as a state most likely to struggle to meet peak demand by 2013. Right after that, ERCOT released its own projections, portending reliability problems by 2012.

Generators, they claim, will falter under the weight of the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which places limits on emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, and the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which sets limits on mercury and acid gases -- all pollutants that cost the country an estimated $12 billion a year in associated health problems, the EPA says.

Of course, painting pollution regs as the wellspring of all woe is a self-serving, foot-dragging strategy at best. Texas is the biggest polluter in the country, so it's no surprise that the burden would weigh heaviest here. But according to a report from the Department of Energy, it won't be that bad. Using computer models, DOE created a series of scenarios -- a middle-of-the road case and a "stringent test case," where the time extensions and dispensations the EPA will give energy generators struggling to meet deadline don't exist.

In every region but the territory covered by the Texas Reliability Entity, no new generation will be needed to meet demand, and even then, less than one gigawatt of added natural gas capacity should do the trick here. With gas prices as low as they are, that shouldn't be too difficult.

DOE estimates that the amount of time needed to retrofit existing generators or to build new ones is roughly the same as the EPA's compliance time line. And, if extenuating circumstances render them unable to meet the deadline and threaten reliability, extensions may be granted. Generators can do a number of things, DOE figures: Quit using filthy Texas lignite, purchase emission allowances, retrofit or retire units that won't make economic sense, or re-power them with natural gas.

It's doable, and even DOE's doomiest scenario has Texas meeting (just barely) its minimum reserve margin in 2015. Less than a gigawatt of natural gas combustion -- in a shale-wealthy state -- should get us through....provided, of course, that generators, enabled by state regulators and officials like state attorney Greg Abbott, retire the hoary old outages-and-job-losses shibboleth and pursue pollution controls that will improve air quality and the health of Texans.

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Nose2Much
Nose2Much

Utilities used to be regulated because the cost of entry and exit was too high to allow competition to work efficiently.  Our ridiculous and ignorant governor helped move this all to a captive market without regulation.  Now our electric rates are up to 5 times higher than any of our neighbors, the capacity is far below what is needed and the power companies are whining about meeting EPA standards that they have known were coming for a pretty long time.  What have the power companies been doing with the obscene profits they've been raking in?  Oh yeah, eating them for lunch and lighting their ceeeegars with $100 bills.  Basic economics - competition does not effectively regulate the market when there is a lack of essentially free entry / exit or there is a lack of free flowing information.

BIGTEX
BIGTEX

Nasal Drip:

How much profit has Energy Futures Holdings (parent company of TXU) made this year?  Please be specific.

SteveT
SteveT

What makes you think that gas prices will remain low in the next decade?  With finite energy sources like fossil fuels, it's not about what's in the earth's crust, but what it takes to find and extract it--in other words, energy return on energy invested.  What will it cost (and figure all the costs, including environmental damage) to get and use the energy resource?  The trend is definitely higher cost---in energy, which is roughly reflected in dollars.  Then there are those hard-to-measure environmental/health costs...

scottindallas
scottindallas

Natural Gas is plentiful and cleaner than most other fossil fuels.  The problems with fracking are unclear, is it certain formations? is it smaller, cheaper operations giving the big boys a bad name?  I don't know, but, there are few cost effective alternatives to fossil fuels.  Solar has the greatest upside, and cost comparison to fossil fuels, where wind power has been money wasted.  So, we need good information on all sides of the debate. 

james
james

filthy rich scumbags they us every month and don't even put enough back in business to keep it up and running? sounds like the company is run by inheriters of filthy richness. there may have once been a hard workin' group that started the business. they've all died off, left the company to their dumfuck lazy kids who were born filthy rich an' ain't got the first idea how to run a good profitable successful company. all they care about is their record profits. fuck doin' their job right. fuck the lousy customers.

BIGTEX
BIGTEX

james:

It's always great when someone as lazy, incompetent and ignorant as you appear to be blathers away on a public forum such as this.  That confirms that those of us who are conservatives and libertarians are "spot on" when we assert that you folks are nothing more than emotionally-overwrought,immature loons.  How much do the Republican and Libertarian parties pay you to strengthen their causes?

james
james

'those of you who are conservative or libertarian'...are spot on assertin' that 'us folks' are lazy,incompetent and ignorant'  AND in the pay of republicans and libertarians....hey liltex didja read what ya jist typed? actually i ain't got no use fer repulsificans or demigods. i been votin' livertarian, but ya know the ol' sayin' ...power corrupts an' absolute power corrupts absolutely...if the livertarians i been votin' fer fer100 years now ever got in power they'd be jist as shitty as the assholes we got. lazy, incompetent? i ain't got time to argue dumshit with ya i gotta go to work. i'm self employed, so i got no underlings to blame..the job's gotta be 'spot on' right. why would you make these assumptions about somebody ya don't even know, lilticks? 

