Efficiency, not coal, called key to Texas energy

Sarah Gardner Jan 17, 2007

KAI RYSSDAL: In Texas, it’s not the weather they’re talking about. But close. Greenhouse gases and global warming.

The state’s biggest utility, a company called TXU, wants to build almost a dozen new coal-fired power plants across the state.

An unlikely coalition of environmentalists, mayors and CEOs is trying to stop those plants before they get going. And today, those opponents got some support from two national groups that’re suggesting an alternative.

From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Sarah Gardner explains.

SARAH GARDNER: Texas has some of the dirtiest air in the nation. It also ranks number one among the states in greenhouse gas emissions. So it’s no surprise there’s been pushback from cities, green groups, ranchers and even some prominent business leaders who don’t want more coal plants in their backyards.

Today, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the like-minded investor coalition called CERES added their two cents. They issued a new report offering an alternative to all that dirty coal.

TIM GREEFF: It is possible to meet up to 80 percent of the future load growth just through efficiency without building a single power plant.

Tim Greeff is with the Natural Resources Defense Council. He says in the long run, investing in energy efficiency is cheaper and cleaner than building more coal plants. Texas, he contends, should reward utilities for helping their customers use less energy, not more. Greeff and others point to energy-conscious California, where electricity use is now 44 percent lower per capita than the national average.

But Texas regulators say the state’s growing so fast it’ll still need more power. And coal is the cheapest, most reliable way to get it.

TXU’s Kim Morgan says Texas can’t afford delays.

KIM MORGAN: Beginning as early as this year in 2007, our reserve margin will start slipping away. And that’s the safety net of power that’s available here in the market.

TXU does have the governor on its side, but opposition is growing. CERES is one of several green-conscious groups trying to persuade TXU’s financial backers to reconsider their investment in coal. Dan Bakal at CERES says if and when carbon is regulated by the U.S. government, those banks may regret their decision.

DAN BAKAL: There will be a cost for emitting greenhouse gases. Those plants will be devalued to some extent because of those additional costs.

Right now, there are 154 new U.S. coal plants on the drawing boards. Opponents hope if they can hold some of them off in Texas, they can do the same elsewhere.

I’m Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

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