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February 03 2014

16:20

17 Foundations Divest from Fossil Fuels

Seventeen U.S. nonprofit grantmaking charities have announced they are divesting from fossil fuel investments.  For those new to this world, foundations are typically funded by endowments created by a benefactor or family legacy.  These funds are invested, usually in a combination of mutual funds, stocks, hedge funds and bonds.  The foundations distribute a portion of the profits as grants and use the rest to pay for operations and reinvestment into the endowment.

17 foundations are divesting their holdings away from dirty energy companies. Will the fossil fuel divestment movement grow to have real impact in our energy economy?As even the most novice investor would tell you, there are many different strategies for investing.  However, there is a growing belief that we can do good with our money by choosing investments wisely.  By investing in companies that are doing good, we are furthering our own values; be they social, environmental or community-driven.  By selling our shares in companies we perceive to be harming things we believe in, we can have a different kind of impact.  The latter strategy is called “negative screening” and the former “positive screening”.

Negative screening has been in the news a lot lately, in the form of prominent investors “divesting” in particular companies or funds.  350.org, perhaps the most notable grassroots organization fighting against climate change, has led the charge against institutional investments in fossil fuels and other environmentally harmful industries.

Named for the maximum safe concentration of carbon in the atmosphere (350 parts-per-million), 350.org has organized over 500,000 people globally in the fight against global warming.  Their latest win is successfully convincing 17 major foundations it was worth shedding their investments in dirty companies.  350.org and their partner gofossilfree.org maintain a list of the top 200 companies that deal in dirty fossil fuels.

So what’s the big deal if 17 of the thousands of foundations choose to shift their money?  Collectively they manage $1.8 billion in assets.  Not much next to Warren Buffet.  But quite a hefty amount of money nonetheless.

There is a strong argument from traditional investment advisors that divesting in a particular company has very little (if any) impact on that company’s behavior unless it is a magnitude of dollars very few people control.  This may be true.  But at this point, we are early in the institutional divestment movement and every action sends a message.

Recent efforts to convince the largest institutional investors such as Harvard and Yale to divest in fossil fuels have failed.  But the popular opinion is quickly shifting about these dirty fuel sources.  Some major donors to university endowments have actually started placing restrictions on their funds, limiting them to clean and/or renewable energy investments only.  Now that’s putting your money where your mouth is.

Image credit: Seven Days VT

The post 17 Foundations Divest from Fossil Fuels appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

January 29 2014

18:45

Navajo Nation, National Parks, Wilderness Remain at Risk with Planned Retrofits of Coal-Fired Power Plants

Feature article by Doug Pelton

Jennifer Mckay, a 38-year old research librarian with the University of Alaska, remembers the day back in 1997 when she was invited by a Navajo friend to the First Mesa, a three-hour drive east of Ganado where Mckay, an anthropology major, was interning at the Hubbell Trading Post. On the mesa located within the Hopi reservation, she witnessed a spiritual ceremony that few whites  get to see.

“We stood on the mesa, looking down on the village square where dancers were getting ready for the ceremony. I remember how I must’ve stood out among the sea of Hopi and Navajo people. I realized I didn’t want to stand out, so I focused on serenity of that ceremony that I felt so privileged to observe. It was an amazing day for me”

The Navajo Generating Station in Arizona emits nearly 20 million tons of CO2 every yearAdmittedly, she was unaware of the five coal-powered generators at the Four Corner Power Plant (FCPP), 147 miles north of Ganado near Fruitland, New Mexico.  On property leased from the Navajo Nation, its five coal-fired generators emissions made this site one of the oldest, largest and heaviest polluters among the nation’s coal-powered plants.

Four Corner Power Plant (FCPP)

Its first coal-powered generating units went on line back in the early ‘60s. As additional units were added over the years, the FCPP remained woefully out of sync with the EPA’s Clean Air Act of ‘72: the plant was on track to spew some 100 million pounds of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides (NOx),  plus 6 million pounds of soot and nearly 1,000 pounds of toxic mercury annually.

At first, a knee-jerk response might be to point blame at the owners of the FCPP, now wholly-owned by Arizona Power Service (APS) after recently buying out Southern California Edison’s share of the site’s three older coal-powered generators.

But, the problem is not one-dimensional in cause or solutions.

Indeed, it’s complicated with a Gordian-knot quality tied to a tangle of interpretations of federal land trusts for Native American tribes, and EPA mandates (Clean Air Act of 1972) and its more recent Regional Haze Programs; the latter offering  its own Cross-State Air Pollution Rule to polluters as a way to reduce haze versus retrofitting old power plants to control the sulfur dioxide/nitrogen oxide emissions affecting our national parks and wilderness.

Sadly,  the twists and turns of rulings and hearings emanating from environmental and economic coalitions seem to be running parallel to more pressing issues of the day, such as a 50 percent unemployment rate within the Navajo Nation. Indeed, the high-paying jobs tied to coal are welcomed in spite of the continued swirl of hellish living conditions within the Navajo Nation.

To further it’s long-term employment outlook, the Navajo Transitional Energy Company, LLC (NTEC), a wholly owned company of the tribal government, is moving to purchase the Navajo Mine from  BHP Billiton New Mexico Coal, thereby burnishing its own commitment as a serious player in the coal mining business.

It’s complicated: two other coal-fired power plants in the New Mexico Arizona region are also providing good jobs, but are major contributors to the ongoing environmental and health issues.

Navajo Generating Station (NGS)

Just 20 miles from the Grand Canyon, near Page, Arizona, this coal-fired power plant (2,250 megawatt of power) is deemed the mother-of-all contributors of acid rain in the U.S. It is co-owned by six entities deemed the ‘Technical Work Group:” the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Salt River Project, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Arizona Public Service, Nevada Power Company and Tucson Electric Power.

The U.S. Department of the Interior is keen on seeing its own federal share of NGS reach an 80-percent clean energy level by 2035. Overall, the method of addressing alternatives to reducing emissions will likely fall under the EPA’s “Best Available Retrofit’ (BART) plans for this specific plant.

The San Juan Generating StationSan Juan Generating Station (SJGS)

Located just off the reservation near Farmington, N.M. with the  ‘Public Service of New Mexico’  as primary owner/operator, this facility spews upwards of 18K tons of nitrogen oxide alone. A Sierra Club overview on SJGS points out that if a car is responsible for emitting  38 pounds of NOx, then this plant is doing what 940,000 cars can do; this, while fouling the air with  50 pounds of mercury; 662 pounds of selenium and 35K pounds of sulfuric acid annually.

Furthermore,  the pollution from this plant alone is a factor in contributing to the area’s 33 premature deaths, and prompting some 30 asthma-related ER visits to the tune of $254 million a year in health-related costs.

To a limited degree, a WildEarth Guardian lawsuit against the EPA in 2011 was successful in pushing the SGJS to at least retrofit this dirty coal-fired power plant in hopes of meeting EPA standards for mitigating haze pollution. But, even with the changes, the coalition predicts the plant will remain one of the primary contributors to New Mexico’s air pollution, while an alternative source, like wind, could meet the state’s power needs by over  “seventy-fold.”

