stack of a plant burning natural gas is mostly harmless steam. The gray or black smoke you see coming out the stack of a coal plant is gray or black because it contains millions of tiny ash particles mixed up with some carbon. We have a device to capture these coal fly ashes before they spurt out a power plant stackthanks to Frederick G. Cottrell. It’s called an electro-static precipitator. Cottrell invented and perfected it while he was at the University of California, Berkeley, between 1906 and 1911. At the Air Quality Seminar at the University of Texas in January, Dennis Haverlaw of the Texas Air Control Board reported on how the three electric plants burning Texas lignite were controlling the ash emissions from their stacks. The Aluminum Company of America has been generating electricity using lignite fuel at their Rockdale plant since 1955. Even though Cottrell’s precipitator was over 40 years old when the Rockdale plant started, his ash catcher wasn’t used. In the 1950’s the law and the public regarded air pollution as a problem peculiar to Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Pa., and London. We all have learned different since then. The clean air laws of the 1970’s were enacted. Alcoa installed precipitators in 1974. Haverlaw reported that these new precipitators at Alcoa are catching most of the ashes before they leave the stacks. He showed colored slides of the before and after performance of the ash catchers. Based on his sampling with instruments, Haverlaw pronounced Alcoa in compliance with Texas ash emission regulations. Haverlaw’s verdict on the Texas Utilities plant at Fairfield is indecisive. He says their compliance with regulations is “marginal.” On the Mount Pleasant plant Haverlaw is decisive. He says Texas Utilities is seriously violating air board regulations in discharging ashes from the stacks. He presented figures to show that the precipitators Texas Utilities has installed at Fairfield and Mt. Pleasant were much too small for the job. Has Texas Utilities been “poor boying” on their designs for air quality controls? It isn’t healthy to inhale coal ashes. By 1983 when those other 14 coal plants are fired up, the electric plants in Texas will be burning about 70 million tons of coal or lignite each year. There will be about seven million tons of ashes going through those fireboxes. The citizens of Texas want those ash catchers to be large enough and they want them to be tuned right. We don’t want to be “marginally” healthy or have “marginally” ash free air to breathe. Compared to natural gas, coal and lignite are very, very dirty fuels. Texans are fortunate that the local lignite is cheap. Texas Utilities is mining its lignite supply for about one-fifth the cost of the same heat units from new supplies of natural gas. With such cheap fuel, Texas Utilities can afford to clean up its ash emissions. Life in the new coal age won’t be simple. The villains who dirty our air may be just someone who makes a mistake in the design or location of a new coal plant. For example, the city fathers of San Antonio are planning to locate their coal-fired plant on the outskirts of the city. The prevailing winds from the southeast will blow any ashes their precipitators don’t capture directly over and into the city. We hope that San Antonio receives more than “marginally” adequate precipitators. The prime task of the Texas Air Control Board should be to make certain that Reddy Kilowatt doesn’t spew ashes on San Antonio and other cities the way he has to date in East Texas. William Joseph The writer is an Observer reader who follows the energy/environment situation as part of his job for a Texas company. -Ed Money, utilities, and the Trinity River Austin There was a minor flap recently when Dallas Power & Light Co. revealed that it had donated more than $80,000 to the Trinity Improvement Association over the last 10 years. The TIA, which is chartered in Texas as a profit-making corporation, is best known for its advocacy of a Trinity River barge canal. \(It should not be confused with the Trinity River Authority, a state authority, although this story will make it apparent why such confusion DP&L chalked up the TIA funds as “civic contributions.” They were included in DP&L’s “operating expenses” and, as such, came out of the pocketbooks of Dallas’ electricity users. When the DP&L gifts were made public in January, environmentalist Ned Fritz and Adlene Harrison, then a councilwoman, now the acting mayor of Dallas, questioned the propriety of donations to the TIA, since Dallas residents overwhelmingly rejected a bond issue for the canal project in 1973. The Observer has since learned that other utilities also have contributed large sums to the TIA. Southwestern Bell gave $30,000 to the TIA in 1973 \(although this was the year of the bond referendum, a spokesman for the TIA said that none of 8 The Texas Observer their funds went into promoting the canal electric holding company, probably provided more funds for the TIA than any other utilities. In addition to the gifts made by DP&L, a Texas Utilities company, Texas Electric Service Co. of Fort Worth donated $12,000 to the TIA in 1973 and Texas Power & Light gave $12,000 in 1975. Warren Smith, the TP&L accountant, told the Observer that TP&L regularly donates to the Trinity Improvement Association but not usually’ as much as $12,000 a year. Houston Lighting and Power gave the TIA a relatively paltry $500 a year in 1973, 1974, and 1975. The Observer has not been able to compile a reliable list of utilities’ donations to the TIA for a number of reasons. Although the gas and electric companies are required to file a comprehensive annual report with the Federal Power Commission and the telephone companies have to make a similar report to the Federal Communications Commission, the reports are not always as revealing as they might be. In the FPC report under the heading of “Miscellaneous General Expenses,” many utility companies make specific listings of their expenditures for such things as country club memberships, chamber of commerce memberships, salaries for directors, and charitable donations. Some of the companies, however, just list lump sums and so specifiC gifts and memberships are not reflected in the public record. The TIA is not mentioned in Lone Star Gas’s 1974 report to the FPC. Repeated calls to Lone Star’s public relations man, Warren Fulks, finally elicited the information that Lone Star does indeed belong to the TIA. “As for how much we’ve given, they [the TIA] will have to speak for themselves, as far as it is a private organization,” Fulks said. The comptroller at Southern Union gas company declined to say whether Southern Union belongs to the TIA. But both Houston Lighting & Power and Texas Electric Services Company volunteered the information about their contributions to the association. The Observer might have been able to pull more figures from the FPC reports if we had spent the hundreds of dollars necessary to have the reports copied and mailed to us from Washington. Being too poor to do that, however, we had to scrounge reports where we could find them. The Texas Railroad Commission does not keep them, nor does the Public found some reports over at Sen. Ron Clower’s Subcommittee on Consumer Affairs and a few more in the private files of Dr. Jack Hopper, a utilities rate consultant. In many cases, however, the. information
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