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BIG BEND REGIONAL SIERRA CLUB Newsletter

Issue 67
November, 2002


GALLEGO FEATURED SPEAKER FOR NOVEMBER

The Big Bend Regional Sierra Club invites members, guests, and the public to hear Representative Pete Gallego discuss issues in the upcoming legislative session. The meeting will be November 19, 2002, at 7 pm in Room 309, Lawrence Hall, at Sul Ross State University in Alpine.

As you may be aware, Gallego has served six terms (12 years) in the Texas House with much of his time devoted to the state budget. He has been serving on the Appropriations Committee and even more importantly on the Conference Committee that reconciles the House and Senate version of the appropriations bill.

Drawing on that expertise, we have asked Gallego to talk about the budget shortfall, expected to be at least $5 billion and probably more. Issues of importance to Sierra Club members include air, water, and parks, especially in regard to the impact of the budget shortfall on such agencies as the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept. In addition, we would be interested to hear his views on radioactive waste legislation. We realize that the details of the bill are not known yet, but we would like to hear what provisos he thinks are essential in such legislation.

Last session Gallego's district 74 boundaries were redrawn and now include Brewster, Culberson, Edwards, Hudspeth, Jeff Davis, Loving, Pecos, Presidio, Reeves, Terrell, Uvalde, Val Verde, and Ward counties. Gallego is an Alpine native, receiving his bachelor's degree from Sul Ross State University, and law degree from the University of Texas Law School. He has served on a number of important legislative committees and as Chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus in the last session. He has received many honors for his legislative work.

We urge you to attend, and bring friends and neighbors. Rep. Gallego will be happy to answer questions.

A RABBIT THAT IS NOT A RABBIT
Jim Sage

A couple of years ago a rancher some miles south of the South Double Diamond hired a professional to get rid of the coyotes. He was very effective as I have seen no scat in the area, nor have I heard a coyote call since then. The rumor mill says that he exterminated forty-one coyotes. One of the results of this is the tremendous increase in rabbits, squirrels, and rodents in the South Double Diamond.

Each night now we have a large blacktail jackrabbit scouting the yard for some tidbit. And while the blacktail is one of the Southwest's most common species, he is not a rabbit. He is a HARE. The blacktail jackrabbit was originally called a jackass rabbit, later shortened to jackrabbit, because of his large ears which are more than half as long as the body. The ears allow the blacktail to regulate body temperature in the severe desert climate. The ear is full of blood vessels, which expand to allow the blood to cool before being recirculated into the body.

But why is the blacktail a hare and not a rabbit? A hare does not dig burrows and the young are born with their eyes open, fully furred, and able to run. The cottontail, on the other hand, is a rabbit, and its young are born blind, without fur and helpless. They do develop rapidly and are weaned and on their own when about sixteen days old.

The blacktail is a creature of real beauty when seen at a full run. It can reach 30-35 mph and can leap up to 20 feet. However, when slowly ambling by the front window it truly looks as if it were designed by a committee-all ears and hind legs. It depends largely on its great speed to survive predators but its eyes are placed on its head so that it can see in front, behind and over head at the same time. Its hearing is also acute. One might think that the hare would be safe from all predators except man, but while they have a life span of five to six years, I believe that very few of them make it.

I have always thought that rabbits were put on this earth for only one purpose-to be eaten. They seem to be on every predator's gourmet list.

I must admit that I miss hearing the call of the coyotes in the early morning, but it is a treat to have the blacktail around in large numbers. When the coyotes do return, blacktails will disappear quickly. They have gotten so tame that some of them will not move off of the road when I walk by.

CHAIR'S COLUMN
WIND POWER by Don Dowdey

Environmental groups rarely have the opportunity to issue reports with good economic and environmental news. However, "Renewable Resources: The New Texas Energy Powerhouse," a recent report by the SEED Coalition and Public Citizen's Texas office, highlights the economic benefits of renewable energy in Texas and offers suggestions on how to keep those benefits growing. The report underlines a vital lesson: today's environmental problems, no matter how daunting, are not without solutions. In most cases, protecting public health and our natural heritage is not only a matter of finding the solutions but finding the political will to move them forward. Renewable energy already employs thousands of Texans, pays millions in tax dollars, and is clearly part of environmental and economic solutions in Texas.