For the Navajo Nation, stopping the use of fossil fuels in lieu of alternative energy sources is not a viable option, particularly since the coal needed to fuel both the NGS and FCPP power plants will be supplied by the aforementioned Navajo Mines.

Two decades go, atop the First Mesa, Jennifer McKay’s vision was one of  immense respect and reverence for the ceremony she was invited to attend:

“The ancient Hopi village was filled with onlookers and many stood on roofs of the ancient dwellings under the clear, open sky and with an infinite horizon.”

Hopefully, those “infinite” horizons will return, health-issues abate and tribal jobs flourish as these coal-fired power plants are one day deemed compliant after the retrofitting of outdated equipment.

 

Main and featured image credit: Nathan Rupert, courtesy flickr

Secondary image credit: Wild Earth Guardians, courtesy flickr

The post Navajo Nation, National Parks, Wilderness Remain at Risk with Planned Retrofits of Coal-Fired Power Plants appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

January 14 2014

22:25

An Uptick in US Greenhouse Gas Emissions as Utilities Use More Coal

Greenhouse gas emissions rise slightly in 2013

Finalizing its 2013 report on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects an increase of 2 percent for the year, the first in three years. Looking out over the longer term, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have been in a downtrend, one that the EIA expects will continue, with emissions from energy generation declining four out of the past six years since their 2007 peak.

2013 national greenhouse gas emissions will come in at slightly more than 10 percent below 2005 levels, according to an EIA press release, “a significant contribution towards the goal of a 17 percent reduction in emissions from the 2005 level by 2020 that was adopted by the current Administration.”

2013 uptick belies longer term downward trend


The EIA attributes 2013′s expected rise in carbon and greenhouse gas emissions to a small increase in coal consumption in the U.S. power sector. With U.S. natural gas prices coming off lows, electric utilities have been using more coal this past year.

U.S. greenhouse gas emissions reached a peak in 2007. Since then, utilities switching to cheaper natural gas from coal, along with growing use of non-hydro renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power, helped drive U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to a historic low in April, 2012, when they were 12 percent below 2005 levels.

The EIA identifies key drivers of a changing U.S. energy landscape in its press release:

  • Weak economic growth in recent years, dampening growth in energy demand compared to pre-recession expectations;
  • Continuously improving energy efficiency across the economy, including buildings and transportation;
  • High energy prices over the past four years, with the exception of natural gas, since about 2010;
  • An abundant and inexpensive supply of natural gas, resulting from the widespread use of new production technologies for shale gas (i.e. fracking);
  • Power sector decarbonization since 2010, as natural gas and renewables displaced coal.

Though coal regained some market share among electric utilities in 2013, the EIA forecasts that the downtrend in national greenhouse gas emissions will continue.

Rising tide of renewables

Renewable energy supply continues to rise in the United States

In its latest “Short-term Energy Outlook,” the EIA predicts that emissions-free hydropower and non-hydropower renewables for electricity and heat generation will grow at a 4.7 percent rate in 2014. Use of hydropower to generate electricity and heat will rise 2.2 percent, while non-hydropower renewables will rise 6.1 percent.

U.S. installed wind power capacity will increase 8.8% in 2014 to reach some 66 gigawatts (GW). The EIA pegs growth in 2015 at 14.6 percent, with total installed capacity reaching 75 GW. Wind-driven electricity generation will increase 2.2% this year and 11.4% in 2015, accounting for over 5 percent of the national total.

EIA also foresees ongoing growth in capacity and use of electricity from utility and end-user solar photovoltaic and solar thermal energy sources.

The EIA doesn’t forecast “customer-sited” solar energy capacity or use, though it does expect this largest segment of the solar power market to continue to exceed that for utility-scale solar power in terms of capacity and use. The EIA does track and forecast utility-scale solar power capacity and use, however. The EIA projects that utility-scale solar will increase through 2014 and 2015, though it will account for just 0.4% of overall U.S. electricity generation.

Utility-scale solar power installations more than doubled in both 2012 and 2013, the EIA highlights. It forecasts the sector will grow another 40% or so between year-end 2013 and year-end 2015, “with photovoltaic (PV) capacity accounting for 85 percent of that growth.”

EIA also highlighted the commissioning of the 280 megawatt (MW) Solana solar thermal power plant in Arizona. Designed and built by Abengoa, Solana is the first utility-scale solar thermal, or concentrating solar, power plant to come online since 2007.

Solana is unique: it’s the only solar thermal plant in operation in the U.S. with integrated storage capacity, which enables the system to store and distribute electricity at maximum capacity for up to six hours. EIA expects more of these to come online in 2014.

All images courtesy of Energy Information Administration

The post An Uptick in US Greenhouse Gas Emissions as Utilities Use More Coal appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

November 19 2013

23:21

Energy, Climate Scientists Call for a Moratorium on Coal-Fired Power Plants

Energy and climate scientists call for a coal moratorium, saying unabated coal is the road to climate catastrophe

Coal Sunrise over Beijing

An international group of 27 prominent energy and climate scientists are calling for a moratorium on construction of new coal-fired power plants, a policy they say has become a global imperative if “climate catastrophe” is to be avoided this century.

Their call comes amid renewed efforts by coal and power utility lobbies “to portray ‘high efficiency low emissions coal combustion’ as a climate solution.” Global carbon emissions are set to hit another new record high this year, according to a report released earlier this week as UN climate treaty negotiators meet in Warsaw. Ironically, taking place at the same time in the Polish capital is the Coal and Climate Summit.

The assertion that coal combustion to produce electricity should be considered a “climate-friendly” power technology flies in the face of the facts, all good judgment, and, needless to say, any semblance of adhering to the “precautionary principle.” Agreeing to it would set humanity and ecosystems around the world firmly on course for global warming of 6°C (10.8°F) , according to the scientists.

That’s three to four times the 1.5-2°C cap (compared to pre-industrial era levels) and climate warming threshold world leaders agreed to at the UN’s climate treaty negotiations in Cancun in 2010.

On the road to climate catastrophe

The world’s known coal reserves contain more than 2,000 gigatons (Gt) of CO2. Burning or combusting these reserves “would dramatically overshoot the remaining global carbon budget of about 1,000 gigatons CO2. This comes on top of oil and gas reserves accounting for more than 1600 gigatons,” the scientists highlight in a press release.

“The current global trend of coal use is consistent with an emissions pathway above the IEA’s 6°C scenario. That risks an outcome that can only be described as catastrophic, beyond anything that mankind has experienced during its entire existence on earth,” the scientists state.

Source:

Source: “New Unabated coal is not compatible with keeping
global warming below 2°C”

“The IEA’s medium-term coal market report (IEA, 2012) projects a further expansion of coal use that is even higher than IEA’s own 6DS scenario for 6°C warming in the long-term,” they elaborate.

“The 6DS scenario assumes around 4°C warming by 2100 (Schaeffer and Van Vuuren, 2012). As the Secretary General of the OECD warns: ‘Without CCS, continued reliance on coal-fired power is a road to disaster. (OECD, 2013)”

Source:

Source: “New unabated1 coal is not
compatible with keeping
global warming below 2°C”

“We are not saying there is no future for coal”, added Professor P.R. Shukla of the Indian Institute of Management, “but that unabated coal combustion is not compatible with staying below the 2°C limit, if we like it or not.”

