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Micropower to the People!

Energy-saving guru Amory Lovins used to consult for TXU and finds its plan to build 11 coal-fired plants "puzzling." And very troubling.

At this very moment, Mike Greene, president and CEO of TXU Power, is being deposed by Texas Clean Air Cities Coalition's attorneys down at Energy Plaza on Bryan Street. There are some nine media members there as well, and a transcript of the deposition, about TXU's plan to build 11 coal-fired power plants throughout the state, will be made available perhaps as early as day's end. When it is, we'll post it for the three or four of you interested in TXU's explaining precisely how it plans to keep the lights on long enough for us all to die slow, hacking deaths.

Today's legal proceedings reminded us that nationally renowned energy-saving guru Amory Lovins, who we mentioned here at the end of January, used to do some consulting work for TXU. It seemed, well, odd to us that Lovins -- who, in 1976, wrote a 13,000-word piece for Foreign Affairs in which he warned folks about the dangers of coal-burning plants -- used to get some dough-re-mi from TXU, which paid him a lot of money to ignore his very prescient advice. So we thought we'd call Lovins and find out what he thought of TXU's plans to fill the air with enough CO2 to choke a horse...and every other living thing in Texas. The answer's after the jump.

Lovins, recently profiled in The New Yorker, says he "did a little consulting work" for TXU in the 1990s, by which he means he gave the occasional presentation to its top-ranking execs and board members about ways to save money and create safely generated electricity. He says he believed TXU was and remains "a very capable company," though there's been enough turnover there that few he spoke to way back then are still in TXU's employ. "They probably don't even remember me," he says.

But Lovins, for all his kind words about TXU, finds the company's decision to stick with coal "rather puzzling" and not a little troubling. After all, he says, "I work in 50 countries, I've been in this industry 30 years, and I can't think of an instance where it would make sense to build a coal-fired plant or a nuclear plant. Any kind of central thermal plant is unnecessary and uneconomic compared with other alternatives."

He can't understand why, for instance, TXU hasn't explored micropower, which, it says here, "is the production of energy on the smallest of scales, for individual buildings or communities," which create little to no carbon dioxide at all.

"Micropower used to be viewed as something on the fringe,"Lovins says. "But it provided in 2005, which is the most recent year for which we have figures, a sixth of the world's total electricity and a third of the world's newest electricity. Until we actually added that up, nobody realized how big it was. So on both the demand side and the supply side, there are revolutionary developments many people in the field haven't caught up with, in fairness to TXU. But it's important they do so, and when they do they will find their choices are wider than they supposed."

He's followed closely the debate over TXU's desire to build the 11 coal-fired plants. But he's sort of optimistic about the controversy sparked by the proposal -- and by Mayor Laura Miller's efforts to fight it, with her coalition of Texas mayors.

"I know some major customers aren't happy about" TXU's plan, he says. But, if nothing else, he suggests, "This debate underscores the opportunity to take a deep breath and dive deeper into what the full range of opportunities is. Every time we've done that around the world, it's turned out out be a win-win, and the folks who are disgruntled get regruntled, and the customers and the stockholders end up happier."

"Micropower has captured over half the world market, and, incidentally, it's being financed by private risk capital," he adds. "Nuclear plants being built today don't have any private money behind them, and if you believe as I do in a free market, that ought to tell you something about how important micropower is. Micropower alone in 2005 added four times the output and 11 times the capacity as nuclear power. The market has spoken clearly on this subject, but if you look at only the official statistics, you might not realize how thorough the revolutoiun has been. Sorry if you missed it."

Then, he closes with a line from The Hobbit, and he aims it directly at TXU: "Shortcuts make for long delays." --Robert Wilonsky

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