Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell announced this week his bid for re-election, with a new campaign promise to move the city away from its energy dependence on coal toward renewables, saying global fossil fuel supplies are changing and so must the city.
Speaking at Becker Elementary School, which he attended as a kid, Leffingwell said, “Starting immediately, I’m going to begin a dialogue with the community, with Austin Energy, with the LCRA, and with state officials, about how to make Austin coal-free — and aggressively plan a date to achieve that goal,” StateImpact reports.
“The global energy market is changing and we need to change with it,” Leffingwell added. “Right now wind prices are competitive with fossil fuels, and that is critical. Because, as we begin the work to make Austin a coal-free city, we absolutely must, and will, do it in a way that keeps electric rates competitive and low for our customers.”
The Sierra Club applauded the mayor’s renewed commitment on alternative energy for Austin. “We congratulate Mayor Leffingwell on the renewal of his commitment to move Austin beyond coal. Today’s announcement is consistent with a plan first crafted over a year ago and approved unanimously by City Council in February,” said Cyrus Reed, the group’s Conservation Director in Austin, in a news release. “Mayor Leffingwell called for a dialogue with the community; we welcome this dialogue, and as a first step, Sierra Club has developed a plan to phase out of the Fayette Coal Plant by 2016.”
With the devastating drought in the state expected to continue well into 2012, Leffingwell’s announcement could help steer the city away from an anticipated water collision course with the coal industry, a major water waster in coal-fired plants.
The Union of Concerned Scientists has just released its three-year study on the nationwide water-energy connection, a part of the Energy and Water in a Warming World Initiative. The report provides a stark reality on the energy sector’s use, and waste, of the most essential element to life.
Just one coal power plant supplies Austin, the aging Fayette Power Project (FPP) in La Grange, some 60 miles east of the city. It produces around 600 megawatts, about 20 percent of the city’s energy needs, with the rest coming from natural gas, nuclear and wind energy. FPP, operated by the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), is owned by the LCRA and Austin Energy. Neither commented on Leffingwell’s announcement.
However, LCRA’s website notes FPP is cooled by water from Lake Fayette, “a 2,400-acre reservoir that provides a variety of recreational opportunities and some of the state’s best freshwater fishing.” Most of the coal used for the plant is hauled in by train from Wyoming. Additionally, FPP’s scrubbing slurry will us about 100,000 tons of limestone each year, hauled in from a limestone quarry located some 90 miles west of the plant.
FPP is a major contributor of mercury and other toxic emissions. It produces approximately 307 pounds of mercury annually, according to the Sierra Club. Just one gram of mercury is needed to contaminate an entire 20-acre lake. The environmental group noted Texas has at least a dozen lakes and fishing areas with fish containing unsafe levels of mercury poisoning.
“As the Mayor pointed out today, there are competitive alternatives for providing reliable electricity, like wind power,” said Jen Powis of the Sierra Club, in a statement. “Clean energy is good for the environment, good for the bottom line, and good for the people.”