Following is a short list of the main points of the climate and energy scientists’ statement:

  • Unabated coal is not a low carbon technology
  • Avoiding dangerous climate change requires about 3/4 of known fossil fuel reserves to stay underground
  • Current trends in coal use are harbouring catastrophic climate change
  • To keep global warming to less than 2°C above pre-industrial, use of unabated coal has to go down in absolute terms from now on
  • Alternatives are available and affordable
  • Public financing institutions and regulatory agencies are reining in unabated coal, but more is needed to prevent new unabated coal to be built

False claims, Sustainable energy scenarios

The group of scientists also noted that “false claims about ‘high-efficiency coal’ as a low-emissions technology” were made by the World Coal Association (WCA) in their recently released Warsaw Communiqué. In it the WCA “calls for ‘the immediate use of high-efficiency low-emissions coal combustion technologies as an immediate step in lowering greenhouse gas emissions.”

Contrary to such assertions, Dr Bert Metz, former Co-Chair of the IPCC’s Working Group on Climate Change Mitigation, stated,

“New or retrofitted coal plants without CO2 capture and storage will have a life time of 40-50 years. We need to dramatically reduce emissions over the next 40 years. That is not possible with unabated coal.”

“Alternatives to fossil fuels are already available and affordable. It is therefore up to the coal industry to show that coal-fired plants with CCS can compete with other zero carbon options.”

The scientists welcomed the growing number of prominent multilateral and international financing institutions and regulatory agencies, including the World Bank, the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the U.S. Ex-Im Bank, to curtail or “rein in unabated coal.” Much more action is needed, and now, however, they added.

As Professor William Moomaw of the Fletcher School, Tufts University, USA pointed out:

“The trend of future coal use is changing rapidly. The World Bank, US development assistance and the US Import-Export Bank will no longer finance or support new unabated coal power plants internationally, except in rare cases.

“The United States Environmental Protection Agency has proposed carbon dioxide emission standards that rule out unabated coal power plants altogether. The European Investment Bank and Scandinavian countries have taken similar steps.”

Genuinely low-emissions alternative, renewable energy technology are readily available, competitive with fossil fuels, and continue to decline in cost, the scientists highlight. This stands out in stark contrast to trends in fossil fuels, which are increasingly costly in narrowly defined dollars-and-cents terms, and much more expensive over the long-term when their environmental, health and other socioeconomic costs, such as military interventions, are factored into the equation.

In their statement, the scientists lay out a range of alternative energy and emissions scenarios:

Source:

Source: “New unabated1 coal is not
compatible with keeping
global warming below 2°C”

For more on this topic, check out the scientists’ full statement on coal

 

Main and featured image credit: Shel Israel, courtesy flickr 

The post Energy, Climate Scientists Call for a Moratorium on Coal-Fired Power Plants appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

00:07

Coal and Climate – a Tale of Two Summits: UNFCCC Chief Figueres Addresses Coal Conference in Poland

Coal and climate don't mix. UNFCCC chief addresses International Coal Summit in Warsaw, Poland, one of the most polluting countries in EuropeCoal and climate in Warsaw

Perhaps one of the biggest ironies at the ongoing COP19 climate conference is the open acceptance of corporate sponsorship by Poland, this year’s host country for the talks – sponsors that are, as Giles Parkinson points out in RenewEconomymostly fossil fuel companies as Lotos, a Polish oil company and brown coal producer PGE.

In fact, Poland has a rather spotty record on climate, epitomized by the start today of the World Coal Association’s International Coal and Climate Summit - the ”other” climate summit hosted by the Polish government that has called into question Poland’s own role in climate policy and raised the ire of more than a few environmental advocates.

Given that Poland depends almost exclusively on coal for its power production may make it no surprise that Poland would host an international industry “summit” essentially promoting clean coal, but the timing is another issue. In an open letter to UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) executive secretary Christiana Fiqueres Greenpeace called the timing “outrageous”:

“It is outrageous that the World Coal Summit… will take place at the beginning of the second week of the climate negotiations…  We would not like events promoting the most polluting of industries to become associated with solving climate change. While we recognize that the focus of the Coal and Climate Summit is so-called “clean coal”, in our view this ranks among the most desperate of myths spun by the coal industry in a frantic bid to survive.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) also called out the unfortunate juxtaposition in Warsaw between COPO19 and the World Coal Association event:

“The summit’s focus on continued reliance on coal is directly counter to the goal of these climate negotiations,” said Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for UCS, “which is to dramatically reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Every year countries come together at these negotiations to find a global solution to climate change, and yet our host is embracing a chief cause of the problem.”

Coal industry must radically reform

Questionably timed on purpose or not,  UNFCCC chief Figures took the opportunity to address the coal industry directly, saying the industry “can and must” radically reform and diversify to avoid the top-end, worst consequences of climate change.

 ”Let me be clear from the outset that my joining you today is neither a tacit approval of coal use, nor is it a call for the immediate disappearance of coal. But I am here to say that coal must change rapidly and dramatically for everyone’s sake,” Figueres told the assembled coal company CEOs.

Speaking of the latest  Cimate Assessment Report recently published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Fiqeures said:

“The IPCC’s findings have been endorsed by 195 governments, including all of those in which you operate. We are at unprecedented greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere; our carbon budget is half spent. If we continue to meet energy needs as we have in the past, we will overshoot the internationally agreed goal to limit warming to less than two degree Celsius.”

In her speech, Figueres made clear the existential nature of climate change, even for coal companies:

“All of this tells me that the coal industry faces a business continuation risk that you cannot afford to ignore. Like any other industry, you have a fiduciary responsibility to your workforce and shareholders. And by now it is abundantly clear that further capital expenditures on coal can only go ahead if they are compatible with the 2 degree Celsius limit.”

Diversify, keep it in the ground

On the point of leaving coal behind as the best future for humanity, Figueres said:

“Some major oil, gas and energy technology companies are already investing in renewables, and I urge those of you who have not yet started to do this to join them. By diversifying your portfolio beyond coal, you too can produce clean energy that reduces pollution, enhances public health, increases energy security, and creates new jobs.”

“Look past next quarter’s bottom line and see the next generation’s bottom line.” 

Get the full  Figueres’ full speech to the International Coal and Climate

 

Image credit: CEE Bankwatch Network, courtesy flickr

The post Coal and Climate – a Tale of Two Summits: UNFCCC Chief Figueres Addresses Coal Conference in Poland appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

October 29 2013

20:22

Phase-Out of Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2050 Technically, Economically Feasible

rosietheriveterCompletely phasing out net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 is not only technically feasible, but could be done at very manageable cost, according to a comprehensive study by Ecofys for the Global Call for Climate Action.

“It is technically and economically feasible to reduce emissions to zero for roughly 90% of current sources of GHG emissions with technological options that are available today and in the near future.” The remaining 10% of GHG emissions could be offset by enhancing carbon sinks, the Ecofys’ report authors conclude. The cost of doing so: around 5% of GDP per year.

