Monday, August 27, 2007

Op-Ed Requests Santee Cooper Walk the Talk

At a South Carolina Solar Council meeting in Conway last Friday, a Santee Cooper representative touted utility's green power program. The program works by encouraging homeowners and businesses to purchase "blocks" of renewable energy. One block represents 100 kWh (i.e. the amount of energy needed to operate a100 100 watt light bulbs for 10 hours -- not that I recommend using those old 100 W incandescent bulbs; buy CFLs!). Each block costs $3 and can be paid via the electric bill. The money raised through the sale of blocks is then invested in green power projects.

Currently Santee Cooper invests this money in projects that extract methane from landfills and burns the gas for electricity. It has also invested in a few small solar power projects and has plans to expand its solar installations to local schools. According to the rep, the program has resulted in over 50 MW of new renewable energy capacity for the utility.

Sara Tansey, writing in todays Myrtle Beach Sun Times is clearly aware of these efforts and makes the obvious point: If Santee Cooper is so (justifiably) proud of its efforts to produce clean energy, why doom them by foisting an expensive, polluting coal plant on the public? Why not aggressively expand its green power program? Why not market it extensively so that the majority of its customers participate? Or why not make it the standard offer and simply ask those who feel strongly that they do not (or cannot) support green power to opt-out? Why not market green tags statewide or nationwide? Or better: why not support a state law that requires utilities to produce a certain percentage of its electricity from clean AND renewable fuels? In truth, to NOT do these things, WHILE insisting on the need for a massive, dirty coal plant, suggests that Santee Cooper isn't really serious about green power at all. It suggests that the green power program is just a way to distract the public from Santee Cooper's real game (i.e. COAL). Which is a shame.

As Ms. Tansey wrote this morning:

Santee Cooper's mission is to be the state's leading resource for improving the quality of life for the people of South Carolina. So I would like to challenge Santee Cooper not to force upon the state an environmentally harmful, unhealthy source of energy when there's so much hidden potential right there in Santee Cooper's portfolio. The people of South Carolina are innovative, intelligent, and ready to meet the challenge of developing cleaner energy sources.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Florida is protecting her citizens, and South Carolina should too

Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) just blocked plans to build a coal fire power plant this past Friday. DEP blocked the plans because Seminole did not demonstrate that the project minimizes adverse effects on human health, the environment and the ecology of the land and waters. Seminole could not show that the project would serve the broad public interest. Here in South Carolina, our Environmental Agency, DHEC, should show the same concern for our citizens and natural heritage. This proposed Pee Dee plant is a threat to the health of everyone who live near it, and it will poison our streams, lakes and oceans all across the state. Do we want to leave our children with a legacy of heart attacks and lung cancer? Nationally, coal fire power plants cut short 24,000 lives from these horrible health effects. The proposed Pee Dee facility will continuously release dangerous levels of toxic mercury into the air and water. This is a threat to our South Carolinian way of life, and this Pee Dee facility that Santee Cooper is so intent on building will poison innocent unborn children, causing birth defects and learning disabilities. This toxic mercury will also end up in swordfish, tilefish, shark and king mackerel, making these prized game catches to dangerous to eat.
Santee Cooper promises a clean coal plant, but that is nothing more than smokestacks and mirrors. This is just another example of the sort of mismanagement, short sightedness and careless behavior that has become the hallmark of Santee Cooper. It is time for DHEC to do its job and protect our citizens. DHEC should fully investigate the impacts of this proposed plant to ensure that our health, quality of life and our environment are protected.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Virtues of Energy Efficiency

From yesterday's New York Times, 8/20/07

In Search of Cheney’s ‘Virtue’

Dick Cheney once scoffed that energy conservation can be a “personal virtue” but is no basis for an energy policy.

Growing evidence suggests he had it exactly wrong.

Concern about greenhouse gases and reliance on imported oil usually leads to a focus on the supply side of the energy equation, particularly exotic sources such as wind, solar, waves and hydrogen. The coolest car in history is a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle I once drove on a G.M. test track: It could go 100 miles per hour and nothing came out the exhaust but water vapor.

The catch: It cost $5 million to make.

