Thursday, August 4, 2016

Below is the text of my talk yesterday at El Paso Electric's coal free celebration in San Jacinto Plaza Park. It was an honor to have been asked to speak.

Let’s begin with the term “carbon footprint”. Not too simply defined by Wikipedia it is: “The total amount of greenhouse gases produced to directly and indirectly support human activities, usually expressed in equivalent tons of carbon dioxide (CO2).” Simply defined it is what all of us do daily: drive a car, turn on a light, water the yard (it takes energy to pump and clean water) or buy blueberries out of season that have been flown 5,000 miles on a jet from Chile, burning fuel from taxi to takeoff to landing.

So why should we care? Because the entire carbon footprint of the world – the entire human carbon footprint of the world especially in industrialized nations and particularly in the United States is causing climate change with some really radical results. Just in the past years there have been more devastating floods, tornadoes, droughts and wildfires – and not just here in America but on every continent of the world. We watch as polar ice melts, coral reefs die and hurricanes strengthen. And, should you have any doubts, how about a record-breaking 33 days of temperature over 100 degrees in El Paso so far this summer?

Of course, some human activities have a larger carbon footprint than others. It’s a bigger footprint to fly in a commercial aircraft than to drive to the neighborhood store. It’s a much bigger footprint to produce energy using coal than using natural gas. In fact, according to Greenpeace, coal is the single greatest threat to our climate. Mining and burning coal pollutes our air, water and land with mercury, heavy metals and the nitrous oxides which cause smog. And it destroys landscapes and ecosystems. 

A 500 MW coal power plant releases global warming emissions roughly equal to 600,000 cars. Yet, unlike a car, coal power plants are designed to last 40 years or so. The 4-Corners Power Plant from which El Paso Electric is no longer buying power, generates 2,040 MW of electricity in one year.  Each year the 4-Corners Plant belches out 16 million tons of carbon dioxide, the amount released by 2.8 million passenger vehicles. 

Additionally, the 4-corners plant releases 487 pounds of mercury, a powerful neurotoxin, 10,197 pounds of selenium, 10,199 pounds of benzene, a known carcinogen, and more than 9 million pounds of hydrochloric acid.

It’s not just a monstrous carbon footprint, it’s a human health and environmental be-he-moth.

So, when a regional electric utility that supplies 400,000 customers in a 10,000 square mile area cuts its ties with coal, it’s HUGE. As of July 6th El Paso Electric sold its 7% portion of the Four Corners Generating Station. The sale helps our utility lower its carbon footprint and makes our region and planet cleaner and more sustainable places to live. 

Also, in the past two years El Paso Electric has doubled its utility-scale solar power output, making them a leader in solar energy. All of El Paso Electric’s efforts combined help our region to meet its goals of resiliency and environmental friendliness. And they do more. They make our planet cleaner and they take us in the direction of reducing the calamity caused by climate change. 


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