Realizing this goal would effectively assure that mean global temperature would not exceed the 2ºC climate change tipping point theorized by the world’s leading climate scientists and agreed to by world leaders in the Copenhagen Accord of 2009. It would also improve the odds of keeping global mean temperature increase to 1.5ºC by the end of the century to 50%.

Phasing out GHG emissions by mid-century

Affecting the changes required to phase out net GHG emissions by 2050 would require globally coordinated action of unprecedented speed, scope and scale, the report authors rightly point out:

“Reducing net emissions close to zero by mid-century means fundamentally restructuring all of our economic sectors in the coming decades.”

“The energy system presents the greatest potential for emission reductions through efficiency savings and fuel shift,” the Ecofys report authors found. Use of fossil fuels for energy, transport, buildings and industry accounts for some 2/3 of global GHG emissions. The other 1/3 results from land use, raising livestock and industrial processes, they explain.

imageedit_3_5663497138

In their study, “Feasibility of GHG emissions phase-out by mid-century,” Ecofys modelled “several low emissions scenarios that result in (nearly) zero net GHG emissions by 2050…Thse are categorized as one of two types, reflecting two slightly different modelling approaches and resulting strategies:

  • Scenarios with (near) 100% renewable energy by 2050: These scenarios aim, at the outset, at a certain emissions target as well as a certain contribution of renewables. They find that 100% renewable energy by 2050 is possible. Saving energy is a key strategy in these scenarios because high efficiency facilitates an energy supply based almost entirely on renewable sources.
  • Scenarios with less than 100% renewable energy but carbon capture and storage (CCS): So-called integrated assessment models are commonly used to choose from different technological options to achieve a cost optimal global energy system within certain economic boundary conditions, e.g. very low emissions. Energy efficiency is modelled on a more generic level. Consequently, these scenarios result in a higher use of energy and a lower share of renewables. To still meet certain emissions targets, the models assume that carbon capture and storage (CCS), and possibly also nuclear power, are deployed on a large scale. The use of biomass with CCS enables these scenarios to sometimes reach net negative emissions in the second half of the century.”

The possible and the probable

While technically and economically feasible, the likelihood of such fundamental, globally coordinated change occurring is remote given current political, economic and social conditions and trends. While GHG emissions are on the wane in the world’s largest industrialized countries, including the EU and US, responsible for the bulk of anthropogenic GHG emissions in the atmosphere, they’re increasing by greater amounts in rapidly industrializing countries such as China and India.

Barring a series of climate-linked disasters, it seems clear that enacting anything remotely akin to a national strategic plan to phase out GHG emissions in the US would continue to be stymied in a Congressional quagmire of opposition and debate. For their parts, China, India and other large, emerging market economies are clearly unwilling to accept the uncertainty and take the risks of seeking to develop their economies and societies in ways that don’t require locking in their own dependence on fossil fuels.

In their report, Ecofys’ authors echo calls by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the conclusions reached in groundbreaking, comprehensive studies such as the “2010 Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change.” As the Ecofys report authors state,

“Initial steps taken to decarbonise need to be amplified drastically. The longer we wait to act, the more expensive change becomes. Whether a phase-out is politically feasible will be determined in the coming years.”

The post Phase-Out of Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2050 Technically, Economically Feasible appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

October 07 2013

18:06

Enviro News Wrap: Climate Denial Propaganda; Tesla EV Catches Fire; Fukushima Leaks Radioactive Water, and more…

The Latest Environmental News HeadlinesGlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up and comments on the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

  • With the IPCC publishing it latest findings on climate change the denial campaign has been stepped up. American and British organizations are partnering to create confusion over science that is very clear. The denial propagandists have spent a lot of time creating strategies that only a sharp and studied person can see through. Think about this, how many climate change skeptics are scientists from a relevant field of study doing current research? Very few if any. The denial side is filled with pundits, otherwise known as regular people paid money to provide non-expert (but touted as expert) opinions.
  • A Tesla electric car caught fire when a metal object pierced the 3-inch protective case to the battery. It is important to remember that cars are inherently unsafe (if less so than decades ago with improvements in safety features and designn), especially the ones driving around with gallons of highly flammable gasloline. Tesla is responding to the incident.
  • The decline of coal continues! Two plants in Pennsylvania are closing  because they are no longer profitable. This is the power of economics, you don’t need to argue with anyone because if something doesn’t make money then it stops. So, good-bye coal, and hello cheaper renewable energy.
  • The government shutdown, while ultimately ridiculous, is impacting renewable energy. Larger projects with permitting timelines and completion deadlines for government incentives are at risk of not meeting their development targets.
  • Renewable energy has become cheaper, but natural gas is still the cheapest energy source in 2013. Natural gas extraction and use is skyrocketing, but what happens when the price spikes and we are stuck on yet another dirty and expensive energy source.
  • There is a single word that sums up the argument against nuclear power: Fukushima. If an energy source carries an unacceptable risk to the environment and human health then it should not be used. The joke goes, an oil spill is a disaster, a solar spill is called a nice day.
  • Methane gas is a byproduct of materials breaking down; our landfills produce a lot of methane and now it is being sold as car fuel in California. Recapturing our waste to use it again is a very good idea.
  • Roads are pollution corridors and lots of people live right next to big roads. Ever see a home on the side of the freeway with black smudge on the outside walls, well that is the same stuff that people are breathing.

The post Enviro News Wrap: Climate Denial Propaganda; Tesla EV Catches Fire; Fukushima Leaks Radioactive Water, and more… appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

September 24 2013

15:30

More Wind & Solar Can Reduce Utility Costs and Emissions

renewable-energy-girlThose opposed to spurring development and adoption of renewable solar and wind energy resources continually assert that their intermittent nature not only reduces grid reliability and raises the cost of electricity, but negates the carbon and greenhouse gas emissions reductions that contribute so greatly to their rapid adoption in the first place.

While it’s true that bringing greater amounts of solar and wind-generated electricity on grids means utilities have to cycle more frequently – ramp down and ramp up or stop and start – fossil fuel generators to ensure a smooth, reliable flow of electricity, a study by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) shows that the carbon emissions that result from cycling are negligible – less than 0.2% – of the carbon reductions realized by generating electricity from the sun and winds.

Not only that, but the research revealed that bringing “high levels of wind and solar power [on to the grid] would reduce fossil fuel costs by approximately $7 billion per year across the West, while incurring cycling costs of $35 million to $157 million per year.” That amounts to an increase in operations and maintenance costs of only $0.47-$1.28 per megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity generation for the average fossil fuel power plant, according to a September 24 NREL press release.

How can this be?  The explanation lies in the fossil fuel costs utilities avoid by making greater use of solar and wind energy generation.

Avoiding fossil fuel costs, and pollution

According to Debra Law, the project manager for NREL’s study,

“Grid operators have always cycled power plants to accommodate fluctuations in electricity demand as well as abrupt outages at conventional power plants, and grid operators use the same tool to accommodate high levels of wind and solar generation.

