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Rollback on CPS

Five thousand box fans and expensive advertisements reminding you to turn off the television, that’s the price for forgiveness.

Angry? Is somebody angry?

Consider the last six months of  inputs: Repeated scoldings leveled from the public realm at every significant public meeting CPS Energy has held thanks to plans to expand its nuclear holdings; a City Council that voted down the City-owned utility’s rate hike request of five percent and further complained about lack of fiscal transparency in the department; repeated requests from city leaders to go ever greener and stave off nukes.

Now weigh that with the utility’s output. CPS Energy’s response has been to embark ever deeper on what could be called an “alternative course.” This has included not only joining the Excelon Energy’s astroturf (that is, an attempt at authentic grassroots appearances but unavoidably corporate origins and control) group, Nuclear Energy for Texans, but lobbying the Texas Public Utility Commission to go slow on progressive transmission line projects into West Texas that would encourage major wind and solar growth in the state.

In response, State Representative Mike Villareal helped organize a lobby of 14 fellow state leaders to request the PUC Commissioners plug their ears to CPS’s noisemaking on a vote that could happen next Thursday. (Item 16)

Villareal delivered the letter today along with a petition signed by 1,781 citizens gathered in two days that urges “maximizing the transmission lines that carry renewable energy from west Texas to our population centers.”

At issue is the creation of Competitive Renewable Energy Zones, or CREZ’s, in West Texas and the Panhandle that will lay a healthy groundwork for renewable energy development in the state. CPS is advocating for the smallest expansion plan on the table.

“Our energy crisis requires a bold response, not half-measures,” Villareal said in a prepared release today. “Texas was a world leader in oil and gas in the 20th Century. The decisions we make now will determine if Texas is a leader in wind and solar energy in the 21st Century. The pay off of this investment will be cleaner air, new jobs, and lower long-term energy bills for hard-working families.”

Here’s the letter:

June 26, 2008

Commissioner Barry Smitherman
Commissioner Paul Hudson
Commissioner Julie Parsley
Public Utility Commission of Texas
1701 N. Congress Avenue
Austin, TX 78711

Dear Commissioners,

We urge the Public Utility Commission to support renewable energy use to the fullest extent possible by selecting and expediting deployment of Competitive Renewable Energy Zone (CREZ) Scenario #3. This bold option will put the transmission lines in place to bring a substantial amount of wind energy - and eventually solar energy - to our major cities.  This is the future of energy in Texas, and it is far cheaper to build a transmission grid of adequate size once than to add additional capacity later. By building the necessary infrastructure now, we can expedite the process of improving air quality, reducing global warming, preparing for expected federal regulations, creating new jobs and industries, and putting money back into the pockets of Texas families through an overall reduction in long-term energy expenditures.

Aggressive development of transmission lines would provide an opportunity to substantially reduce emissions that undermine human health and contribute to global warming.  According to the 2008 ERCOT Ancillary Services Study, an analysis by GE shows that installing 15,000 megawatts of wind on the ERCOT system this year would reduce NOx emissions by 12 percent and reduce CO2 emissions by 15 percent.  Extrapolating these results suggests that Scenario 3, with 24,859 megawatts, could result in a 20 percent reduction in NOx and 25 percent reduction in CO2.  It will take years to develop the wind power to reach those levels, but we must invest in the necessary transmission lines in order to eventually seize this clean air opportunity.

Investing in adequate infrastructure now is also important for preparing for future constraints and demands on our state’s energy system.  While Congress is debating the best approach to emission reductions, it is clear that the federal government will soon place a limit on carbon dioxide emissions. As the national leader in carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, Texas will face an even greater challenge in transforming our economy and energy production to meet new federal requirements if we do not begin to develop the infrastructure now. Furthermore, as plug-in hybrids and other electric vehicles reach the market, there will be ever greater demand for renewable energy to power these vehicles.  Given the dramatic increase in the cost of gasoline, and GM and Toyota’s recently announced plans to have plug-in hybrids for sale by late 2010, it will be critical to have adequate transmission to deliver west Texas wind energy to growing electric transportation markets.

Scenario 3 is also the best economic options for Texas families, without even factoring in the substantial environmental and societal benefits.  ERCOT conservatively projects that an investment of $6 billion for a 50-year transmission grid would reduce power prices by more than $3 billion a year. This investment delivers a far better return than the vast majority of Texans are able to receive on their savings accounts.  Additionally, the wind energy industry has already created thousands of new jobs, and many more will follow if the infrastructure is in place to support the industry.

We believe adoption of an aggressive CREZ plan is a great strategy for reducing costs, creating jobs and lowering pollution. We urge you to make the kind of bold policy decisions that your predecessors made to help turn Texas into an energy leader for many years.

Thank you for your attention to this critical issue.

Sincerely,

[Rep. Villareal; Sen. Ellis; Rep. Swinford; Rep. Gallego; Rep. Leibowitz; Rep. Dukes; Rep. Hernandez; Rep. McClendon; Naishtat; Rep. Anchia; Rep. Burnah; Rep. Rodriguez; Rep. Castro; Rep. Menendez; Sen. Lucio]

Meanwhile the San Antonio Sierra Club chapter is also flexing its muscle by encouraging members and like-minded residents to protest CPS’s recent trajectory.

Here’s their release:

* Voice Opposition to CPS’s PUC Position *


We are asking you to call your Council person ASAP to complain about two recent actions of CPS Energy, which Council oversees.  CPS recently joined a statewide nuclear coalition called Nuclear Energy for Texas to push for more nuclear power.  This is unethical for a municipal utility that pretends to be open to other, less costly options that it also claims it has little money for.  More recently, CPS was caught blocking a plan of the state Public Utility Commission (PUC) for greatly expanded transmission lines for wind energy in favor of a far less extensive system of lines.  The head of the PUC was himself incredulous that CPS was lobbying for the lesser Plan 1b instead of the more ambitious Plan 3.

See this short video of the PUC meeting.

Please call your Council rep to say that CPS’s recent actions are not in the best interest of its ratepayers and ask that Council (1) urge CPS to remove itself from an organization whose goal is to promote nuclear power and (2) direct CPS to pursue Plan 3 for added transmission lines for wind.  For more info contact Loretta Van Coppenolle at 492-4620 or livewithnature@msn.com .

City Council email and phone information.

Sadly & Related: Excelon-funded Nuclear Energy for Texans released their first real press release last week on — what else? — the enthusiastic support South Texans have for new nuclear power plants.

Maybe hiring an outside agency would help with the possible public perceptions that polls run directly by the industry groups themselves may in some way be weighted in favor of certain responses. Of course, how could a poll do that?

So you wanna figure out this CREZ business? Start here.
Those box fans? The CPS giveaway hasn’t hit the press release page yet, but maybe there’s still time to snag one… if you’re suitably old, and quick.

Posted by Greg Harman on 6/26/2008
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