In 2001, utilities and wind companies invested $1 billion to build 912 Megawatts of new wind power projects in Texas. This represented more wind energy capacity than had ever been built in the entire United States in only one year, and gives the state more than 1,100 Megawatts of wind generating capacity. The completed plants created 2,500 quality jobs with a payroll of $75 million, will deliver $13.3 million in tax revenue for schools and counties and pay landowners $2.5 million in royalty income in 2002 alone.

In 1999, as part of utility deregulation, Gov. George Bush signed the Texas' Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), which specified that 2,000 Megawatts of new renewable capacity would be built in Texas by 2009. The Texas RPS is a market-based policy mechanism that requires electric retailers (as opposed to generators or transmission providers-all separated under Texas' electric restructuring legislation) to gradually increase the portion of electricity they provide from renewable resources. A number of other states besides Texas are experimenting or looking into using an RPS, but the Texas RPS is widely recognized as the most successful and is frequently pointed to at the national level as a successful model.

An innovative Renewable Energy Credits (REC) program complements the RPS by creating a market-based incentive mechanism that drives production in the most efficient and economical manner. A Renewable Energy Credit (REC) is issued for each kWh that is metered at any generation facility that is certified as a "renewable generator" by the state Public Utilities Commission. Retail electric providers must obtain RECs to verify they have acquired sufficient renewable resources to meet their RPS obligations. The innovation of tradable RECs allows electricity retailers from any part of the state to find the lowest cost resources without having to take physical delivery of the electricity. Each REC is somewhat like a stock certificate in that it is tradable and its owner may claim ownership of its attributes. This leads to a price competition for RECs that results in the most cost effective resources being developed.

Next month, I'll continue summarizing this report, focusing on what these policies achieved in terms of West Texas wind farms, support for school districts, employment, and environmental benefits. Also, the report makes concise policy recommendations for building on these successes.

NOVEMBER BOOK REVIEW
Marilyn Brady

Craig Childs. The Secret Knowledge of Water: Discovering the Essence of the American Desert. Little, Brown and Co. 2000.

Craig Childs is a poet and a scientist with a passion for waters of the desert. In The Secret Knowledge of Water, he tells of his experiences exploring the deserts, of seeking out desert water. With keen attention to the details of smell and sound and silence, he conveys a deep love of strange arid lands and the rare water present there. At the same time he expands our knowledge of the land and water and living communities which they nurture. Those of us who are attracted to arid lands will enjoy his book and learn from it. In the major sections, Craig takes us searching for the "Ephemeral Water" hidden in tinajas and waterpockets and following the "Moving Water" of springs and creeks and into the "Fierce Water" of flash floods. Focusing on water, he shows how the desert is a place of constant change. As he points out, the two easy ways to die there are thirst and drowning.

At one level The Secret Knowledge is a lyrical personal story of weeks spent in the Grand Canyon and deserts of Arizona and northern Mexico searching for and engaging water. Sometimes he is pensive about what he sees and feels. Other times his tale is sheer drama as he climbs inside a cave at the head of a thundering waterfall or places himself in the midst of a flash flood.

Interwoven with his narratives is a vast amount of scientific information. We may know that sudden hard thunderstorms are typical in the desert, but Childs explains in clear understandable language their mechanics and their particular impact on the arid landscape. We learn such details as how it is that only the native fish, now threatened by non-native imports, know how to ride out the turbulence of a flood and how cottonwoods require floods in order to reproduce. He explains how one side of a slickrock canyon will be pitted and the other smooth because of the differential turbulence of water.