“Increased cycling to accommodate high levels of wind and solar generation increases operating costs by 2% to 5% for the average fossil-fueled plant. However, our simulations show that from a system perspective, avoided fuel costs are far greater than the increased cycling costs for fossil-fueled plants.”

Besides determining that the carbon emissions associated with greater cycling of fossil fuel generating capacity is negligible (<0.2%) compared to the reductions from bringing wind and solar energy generation on to the grid, the NREL project team found that sulfur dioxide emissions reductions from wind and solar are 5% less than expected due to greater cycling of fossil fuel generators. Nitrogen oxide emissions reductions were 2% greater than expected.

This latest study, entitled “Phase 2 of the Western Wind and Solar Integration Study” (WWSIS-2), is a follow-up to NREL’s initial, May 2010 research into “the viability, benefits, and challenges of integrating high levels of wind and solar power into the western electricity grid.”

Source: Western Wind and Solar Integration Study, Phase 2; NREL

Source: Western Wind and Solar Integration Study, Phase 2; NREL

NRELchart_cycling_cost_system

Impacts of 33% renewable energy on the Western Interconnection grid

To calculate the emissions and cost of wear-and-tear, the NREL research team designed five hypothetical scenarios to examine generating as much as 33% of the U.S. portion of the Western Interconnection power system for the year 2020 from wind and solar energy. “This is equivalent to a quarter of the power in the Western Interconnection (including Canada and Mexico) coming from wind and solar energy on an annual basis,” the report authors explain.

The researchers’ model also assumes a future average natural gas price of $4.60/MMBtu – an optimistic assumption given the volatility and uncertainty inherent in natural gas prices – as well as “significant cooperation between balancing authorities, and optimal usage of transmission capacity (i.e., not reserving transmission for contractual obligations).”

Modeling the entire Western Interconnection power system at five-minute intervals for each year, the researchers found “that high wind and solar scenarios reduce CO2 emissions by 29%-34% across the Western Interconnection, with cycling having a negligible impact.”

The modeled reductions in sulfur dioxide (SO2) were 5% less than anticipated due to greater cycling, yet SO2 emissions would nonetheless be reduced by 14%-24% in the high solar and wind scenarios. Nitrogen oxide emissions would be reduced by 16%-22%, 1%-2% greater than expected. Added Lew,

“Adding wind and solar to the grid greatly reduces the amount of fossil fuel — and associated emissions — that would have been burned to provide power. Our high wind and solar scenarios, in which one-fourth of the energy in the entire western grid would come from these sources, reduced the carbon footprint of the western grid by about one-third. Cycling induces some inefficiencies, but the carbon emission reduction is impacted by much less than 1%.”

On average, it takes 4 MWh or renewables to displace 1 MWh of coal generation and 3 MWh of natural gas, according to the researchers, with the ramping up and down of coal-fired power plants having the biggest potential increase in terms of cycling.

Other key takeaways from the report include:

  • Because of sunset and sunrise, solar power creates the biggest ramping needs on the grid in this study. However, because we know the path of the sun through the sky every day of the year, system operators can predict these large ramping needs and plan accordingly. Solar variability due to fast-moving clouds is much less predictable, but it creates relatively smaller ramping needs.
  • Errors in day-ahead wind forecasts can make it challenging for operators to decide which power plants need to be online the next day. However, because forecast accuracy increases four hours ahead compared with 24 hours ahead, a four-hour-ahead decision on whether to start up those power plants that can be ramped up relatively quickly can help to mitigate these forecast errors.
  • Despite the differences between wind and solar in terms of grid operations, the study finds their impacts on system-wide operational costs are remarkably similar.

The post More Wind & Solar Can Reduce Utility Costs and Emissions appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

September 23 2013

16:18

Enviro News Wrap: Latest IPCC Report; Colorado Flood Aftermath; Coal’s Long Goodbye, and more…

The Latest Environmental News HeadlinesGlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up and comments on the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

  • I spent last weekend in Denver and it turned out to be a terrible time to visit. In the Boulder area floods carved out the land and roads. Gas and oil tanks were disrupted during the flood, spilling their contents. There is a fundamental problem with using dirty energy sources, in the end we spill it.
  • The newest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report expands on the certainty that humans are the cause of climate change. Arguing against the theory of climate change is like arguing against the theory of evolution. Well, I guess people try to do that too.
  • The International community has yet to agree on and act out a plan to address climate change. The balance of our climate should be of interest to every country and person. Earth is on track for increasingly disruptive climate change that continues to assault the wealth and health of humans. We need to address this issue both locally and globally.
  • Global warming is not the only reason to reduce emissions of pollutants. We live and breath in our ocean of air, the atmosphere. Pollutants have a real impact on human life, illustrated by this map from NASA.
  • A lot of the oil coming out of Nigeria has been illegally siphoned off of pipelines. Besides the damage to the oil industry the process of stealing oil from pipelines is really dirty and broken pipes are just left to spill after thieves have taken their fill. We should be dependent on less destructive energy sources.
  • Google has invested a lot of money in renewable energy. The effort continues with a wind energy contract.
  • Wind-Turbine-Syndrome is a thing. I really don’t know what to think of it. Maybe its a psychosomatic reaction of people that live next to wind turbines and politically don’t like renewable energy.
  • Coal in America will have to clean up its act. The EPA is enacting new stricter rules and its a win for us and our environment. Even with these new rules coal has been on the decline due to the booming natural gas industry. Coal and gas are easy substitutes and investors are choosing gas over coal. Coal is being attacked from two fronts and this might be the beginning of the end for the industry. This is not just happening in the US, China is another large stage for the decline of coal.
  • Ever wonder how the managers of evil corporations maintain their sanity? What if they weren’t? Dirty energy companies, banks, they make huge profits off of obviously hurting people. Maybe we are being played by sociopaths.
  • A negative externality is the cost of producing a good or service that is not included in the price paid by the consumer. Unaccounted for environmental externalities are messing up our economy because it creates a false market signal with dirty energy priced low and renewable energy priced high. But, renewable energy has a lower cost to society than dirty energy.

 

 

 

 

The post Enviro News Wrap: Latest IPCC Report; Colorado Flood Aftermath; Coal’s Long Goodbye, and more… appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

July 09 2013

18:31

The EU: Climate Change Threats at the Water-Energy Nexus

Credit: European Environment Agency

Climate change poses a growing threat across European Union society – at the nexus of water and energy resource availability and use in particular. Warming water temperatures and reduced river flows will make thermal coal and nuclear, as well as hydro power, plants vulnerable to rising costs, reduced availability and decreasing output, according to long-term study published by the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA).

Warming water temperatures and reductions in mean annual river flow will reduce gross hydropower capacity and the water resources available for cooling thermal coal and nuclear power plants an average 4-5% across the EU between 2031 and 2060 as compared to 1971-2000, an international team of hydrological researchers from across Europe concluded. Large declines in southern and southeastern EU member countries will more than offset forecast increases in the northern EU countries of Norway, Sweden and Finland, according to their paper, “Water constraints on European power supply under climate change: impacts on electricity prices.”

