A new report from Environment Texas titled “Dirty Energy’s Assault On Our Health: Mercury
” released this week suggests CPS Energy’s coal-fired plants housed at Calaveras Lake are the 11th dirtiest in the state. With an estimated 16,350 pounds of mercury emitted in 2009 in Texas alone, the state ranks number one nationally.
While Calaveras’ coal plants Spruce 1 and 2 and Deely 1 and 2 have cut their mercury pollution essentially in half, (down from 760 pounds in 2000 to 440 pounds in 2009), the debate still rages on between environmental groups like the Sierra Club and the SEED Coalition over Deely, the utility's oldest and dirtiest coal plant that came online in the late ’70s before mandated federal emission limits.
Even as the report suggests that a gram-sized drop of mercury can contaminate an entire 20-acre lake, and pollution from coal-burners also produce sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon dioxide, and lead, contributing to thousands of respiratory illnesses and premature deaths each year, environmental groups don’t seem bent out of shape that the utility hasn’t lived up to its 2005 promise of a $565 million retrofit that would install sulfur-scrubbing emission reducers at “Dirty Deely.”
Instead, they’re hoping for an early retirement of Deely inspired by CPS Energy CEO Doyle Beneby’s concern over coming Environmental Protection Agency toxic air pollution standards to be announced in March and the fact the plant is already past half its life expectancy.
“Things are looking better, but we need a statewide mandate for what they can and can’t do and that’s where the EPA comes in,” said Alejandro Savransky, field organizer for Environment Texas, at a press event outside the power plant.
While Beneby’s commitment to expanding solar in San Antonio is just the sort of thing environmental groups like to hear (the utility is gunning for 100-megawatts of pollution-free solar by 2020), nuclear is still not off the table, pointed out Karen Hadden, executive director of SEED. While the city remains a 7-percent partner in a proposed doubling of the South Texas Project nuclear complex outside Bay City (and NRG officials are lobbying hard in Austin and elsewhere to create more buy-in and enhance their position for possible future federal loan guarantees), an early Deely retirement could prompt discussions about buying more deeply into the project.
Still, CPS spokesperson Lisa Lewis insists the half a billion set aside to address Deely’s dirty deed won’t be diverted to already-in-motion solar projects, and any decision about an early retirement won’t be made until 2013. “Ideally, we’ll get through this latest round of EPA mandates and another legislative session before a decision is made, but money from A won’t go to B,” Lewis said. “We just don’t know what environmental regulations are going to take place in the next couple of years and we’re already over compliant, so does it make sense to spend half a billion dollars when you’re not sure what’s going to come down the road?”