July 3, 2008
Texas PUC Decision Puts Ratepayers, Environment at Risk
Statement of Tom “Smitty” Smith, Director of Public Citizen’s Texas Office
Today’s decision of the Public Utility Commission of Texas to allow AEP Southwestern Electric Power Co. (SWEPCO) to charge Texas customers to help build a coal-fired power plant in Arkansas puts Texas ratepayers at risk for higher electric bills and ignores the dangers carbon dioxide poses to the environment.
The PUC has buried its head farther in the sand by allowing the construction of another coal plant and will eventually get burned by supporting the main contributing factor of global warming.
Although PUC commissioners claim they will write a disclaimer into the agreement that will prevent SWEPCO from passing rate increases on to Texas ratepayers, its authority to enforce this is questionable at best; PUC members acknowledge their inability and lack of jurisdiction to enforce this disclaimer. Texas ratepayers are already facing enough of a burden – the U.S. Department of Energy has said that carbon dioxide taxes or fees will increase the cost of energy by 62 percent in Texas.
Both Barry Smitherman, PUC chairman, and Paul Hudson, PUC commissioner, say this is the “right” energy choice for the area, and that this will provide much needed energy for 50 to 60 years. Apparently, they do not anticipate the cost of natural gas ever again being competitive with coal, regardless of the increasing cost of coal. They also refuse to acknowledge any other alternatives to building more power plants, such as increasing energy efficiency and using more renewable energy sources.
A Georgia judge recently ruled against the construction of a coal-fired power plant in the state, relying on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year to classify carbon dioxide as a pollutant. Experts expect this decision to be duplicated in the future by other judges. If states such as Georgia can read and interpret the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that carbon dioxide is a pollutant, why can’t Texas’ PUC?
Instead of placing further burden on ratepayers and the environment, the PUC should focus on renewable and alternative sources of energy.