Reduced water, hydro, coal and nuclear power availability, rising costs

Wholesale electricity prices will rise in most EU countries as a result relative to that during 1971-2000, the research team concludes. The highest increases will occur in Slovenia (12%-15%), Bulgaria (21%-23%) and Romania (31-32%). Increased water availability in Sweden and Norway, in contrast, will result in lower annual price averages as lower cost hydro power pushes out more expensive thermal coal, natural gas and nuclear power generation, they anticipate.

Seasonal factors have a substantial impact on electricity costs, however. “For most countries, the increases in wholesale electricity prices are higher for summer period than on mean annual basis, because restrictions in cooling water use for thermoelectric power and reductions in water availability for hydro power potential are highest during this season. Strongest increases in wholesale prices during summer are projected for Slovakia (14–19%), France (14–17%), Austria (22–25%), Slovenia (25–33%), Romania (55–60%), and Bulgaria (44–45%).”

Replacement of coal-fired power plants by more expensive natural gas plants is also expected to contribute to rising wholesale power costs, according to the report authors.

"Water constraints on European power supply under climate change: impacts on electricity prices,"  Michelle T H van Vliet et al 2013 Environ. Res. Lett. 8 035010 doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/3/035010 © 2013 IOP Publishing Ltd

Source: “Water constraints on European power supply under climate change: impacts on electricity prices,” Michelle T H van Vliet et al 2013 Environ. Res. Lett. 8 035010
doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/3/035010
© 2013 IOP Publishing Ltd

Hydropower and water resource usage in the EU

Hydro power accounted for 10 percent of total electricity consumption and around 80 percent of electricity generated from renewable sources in Europe in 2006, according to the European Commission (EC). In addition to the direct use of water to generate electricity, thermal coal and nuclear power plants also make use of a large share of the region’s water resources for cooling purposes.
Renewable energy sources in the EU

“On average, 44 percent of total water abstraction in Europe is used for agriculture, 40% for industry and energy production (cooling in power plants), and 15 percent for public water supply,” according to the European Environment Agency (EEA).

The vast bulk of Europe’s hydropower comes from large-scale hydroelectric plants: some 16,800 small hydropower plants installed in the EU-27 had a total capacity of 11 gigawatts (GW) accounted for about 3% of total electricity generation, according to the European Small Hydropower Association (ESHA).

There’s not much water left to squeeze. The EC estimates that more than 82 percent of all economically feasible small hydropower (SHP) potential has been exploited in the former EU-15. In contrast, the SHP exploitation rate is much lower in EU-10, less than half that of the EU-15. It’s also very small, around 6 percent, in EU Candidate Countries, according to the EC.

Climate change’s varying impact on water resource use across the EU

Those countries with the highest SHP potential include Italy, France and Spain, along with Poland and the Czech Republic. These are among the countries where climate change poses the greatest threat to water resources and power plants, however, according to the study.

Moreover, thermal coal and nuclear, as well as hydropower plants, are vulnerable to a warming climate. In their study, the researchers conclude that “the combination of increased water temperatures and reduced summer river flow under climate change is likely to affect both hydropower and thermoelectric power generating capacity in Europe, with distinct impacts on electricity prices.

“Useable capacity of thermoelectric power is expected to be most strongly impacted in countries in the central, southern and south-eastern part of Europe, where strong declines in low summer river flow are projected in combination with large increases in water temperature. This is expected to increase environmental restrictions on cooling water uses, and can result in substantial reductions in power plant capacities during summer (up to 16–20 percent for Bulgaria and 15–21 percent for Spain for 2031–2060).

“Replacement in cooling systems and changes in sources of fuel (increased efficiency) reduce water demand of thermoelectric power plants for cooling, and therefore decrease the vulnerability to climate change and aggravated cooling water shortage. However, estimated reductions in power plant useable capacities for power plants with recirculation (tower) cooling systems were smaller but still non-negligible, especially for countries in southern, central and south-eastern Europe.”

Climate change adaptation at the Water-Energy Nexus

The researchers recommend the EU take several proactive steps to prevent or at least alleviate what appears to be a looming decline in water resource availability. The climate change adaptation steps they recommend include retrofitting or replacing existing thermal coal and nuclear power plants and diversifying the EU’s energy mix by relying more on renewable energy resources that are not dependent water availability and water temperature.

“Considering the high shares of hydro power, coal-fueled and nuclear-fueled power plants in most European countries, the vulnerability to declines in summer river flow and increased water temperatures can be high,” they wrote.

“Planned adaptation strategies are therefore highly recommended, especially in the southern, central and south-eastern parts of Europe, where overall largest impacts on thermoelectric and hydro power generating capacity are projected under climate change. Considering the high investments costs (EPRI 2011), retrofitting or replacement of power plants might not be beneficial from the perspective of individual power plant operators, although the social benefits of adaptation could be substantial.

“An increased diversification in the electricity sector, with a larger contribution of renewable energy resources that are independent from water availability and water temperature (e.g. solar PV, wind power), might reduce the vulnerability of the electricity sector to climate change, although wind power can also be negatively affected by climate change.”

Main image credit: European Environment Agency
Featured image credit: underclassrising.net, courtesy flickr

The post The EU: Climate Change Threats at the Water-Energy Nexus appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

July 01 2013

19:01

Enviro News Wrap: Obama’s Climate Plan; Shell in the Arctic; the Growth of Renewables; Natural Gas Greenwash, and more…

The Latest Environmental News HeadlinesGlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up and comments on the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

The post Enviro News Wrap: Obama’s Climate Plan; Shell in the Arctic; the Growth of Renewables; Natural Gas Greenwash, and more… appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

August 29 2012

22:39

A Late Bet on Coal May Not Pay Off

A consortium of utilities decided to build a coal-fired power plant, probably one of the last that will be allowed under E.P.A. regulations, figuring it would be cheaper than buying electricity on the open market. The low cost of natural gas has foiled that calculation.
17:55

Mitt Romney’s Love Affair with the Fossil Fuel Industry


Romney's energy plan is made by and for the fossil energy industryRepublican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s “new” energy plan, relies on 19th century fossil fuel technology. It is but the latest incarnation of a longstanding Republican obsession with oil and gas. Romney’s energy strategy is reliant on Canada’s environmentally disastrous tar sands. He wants to expedite the Keystone XL pipeline, reduce regulations on hydraulic fracturing and ease the permitting process for offshore oil and gas. Romney wants to take regulatory power away from the federal government and give it to individual states. He wants to amend the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act and weaken the EPA’s ability to regulate pollution.

While Romney is pushing for more oil and gas, his plan does not advocate either conservation or efficiency. Instead he would end subsidies for renewable sources of energy like solar and wind.

The Republican convention in Florida was delayed due to concerns about Hurricane Isaac. The timing of Isaac is ironic given that GOP appears oblivious to the relationship between global warming and extreme weather. They do not see the powerful symbolism of four hurricanes, Andrew, Katrina, Irene and now Isaac, all landing at roughly the same time and in the same place.