Child is a careful observer, not given to frantic pleas about what we must do to save the earth from human errors. Writing of how seeds and animals come back to life after droughts of tens or hundreds of years, he provides a context for the predicted floods and droughts of global warming. I came away from his book with a strong optimism for the future of life on our planet. If not human life, then other life forms more resilient and adaptable.

ELECTRICITY DEREGULATION AND THE BIG BEND
Fran Sage

Under electricity deregulation, beginning this year, many households in Texas have a choice of electricity providers. The exceptions to this are those who are currently being served by a municipal company, those in a co-op, and those in an area where choice could take place, but only one company is interested in providing service at the present time. While the numbers in the tables are accurately chosen from the website, they do not represent the whole story. You need to use the phone numbers or website address listed at the end of this article to acquire important information that could affect your choice.

In the Big Bend region, Study Butte, Terlingua, Big Bend National Park, and Lajitas are all served by the Rio Grande Electric Co-op. Anyone currently being served by the Co-op is not being offered a choice at this time. The Rio Grande Electric Coop is in a wait-and-see mode. We have no municipally owned electric company to my knowledge. Although Marathon has the same competition offered as the other BB regional cities, it is not easy to tell that from the website (see below). I did call the companies and confirmed that those in Marathon being served by WTU are being offered the same choices as the rest of the Big Bend region. Below are tables that compare the three providers interested in most of the area. (See further below for Ft. Stockton)

The following table compares the three providers competing in the following cities:
Alpine, Ft. Davis, Marathon, Presidio, and Sanderson

West
Texas
Utilities


TXU

First
Choice
Power
Texas
Average
Kilowat brs.
charges for
500, 1000,
1500 (shown
as cents)
9.2
8.9
8.8
9.6
8.6
8.3
9.6
9.1
8.9
N/A
Energy Generating Sources:
Coal and
Lignite
44% and 56% 35% 28% 38%
Natural gas 0% 48% 62% 48%
Nuclear <0.5% 16% 8% 11%
Renewable
Energy
<0.5% 1% 1% 1%
Other 0% 0% 1% 2%
Emission and Waste Per KWH Generated
Sulfur
Dioxide
39 120 97 (Indexed values:
100 = Texas Average)
Nuclear 0 147 73
Particles 74 73 69
Carbon
Dioxide
122 103 112
Nitrogen
Oxides
124 122 97

Ft. Stockton has a different set of providers. Please understand that Green Mountain Energy electricity is produced only from wind power but that does not mean that any of their individual customers get 100% of their electricity from wind power. What happens is that the system will have less polluting emissions, depending on the number of kilowatt hours that each Green Mountain Energy customer uses. Individuals get a mix that may or may not include wind power. On the Ft. Stockton website there are two listings for Green Mountain Energy; the kilowatt hour charge is different. I chose the one that includes TXU, TNMP, and Reliant but not CPL Retail Energy/affiliated with AEP Central Power & Light. That listing showed slightly higher kilowatt hour costs. Those of you in Ft. Stockton will need to study the differences and figure out or ask how they relate to your choice.

The following table compares the five providers competing in Ft. Stockton

First
Choice
Power
Utility
Choice
Electric
Green
Mountain
Energy
Reliant TXU Texas
Average
Kilowat brs.
charges for
500, 1000,
1500 (shown
as cents)
8.1
8.7
8.9
9.5
8.6
8.3
9.9
9.4
9.2
9.2
8.7
8.5
9.0
8.4
8.2
N/A
Energy Generating Sources:
Coal and
Lignite
28% 25.7% 0% 47% 35% (38%)
Natural gas 62% 46.7% 0% 42% 48% (48%)
Nuclear 8% 26.5% 0% 11% 16% (11%)
Renewable
Energy
1% 1.1% 100% 0% 1% (1%)
Other 1% 0% 0% 0% 0% (2%)
Emission and Waste Per KWH Generated
Sulfur
Dioxide
97 Still
Under
Review
0 91 120 (Indexed values:
100 = Texas Average)
Nuclear 73 ditto 0 98 147
Particles 69 ditto 0 35 73
Carbon
Dioxide
112 ditto 0 110 103
Nitrogen
Oxides
97 ditto 0 111 122

There are other grounds for comparison. Some of the explanations run to seven pages. I did not do an analysis of these other factors (for example, length of agreement, pricing, changes to terms of service, cancellation charges if any, and many more). For a complete breakdown you can contact the providers either individually or on a website.

