A dirty business

A dirty business

Time to end Pasadena’s reliance on coal power

By David Czamanske 01/07/2010

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Burning 16,500 tons of coal a day. Emitting 16 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. Ranked the 20th-dirtiest coal-fired power plant, in terms of volume of carbon dioxide emissions, in the United States. Ranked 12th-dirtiest in terms of nitrogen oxide emissions.

Guess where that huge power plant is located? Not in or near the nation’s major coal mining states in the East or Midwest, but in the nearby state of Utah. And guess who consumes the majority of its electricity. Not a big bad private company seeking to maximize profits, but the public utilities of six Southern California cities, including Pasadena.

The 1,900-megawatt Intermountain Power Plant in Delta, Utah, completed in 1986, is one of the largest in the nation. Constructed and operated by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, it was financed with 40-year revenue bonds by Los Angeles, Anaheim, Riverside, Pasadena, Burbank and Glendale. Each of these cities not only has financial responsibility to pay off these bonds, they are also obligated under 40-year contracts, expiring in 2027, to take and/or pay for the power generated at the plant.

In late 2006, the six cities rejected an offer to extend the contracts an additional 17 years to 2044. But meanwhile, the harmful effects of mining (IPP is a 50 percent owner of Utah’s now-closed Crandall Canyon Mine, where several miners lost their lives due to violations of safety regulations) and burning coal continue. The power plant continues to operate as though there is no tomorrow; it recently expanded its rail-car storage yard and its fleet of rail cars from 273 to 504 in order to bring in coal from more distant locations to keep the plant running at full steam.

In early 2009, Pasadena adopted a 20-year Integrated Resource Plan to reduce its proportion of coal power to 23 percent and increase its use of renewable energy sources from the current 9 percent to 40. The plan calls for additional wind, solar and geothermal energy from remote sources, promotion of energy efficiency and energy conservation, and construction of a state-of-the-art 65-megawatt natural gas power plant on the city’s southwest border.

The city has taken initial steps to implement the plan. It has entered into several contracts to buy renewable energy from remote sources in California and more distant locations and has authorized preliminary engineering for the new gas-fired power plant. But its efforts at energy efficiency and conservation — the cheapest ways to keep energy consumption and energy rates from rising — have been modest at best. And, while Caltech has installed a massive bank of solar photovoltaic panels on the roof of one of its parking garages, there have been no announced plans by the city to take similar action.

What will it take for Pasadena to undertake a more comprehensive set of actions to move away from coal and to other less polluting energy sources? Increased citizen awareness and concern are key ingredients to motivate city leaders to move more rapidly in making this transition.

Recently a new organization, the Renewable Energy Accountability Project (REAP), started a campaign in Pasadena to do that very thing. They are going out into the community to shopping centers on weekends and college campuses during the week with their “ironing board brigades” to inform residents and students of the polluting effects of coal-fired power plants and to ask them to sign petitions urging the city to reduce its dependence on coal “sooner rather than later.”

REAP intends to expand its activities after the first of the year by running public service ads on cable TV and local Web sites, holding public meetings and meeting with representatives of community organizations.

It will not be easy, or cheap, for Pasadena to wean itself off coal, which currently provides more than 60 percent of the city’s electricity, but we owe it to our children and future generations throughout the nation and the world to sharply reduce the greenhouse gases and other toxic air pollutants that Pasadena and other Southern California cities are creating.

So if someone asks you to stop for a minute or two to learn more about Pasadena’s reliance on coal-fired electric power, and to sign a petition asking city leaders to accelerate the transition from coal to renewables, do pay attention. You and your family, friends and neighbors will be thankful that you’re taking action to advance a more environmentally friendly future.

David Czamanske is an activist with Pasadena Group of Sierra Club. He can be reached at dczamanske@hotmail.com.

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