The Republican presidential hopeful’s support for fossil fuels ignores the overwhelming price of extreme weather. With a cost of $81 billion and 1,836 dead, Katrina was the most expensive natural disaster in American history. About 20 years ago this week, Hurricane Andrew hit Florida; it cost $25 billion and killed 15 people. Hurricane Irene struck one year ago and caused an estimated $15 billion in damage while killing at least 67 people.

Romney continues to push for more offshore oil despite the fact that Hurricane Isaac will likely stir up oil left over from the massive Gulf spill of 2010. The remnants of that spill take the form of large tar mats that lie submerged just off the coast.

It appears nothing will deter Romney from pursuing his wanton desire to increase America’s reliance on oil and gas. As reviewed in a Grist article by Lisa Hymas, Mitt Romney’s 21 page energy strategy mentions oil a total of 154 times and natural gas 36 times. The document references coal more often than solar or wind energy and efficiency only gets mentioned once. His plan completely ignores the smart grid, sustainability and climate change.

Romney claims his fossil fuel fixation will create jobs and he eschews government support for renewable energy. However, clean energy has been a great jobs creator, in many cases far more than the fossil fuel industry. In Iowa alone, 7,000 jobs have been created in the wind power industry. Thanks to the wind production tax credit (PTC), the wind industry now employs more people than the coal sector. The US solar energy industry currently employs 100,000 workers at 5,600 companies.

The Republican nominee wants to kill support for renewable energy while continuing to give oil companies $4 billion in annual subsidies. In addition, the Romney plan would provide a $2.3 billion tax cut for the big five oil companies through cuts in the corporate tax rate. Over the next 9 years, the U.S. coal industry is expected to receive $8 billion in taxpayer support.

Romney claims oil is more economical, but his plan does not factor the massive health care costs associated with the burning of fossil fuels. According to a Harvard Medical study, these costs amount to $345 billion. When health issues are factored into the equation the cost of coal per kilowatt is more than 3x the cost of wind.

Romney’s emphasis on oil and gas and resistance to support renewable energy should come as no surprise as his top advisors are closely affiliated with the fossil fuel industry. Harold Hamm is the founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Continental Resources Inc. (CLR). Hamm is one of the richest people in America and the chairman of Romney’s Energy Policy Advisory Group. Romney’s other advisors are also oil industry insiders. David Wilkins is a Canadian lobbyist for tar sands oil and Andrea Saul was formerly with the DCI Group, a public affairs and lobbying firm that has worked with Big Oil to undermine the facts on global warming.

At one time, Romney was a strong supporter of action on climate change. Now in his bid to be President, he is leading the climate deniers with a strategy that seems to invite climate change. Romney is a political opportunist who is depending on the oil and gas industry to help fund his campaign. According to the Center for Responsive PoliticsRomney has directly received more than $1 million from the oil and gas industry and the Koch brothers are expected to spend up to $200 million to help get their man elected.

Romney’s love of fossil fuel is at odds with the sentiments of most Americans. Americans hate the oil and gas industry and want global warming and clean energy to be national priorities. According to an August Gallup poll, a total of 61 percent of Americans gave the fossil fuel industry a negative rating, the worst of any industry in the U.S. Romney’s opposition to clean energy is also at odds with the views of the American public. A March Gallup poll had found that people were twice as likely to support solar and wind energy than coal or natural gas. The same poll found that 69 percent of Americans favored spending more government money on developing renewable energy.

As reviewed in a press release from the Sierra Club, greenhouse gas emissions are down to their lowest level in 20 years, Americans are using less oil, and new fuel standards will double efficiency and slash CO2. Over the last four years U.S. wind power has doubled and solar has grown by a factor of five. All of these advances would be reversed by Romney’s energy plan.

Romney’s intention to double down on oil and natural gas is a policy position that is incompatible with a 21st century economy. Romney’s resistance to renewable energy and support for fossil fuels is nothing short of reckless. His plan would result in the loss of tens of thousands of jobs in the clean energy industry and unleash pollutants that would harm Americans.

Romney’s energy strategy is a blueprint for increasing emissions and a roadmap for runaway climate change. America simply cannot afford a President who is so willfully ignorant on energy and the environment.

——————-

Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: TerranceDC, courtesy Flickr

August 24 2012

18:18

Conquering Coal - A Tale of One City's Fight

This is guest post by Megan Pitz.

As another sweltering summer day over 100 degrees came to a close in the Washington, D.C. region, citizens of nearby Alexandria, Virginia witnessed the closure of the Potomac River Generating Station (PRGS) coal-fired power plant also known as the 'Mirant Plant.' 

The closure was expected by the community – as much as anything can be that you fight for – but it didn’t happen overnight. It began in 2003 with citizen-activists Elizabeth Chimento and Poul Hertzel’s quest to learn the source of black soot-like residue coating the windowsills of homes and businesses in Alexandria’s Old Town neighborhood.

Chimento and Hertzel’s first step involved pressuring city officials to clean up the power plant.  Efforts in this direction continued for several years until a Mirant Community Monitoring Group (MCMG) of citizen activists, civic groups, and City officials formed and began working alongside environmental groups to hold the plant’s owner and environmental agencies accountable for the power plant’s pollution. 

In 2008, after nearly six years, this led to a legal agreement between the City of Alexandria and plant owners that, along with recommendations from Virginia’s Air Pollution Control Board, provided some of the pollution controls these citizens had been asking for, especially for the main public health concern of particulate matter.  

The decision to retire the plant arrived later but would never have happened without the active engagement of a dedicated community.

The Potomac River plant is one of the largest single sources of ozone-forming pollutants within the DC metro area of nonattainment, an area that does not meet federal clean air standards and includes Alexandria. 

Citizens and the City had for years pressured the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to determine whether its pollution posed a serious health threat to residents living in its midst but it was not until 2003, when ozone-forming NOx spewing from its stacks exceeded Clean Air Act (CAA) standards, that the VA DEQ confirmed the health impacts and gave the plant’s owner (then Mirant) an ultimatum to clean up or shut down. 

Mirant responded by shutting the plant down in the hope of proving it was needed for a reliable supply of local electricity.  This only served to galvanize the campaign by providing the DC Public Service Commission an opportunity to file a petition

The petition enabled the Secretary of Energy to look at the plant’s generation and, while ordering it to turn the plant back on, also order the utility to add pollution controls and build transmission lines that would make the plant unnecessary for reliability.

Environmental attorney John Britton used the Order to write a letter highlighting the plant’s history of exceeding air quality standards and the consequent threat to the health of residents.  Britton’s letter also noted a tradeoff that became a theme of campaign messaging: while Alexandria received no power from the plant, its residents bore its health and environmental impacts.

The MCMG continually countered Mirant’s untruthful publicity by distributing their own information while citizens wrote officials personal stories about their health problems attributable to the plant. Along with environmental groups, the MCMG organized marches and meetings, posted signs and handed out fact sheets about the plant, and actively participated in public hearings. 

Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light (GWIPL)’s Director Joelle Novey worked to mobilize congregations of many faiths in support of closing the plant.

A petition drop at a meeting of hard-to-reach audience GenOn shareholders created enough pressure to get the attention of key decision makers at GenOn. This resulted in a private meeting with their Executive VP, where citizen activists Dr. Ana Prados and Ernie Lehmann conveyed residents’ determination to retire the plant. 

