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Tucson needs years to cut greenhouse gases

Momentum swing in opinion, but action will be slow

A front-end loader is dwarfed by a hill of coal at Tucson Electric Power Co.'s generating plant near South Alvernon Way and East Irvington Road.

A front-end loader is dwarfed by a hill of coal at Tucson Electric Power Co.'s generating plant near South Alvernon Way and East Irvington Road.

Political and industrial momentum has taken a sharp swing in recent days toward action to reverse global warming.

But for Tucson and southern Arizona, that action will take years and will require changes in the way power companies make electricity and changes in the vehicles we drive.

Adjustments will be needed from the boardrooms of the largest power companies right down to your own garage.

The governors of Arizona, California, Oregon, New Mexico and Washington agreed Monday to set regional goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and to create a system to help businesses comply with still-unwritten regulations.

That came the same day as the biggest electric utility in Texas was sold to private investors who said they would make the company more environmentally friendly by not building more coal-fired plants.

It also came the day after former Vice President Al Gore’s documentary about global warming, “An Inconvenient Truth,” won at the Academy Awards, calling even more attention to the issue.

The momentum thus exists to move toward solutions to greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide from burning gasoline, coal and oil.

The gases are key contributors to global warming, scientists say.

But because technology does not yet exist to clean carbon dioxide emissions from coal-burning power plants, reducing such emissions will be difficult, Tucson Electric Power Co. spokesman Joe Salkowski said.

“We’ll have to see what’s doable. At this point we don’t know,” Salkowski said Tuesday.

Ninety percent of Tucson’s electricity is generated by burning coal. Nationally, about half of electricity is from coal.

Another major greenhouse gas contributor, vehicle exhaust, will also be tough to curb. Our efforts to boost use of natural gas, ethanol and biodiesel in cars and trucks will have to be expanded, said Colleen Crowninshield, director of the Clean Cities Program for the Pima Association of Governments.

“I think it’s something we can do, but we have to be more aggressive,” said Crowninshield, whose program aims to increase use of alternate-fuel vehicles.

In September, Gov. Janet Napolitano set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to the levels of 2000 by 2020. Regional goals will be set in the next six months, according to the five-state agreement signed Monday.

In 2000, Arizona pumped about 88 million tons of greenhouse gases, about 1.2 percent of the nation’s total, into the sky, according to a report published last year by the Arizona Climate Change Advisory Group.

About 50 million tons of that were generated by electricity production. That figure is rising rapidly because Arizona’s population and economy are growing, the report said.

“The reason emissions have increased is because demand has increased,” Salkowski said.

TEP will have to research new technologies to remove greenhouse gases from its coal-fired plants, Salkowski said.

“We’re really starting from scratch,” he said.

In the meantime, southern Arizona’s largest power producer will continue to conservation through frugal use of the thermostat and low-energy appliances and light bulbs, Salkowski said.

“That’s something any of our customers can do,” he said.

The governors’ agreement will likely mesh with an Arizona Corporation Commission edict last fall that power companies increase their use of renewable energy sources, Salkowski said.

Roughly 45 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in Arizona in 2000 were from cars, trucks and other transportation means, with about 70 percent of that coming from gasoline vehicles, the state inventory said.

Cutting vehicle emissions will take a multifront attack on the way we drive and the vehicles we use, Crowninshield said.

We will need more carpooling and more use of a variety of alt-fuel vehicles, including electric, natural gas, ethanol and biodiesel, Crowninshield said.

“There is no silver bullet. It really depends on the needs of the individual,” she said.

The biggest greenhouse gas contributors are fleet vehicles.

“That’s where the miles are driven,” Crowninshield said.

For years, southern Arizona has been at the forefront of the effort to switch fleets to alternative fuel vehicles, she said.

Tucson Unified School District was among the first in the nation to use low-emission buses, and Sun Tran and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base are using alt-fuel vehicles, she said.

Tucson Electric uses biodiesel in its fleet vehicles and heavy equipment, Salkowski said.

The biggest problem with persuading people to use alt-fuel is that it is scarcely available.

The state has just four places to buy E-85, the most commonly used ethanol product. Tucson has one place to refuel a natural gas vehicle, Crowninshield said.

But that is changing.

C&T Oil, which has E-85 for sale at East Golf Links Road and South Pantano Parkway, is adding two more E-85 locations this week, she said.

Still, Arizona is better off than other parts of the West. California has just one E-85 fuel point statewide, and Phoenix has none, Crowninshield said.

Awareness is also an issue. Many Arizonans do not know they can get a natural gas fuel point at their home for about $6,000 ($3,000 for used equipment), she said. Installing the system nets the homeowner a $4,000 tax break, and registering a natural gas vehicle costs just $28 per year, she said.

Combine that with savings on fuel – natural gas costs $1.89 per gallon and mileage is the same as gasoline – and the savings can add up for consumers, she said.

Crowninshield thinks the state can reach the governor’s goal of reducing emissions to 2000 levels by 2020, but it won’t be easy.

“I think it’s something we can do, but we have to be more aggressive. Infrastructure is going to be the most important factor in reaching that goal. We’ve got to increase the infrastructure,” she said.

The coal conveyor system at a Tucson Electric Power plant

The coal conveyor system at a Tucson Electric Power plant



Global warming: recipe for disaster


Source of Arizona greenhouse gases in 2000

• Electricity: 56%

• Vehicles: 44%

Primary U.S. electricity sources in 2005

• Coal: 50%

• Nuclear energy: 19%

• Natural gas: 19%

• Hydroelectric: 6.5%


U.S. C02 emissions by source

• Coal: 2,143 million tons

• Natural gas: 352 million tons

• Petroleum: 110 million tons

Sources: Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, U.S. Department of Energy, Edison Electric Institute


Online poll: What will it take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to an acceptable level?
Individual action.: 13%
Government action.: 8%
Global action.: 46%
Current levels are acceptable.: 31%
190 users voted

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