BIGTEX
BIGTEX

james:

You have lots of chutzpah for describing yourself as "self employed."  Do the other panhandling vagrants describe themselves in that fashion?

TimCov
TimCov

I haven't had a chance to read the report. But, can anyone tell me what their assumptions are as far as temperatures over the time period?I'm pretty sure that we are looking at a hotter than normal summer again next year.

Augie
Augie

Connecting some dots:

Republican Party = Party of FearERCOT is regulated by the PUCPUC board appointed by Governor (mostly Gov Perry)Therefore, ERCOT is the agency of fear. ERCOT is lock step aligned with the  Tex Repub Party.  The Tex Rep Party eschews any federal oversight (pick your reasons why). Tex. Rep Party hates Dems and particularly federal Dems and Obama. The resistance to regulation is politically driven to an even larger extent that it is financially driven.  Therefore, you will get NO straight information from ERCOT or PUC about the impact of pollution regulation on energy production as they are both fully motivated, i.e. politically and financially to resist any regulation by the Feds generally and federal agencies acting under the authority of President Obama.  

JRinDallas
JRinDallas

Amen.  However, a DOE report likely won't dissuade the partisan, coal-loving cranks.

How about the EIA? http://www.ncac-usaee.org/pdfs...Congressional Research Service? http://nepinstitute.org/get/CR...NERC? http://www.businesswire.com/ne...The lefties over at Duke Energy (who owns about a dozen coal plants) and Fox Business?  http://www.foxbusiness.com/mar...Exelon (a producer with operations in Texas)? http://www.exeloncorp.com/News...

So who's shoveling bull-pucky here...pretty much everyone?  Or, a few Texas producers dragging their feet on EPA's regs while complaining about 'uncertainty' and the EPA with cover from cozy politicians and a '2012 Obama defeat'-twinkle in their eye?

Justin Julian
Justin Julian

'purchase emission allowances'...and there's the money shot.  Literally.

RTGolden
RTGolden

sure, SOMEONE has to buy all those carbon credits so Al Gore can retire comfortably in his home that uses more energy than the entire rest of his town.  Everyone always says follow the money trail, and this trail leads right to Mr. Gore's investments in the carbon exchanges.

JRinDallas
JRinDallas

Fun.  Or, ya know, he could be making a pretty safe bet on the fact that the atmosphere actually has a finite capacity for all of our CO2 and other emissions.  Nevermind, the safe bet that the stuff and water we currently use for most of our energy generation will become increasingly scarce and expensive.

Of course, it's not just Al Gore who would make a lot of money in that instance.  It's also any insurance company that's worth anything.  Or an investment house grading municipal or regional infrastructure debt.  Or a natural gas driller voluntarily seeking out ways to reduce their emissions.  Or, whatever.  But no.  You're probably right.  It's all a conspiracy by the all-powerful, dominating, unyielding political, cultural, and economic force of Al Gore.

DoubleOJoe
DoubleOJoe

The simple answer:  humans can only control so much.  But in instances where we can control things, like emissions that increase atmospheric carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane, why shouldn't we be as responsible as possible? 

Yes, businesses are in the business of making money.  That's what business is for, power generating companies included.  However, when these companies complain about efforts to improve our general quality of life on the grounds that it will "cost too much", it is time to question whether they place profit motive ahead of their customers' well-being.  If that's the case, their ethics should be questioned, and they should perhaps be more heavily regulated.

RTGolden
RTGolden

The point should be to have rational debate on the merits and drawbacks of each regulation.  How does it affect the environment?  How will it affect jobs and the economy? How can we best balance these two concerns?  I'm certainly no admirer of Gore, his hypocrisy on environmental issues is plainly evident.  I'm also not one who denies that the climate is, in fact, changing.  I'm still not convinced we can point to SUV's and industry as the sole culprit in environmental change.  A single volcanic eruption can unload as many or more tonnes of greenhouse gasses into the environment as that put out by every automobile ever made, combined.  Shall we regulate geothermal activity?  Are volcanoes agents of the Republican elite?  Are George Bush, Dick Cheney and Haliburton instigating volcanic eruptions to cover up their industrial crimes?

Yes, I'll admit my dig at Gore was opportunistic.  Maybe I need psychiatric help, but I can't resist a chance to poke a little fun at him.

lorlee
lorlee

I expect that Kay Bailey will figure out how to protect the polluting companies.  Her latest reasoning was that Texas pollution didn't really affect anyone else (the winds didn't blow it anywhere) but that we were being penalized because of Mexican pollution -- different winds I guess. 

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