Letters-to-the-Editor in local papers connecting the plant site to spills and events raising awareness about effects of the plant’s mercury were also effective in garnering additional public support to close the plant.  

However, even successful attention-grabbing tactics can be ignored when not coupled with a credible legal threat.  The Potomac River plant operates in violation of the Clean Water Act due to its failure to install cooling towers.  Addressing such violations in a 26-page letter, lawyers Joshua Stebbins and Zachary Fabish pressured GenOn by making key officials at EPA and NOAA aware and requesting they be remedied in the plant’s upcoming permit renewal.

Impact of the letter was magnified with sign-on of the entire coalition of groups formed for the ‘GenOff’ campaign, including Greenpeace USA, the Sierra Club, GWILP, and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. 

The City’s commitment to the 2008 legal agreement was a barrier to close the plant, but this quickly changed.

In the summer of 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a rule to limit sulfur dioxide (SO2) pollution.  The SO2 Rule set a one-hour standard for SO2 emissions at 75 parts per billion.  With the new rule, the plant’s emission levels of SO2 across VA, DC, and MD also became, by law,  “unhealthy.”
  
But the critical action in the story of the shutdown came from the City of Alexandria itself. The City’s commitment to the agreement it had signed with the plant owner also gave it some leverage. As a party on the other end of this binding agreement it was positioned to make GenOn an offer no one else could: if GenOn agreed to retire the plant, it could take the remaining funds set aside by the Agreement, some $30 million, and walk. 

Faced with the expense of cooling towers and SO2 controls, ongoing costs of less effective controls, political pressure as well as renewed pressure from residents and environmental groups backing the Sierra Club attorneys’ legal threat, the City’s offer turned out to be one GenOn could not refuse. 

When on October 1st, 2012, the Potomac River Generating Station emits the last of its smog-causing pollutants, many will truly breathe a sigh of relief.


Megan Pitz was a Fellow with Greenpeace USA's Coal Campaign, where she represented the organization in the coalition that pressured the Potomac River coal plant to retire.

Image credit:
Parys Ryszard | Shutterstock
  

August 20 2012

17:15

Enviro News Wrap: Cape Cod Wind Project Approved; Few Deniers in Canada; the Dangers of Arctic Drilling, and more…


The Latest Environmental News HeadlinesGlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up and comments on the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

August 18 2012

14:00

Drought, Fracking, Coal and Nukes Wreak Havoc on Fresh Water Supplies

This is a guest post by EcoWatch, republished with permission.

For the last few months EcoWatch has been covering what's become the worst drought in the U.S. in more than half a century. More than 3,200 daily high temperature records were set or tied in June, and July is in the books as the warmest month ever recorded in the lower 48 states, according to a report issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climatic Data Center.

Besides the discomfort of relentless heat and unmitigated sunshine, the drought has forced us to rethink several issues commonly taken for granted—namely, abundant and affordable food, secure livelihoods for farmers, safety from natural disasters, practical public policy regarding the delegation of crops for food and biofuels, and most importantly, the value of water.

The value of water is inestimable. Without it, as the drought has shown us, uncertainty and chaos quickly enter the picture, throwing superpower economies off kilter and quite literally, imperiling lives.

But that's not all.

The drought of 2012 has more to teach us about the value of water as it lurches on, including the issues surrounding water as an integral component of conventional energy generation.

The undisputed champion of the current U.S. energy debate is hydraulic fracturing or fracking. As conventional oil and gas resources become more difficult to come by, energy companies now have to dig deeper than ever to unearth the rich deposits of fossil fuels still available. In order to fracture shale formations that often exist thousands of feet below the surface, drillers use anywhere from 1 to 8 million gallons of water per frack. A well may be fracked up to 18 times. The water, usually drawn from natural resources such as lakes and rivers, is unrecoverable once it's blasted into the earth, and out of the water cycle for good.

Even if there wasn't a problem with water contamination, deforestation, and noise and air pollution from fracking, the pro-drilling agenda would still be hit hard with an insurmountable roadblock—access to abundant water.

On June 28, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission suspended 37 separately approved water withdrawals for fracking due to localized streamflow levels dropping throughout the Susquehanna Basin in Pennsylvania and New York.

In Kansas, oil and gas drillers are running out of options due to the tenth driest July on record. Companies with dwindling access to water resources are resorting to paying farmers for what water they have left, or more, drilling their own water wells, digging ponds next to streams or trucking in water from places as far way as Pennsylvania, according to CNN Money.

Jeff Gordon, the CEO of Texas Coastal Energy Co. said, "That can cripple a drilling company, as lack of water can basically suspend operations."

Fracking isn't the only dirty energy industry that relies on water for its operations. On Aug. 12, Unit 2 of the Millstone Nuclear Power Station in Connecticut—which provides half of Connecticut's power and 12 percent of New England's—was shut down because the seawater used to cool the plant was too warm, according to the Hartford Courant.

In its 37-year history of operation, Unit 2 of the Millstone Power Station has never shut down due to excessively warm water. The power station, which draws its water from Long Island Sound, must cool its reactors with water no warmer than 75 degrees F, but following the hottest July on record, the water has been averaging 1.7 degrees F above the limit, according to the Hartford Courant.

According to a River Network report in June, electricity production by coal, nuclear and natural gas power plants is the fastest-growing use of freshwater in the U.S., accounting for more than half of all fresh, surface water withdrawals from rivers. This is more than any other economic sector, including agriculture, and occurs in an era when all other use sectors are reducing water withdrawals.

According to the report, more than a quarter of the water withdrawn by fossil-fuel power plants to cool their generators goes up in steam—the remainder carries pollutants and excess heat into rivers and waterways, causing fish kills and algae blooms.

Put in perspective, for every gallon of water used in an average household, five times more water (40,000 gallons each month) is used to provide that home with electricity via hydropower turbines and fossil fuel power plants.

Creating a sustainable relationship with the world's freshwater resources is the most vital environmental issue facing us today. While scientists continue to work on creative uses of wastewater to stretch our resources farther—such as substitution, regeneration and reduction—a prevailing shift in attitude that values water over profits will ultimately be required to ensure the world's population will have access to safe drinking water.

To better understand the world's water crisis, see the documentary Last Call at the Oasis, which provides insights from well-known experts including rebel consumer advocate Erin Brockovich, Pacific Institute’s Peter Gleick, author Robert Glennon, hydrologist James S. Famiglietti and biologist Tyrone Hayes, who studies the effects and pervasiveness of the herbicide Atrazine.

Visit EcoWatch's WATER page for more related news on this topic.

August 17 2012

22:24

A 20-Year Low in U.S. Carbon Emissions

Energy-related emissions were lower in January to March than for any first quarter since 1992, partly because of the shift from coal to natural gas in power generation.
21:02

On Energy Policy, a Week of Venus and Mars

Mitt Romney talked up fossil fuels, especially coal, while President Obama emphasized the creation of wind jobs.

August 16 2012

15:03

August 15 2012

20:33
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