The toll free, customer assistance phone number for each is as follows:
WTU 1-866-322-5563
TXU 1-877-460-7066
FIRST CHOICE POWER 1-866-469-2464
RELIANT 1-800-736-3749
GREEN MOUNTAIN ENERGY 1-866-473-3689
UTILITY CHOICE ELECTRIC 1-866-839-2782.
(You will get the usual multiple menus at some numbers. Choose the one that seems the most likely.)

The website address is www.powertochoose.org There is, perhaps, a more user-unfriendly website, but I have not yet found it. Navigation on this site is, however, doable. Give it a try. If total frustration sets in, call 1-888-782-8477, which is the hotline for Power to Choose. I used it, got directions, and finally figured it out. It is, however, tedious at best. I would give you a descriptive guide but it would double the length of this article. You can always call the toll free numbers and ask the company to send you a copy of "Electricity Fact Label and Terms of Service."

ONGOING PROJECT: LAJITAS AND WATER

Fran Sage is still working steadily on understanding the history of the wastewater permit and of the permit request by Lajitas Utilities to dispose of removed radioactive chemicals from the two new wells by using it for irrigation. She will pause in her efforts for surgery and recovery. That permit will take more than a year to get decided. As this newsletter is written, (October 21st) the TCEQ has still not decided the other permit request on wastewater (See the September newsletter or the BBRSC website for more information).

BIG BEND REGIONAL SIERRA CLUB NEWS

NEW MEMBERS: Following are the new members who have joined Sierra Club since January 1, 2002 as shown to date on the national list. Not included are people who joined the Sierra Club elsewhere but have now become members in the BBRSC. Unfortunately we do not have the information to add them. Needless to say we welcome all former or new members. Marathon: Klementyna Bryte, Jenny Krall, Andrea Hinkle Alpine: Mark Kirtley, Joseph Castello, Bob Savidge, Forest and Alice Knoper, Lindsey Slater, Blanca Velasco Ft. Davis: Tom Brown Big Bend National Park: Marcos and Susan Parades Marfa: Joan Henry

CALENDAR SALES: Our major fundraiser, calendar sales, are underway now, directed by our treasurer, Ginny Campbell.She has set a goal of meeting or exceeding last year's proceeds: $805.33. We have a long way to go. Ginny urges you to buy calendars and to check out some and SELL THEM TO OTHERS. That combination led to our success last year! Please call her at (915) 386-4526 (a local call from Alpine, Ft. Davis, and Marfa) or e-mail her at jokeamble@overland.net .

HIGHWAY CLEANUP: Please contact Liz Hightower at (915) 837-0100 or at songdog3@aol.com to volunteer your help with the highway cleanup scheduled at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, November 17. As usual, meet at the Y roadside picnic area on Highway 90 heading toward Marathon and just to the east of where Highway 67 turns north to Interstate 10. If you come a little later and no one is there, just keep heading toward Marathon and you will see the cleanup workers.

CONTRIBUTIONS: As of October 18, 2002, we have received $106.27 in donations. Thanks to our pledgers, and to Jim and Fran Sage and to Marathon Gazette for their contributions. That brings the year's total to $996.34. Long overdue thanks to Joe Campbell who bought the unsold calendars from last year rather than returning them.

EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE MEETING: The date of the ExCom meeting has been changed from October 30 to November 6th at 1:30 in the Board Room of the West Texas National Bank in Alpine. All members are welcome to attend.


Don Dowdey, Chair, 50 Sunny Glen, Alpine, TX 79830
ddowdey@wildblue.net

Fran Sage, Newsletter Editor, P. O. Box 564, Alpine, TX. 79831
sage@brooksdata.net


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