My Turn: Truckee taking a wrong turn
Truckee, like the rest of California, is at a crossroads. This mountain ski town can continue to depend on coal burned hundreds of miles away in Utah for electric power, or it can choose to follow a less risky path and follow the lead of progressive southern California cities by rejecting coal-fired power.
Tonight the Truckee Donner Public Utility District will take a vote on the future of clean energy and will be coming dangerously close to breaking the spirit of new California global warming laws, which go into effect in January 2007. SB 1368 prohibits California municipal utilities from entering into out-of-state power contracts unless the energy is as clean as power produced by a cleaner-burning California power plant. The Truckee utility is attempting to avoid this new law by approving a 50-year contract with the Intermountain Power Agency in western Utah for power from dirty coal facilities. This long term contract would help to give Intermountain the certainty it needs to build a third coal-burning power plant.
Presently California imports 20 percent of its power supply from western coal facilities and Californians have subsidized the building of many of these coal plants. Through the implementation of AB 32 and SB 1368, we have the opportunity to break with the past. By setting high standards for energy production, California can pioneer much of the clean technology future, putting pressure on surrounding states to develop clean energy to import into the large California energy market.
Recently, six southern California municipal utilities, that together consume 75 percent of Intermountain’s power supply, went through the same decision process that Truckee currently faces. The utilities chose to reject the coal contracts. Los Angeles led the way, and after public pressure from Senator Diane Feinstein, state Senator Don Perata and environmental advocates, the cities of Riverside, Anaheim, Burbank, Pasadena and Glendale followed suit.
Now it is up to Truckee to take the right stand and give up short-term price certainty for long-term gains. Many view constraints on carbon emissions to be a certainty ” and with the recent passage of AB 32 and SB 1368 to limit greenhouse gas pollution ” that is the case in California. As new regulations are implemented across the nation, the cost of releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from coal facilities will dramatically rise. Economists estimate that by 2027, CO2 could cost anywhere from $25 to $50 per ton of emissions. For Truckee’s pending contract, this translates to a cost of $8 million to $16 million per year, making it far more expensive than any of the cleaner alternatives. Somehow, these financial risks have not been calculated by the Truckee utility district as it justifies signing the contract to save on costs. Conservation and efficiency are much more cost effective than even the cheapest coal generation.
The coal contract will be a huge step backward in the commitment that California has made to reduce greenhouse gas pollution within our own state and from out of state energy suppliers. It’s ironic that Truckee, whose own economy is dependent upon surrounding ski resorts and tourism, would disregard the long-term consequences of coal use. While Truckee’s actions alone won’t decide how global warming changes precipitation patterns or Sierra snowfall, certainly it will contribute to a negative trend. Ultimately we must all stand together and make the right choices now to avoid the most serious economic and environmental risks from global warming. The vote that Truckee is about to take ” if the wrong road is chosen ” will have absolutely no integrity. Truckee should reject the 50-year coal contract.
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