Sunday, April 06, 2008

Film on Texans fighting dirty coal misses big picture

Loren Steffy, the Houston Chronicle's excellent business columnist, makes the excellent point that the new documentary about how an unusual alliance of interests stopped TXU's massive coal power scheme missed the bigger picture. There will be repeated attempts to build more coal fired power plants in Texas because of the way the Texas power market was somewhat deregultated. Texans were sold a bill of damaged goods on deregulation which the power and finance companies love and have increased prices for Texas consumers. The Texas regulations give no thought to the environment and strongly encourage the use of dirty coal for power.
Don't get me wrong, Fighting Goliath: Texas Coal Wars, which [Robert Redford] screened in Houston recently, is a fine documentary as far as it goes. It captures the outrage of central Texas landowners and townspeople who battle TXU's plans to build a gaggle of coal plants in their area.

The little guys band together with several large cities and a gunslinging Houston lawyer to defeat the big, bad utility. The end.

Redford, who narrated the film and financed it, hails it as showing the world that we can fight coal, that we can demand cleaner energy.

Pardon me if I don't slip on a pair of Birkenstocks just yet.

Certainly, TXU, whose generating business is now known as Luminant, was trying to ramrod approval for backward-looking technology when it submitted a proposal for 11 coal plants around the state. Landowners had good reason to protest and valid concerns about the environmental impact.

But the film doesn't address why TXU was so eager to build coal plants in the first place. The film never uncovers the real villain: deregulation.
Steffy's column dealt with the real issues much better than The New York Times which allowed Gov. Perry space to push for more coal plants and for Shell Oil to promote their biggest subsidy hungry boondoggle - coal gassification.

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