So we need to push ahead with hydrogen and renewables, but the low-hanging fruit on the energy front is curbing demand — meaning more energy conservation. And it’s appalling that our government isn’t leading us on that.

“The best source of new energy is efficiency and conservation,” notes Peter Robertson, vice chairman of Chevron. “The best source is not to use as much.”

Mr. Cheney’s image seems to be of a dour stoic shivering in a cardigan in a frigid home, squinting under a dim light bulb, showering under a tiny trickle of (barely) solar-heated water, and then bicycling to work in the rain. If that’s the alternative, then many of us might be willing to see the oceans rise, whatever happens to Florida.

But new research has shown that improvements in energy efficiency often pay for themselves, actually leaving us better off.

“This is not a sacrifice deal,” Daniel Yergin, head of Cambridge Energy Research Associates, says of conservation. “This is a technology deal. After all, we’re twice as energy efficient now as we were in the 1970s, and at the same time our economy has more than doubled.”

James Woolsey, an energy expert and former director of the C.I.A., puts it this way: “People have radically overestimated the sacrifice and dramatically underestimated the opportunity.”

McKinsey & Company, the business consulting company, suggests embracing energy-saving measures that pay for themselves with at least a 10 percent rate of return. McKinsey says that if this approach — at no cost to economic growth — were put into effect worldwide, by 2020 the annual savings would be 1.5 times the current U.S. annual energy consumption.

McKinsey Global Institute put out a 290-page book in May detailing the steps necessary. These include better insulation and high-efficiency heating in new homes; low-energy light bulbs; high-efficiency appliances; and higher fuel economy standards for vehicles. To drive a mile in the U.S. typically takes 37 percent more gas than in Europe.

“The sheer waste of it all, when other countries have shown another path, is incredible,” notes Diana Farrell of McKinsey Global Institute. “The opportunities here are tremendous.”

The best way to encourage such steps would be to impose a carbon tax, although a cap-and-trade system is a reasonable backup. But we also need mandates. An air-conditioner that is 35 percent more energy efficient than the present standard costs 260 percent more — so few people buy it. But mandate that standard, and economies of scale immediately send the price plummeting.

The government also should encourage commercialization of plug-in hybrid vehicles, which could be plugged into a power outlet to charge the battery. Such vehicles don’t use any gas on short trips and might average 100 miles per gallon.

I can’t help feeling that we in the news media are part of the reason that steps to battle climate change aren’t on top of the national agenda. We’re good at covering things that happen on any one day — like a tornado or hurricane — but weak at covering complex trends, like climate change. And we tend to cover disputes by having a dutiful quote from each side, without always explaining where the scientific consensus lies.

Climate skeptics say that we don’t know how serious climate change will be, and they’re right. But isn’t it prudent to address threats even when we’re unsure of them? We don’t expect to be caught in a fire, but we still believe in fire escapes and fire departments.

Suppose we had political leaders who snorted that fires are nothing new, that the science of firefighting is unclear, and that we can’t impose a burden on business by establishing fire departments — while brightly adding that citizens can extinguish fires on their own out of “personal virtue.”

Why, we would think those leaders were nuts.

In Search of Cheney’s ‘Virtue’ - New York Times

Monday, August 20, 2007

What about jobs?

In 2001 the Tellus Institute released a report entitled "Clean Energy: Jobs for America's Future."

The report gathered a group of economists together to answer the question: what would happen to the U.S. economy if the nation moved to an energy policy that relies less on fossil and more on renewable energy and aggressive energy efficiency measures?

The results may surprise some folks who think "green" policies will harm the economy. In fact, the reverse is true: a clean energy future for the nation and South Carolina is good for the economy.

Here are a sample of the benefits uncovered by the report:

  • A net annual employment increase of over 700,000 jobs in 2010, rising to approximately 1.3 million by 2020.
  • Households and business would accumulate savings of over $600 billion by 2020
  • GDP would be about $43.9 billion above the base case in 2020
  • An additional $51.4 billion in wage an salary compensation by 2020 relative to the base case
  • Each state would experience a positive net job impact
In South Carolina the net job impact would be 11,500 new jobs by 2010 and 20,000 new jobs in 2020.

Compare this to the "substantial economic benefits" estimated by Santee Cooper as a result of its proposed Pee Dee plant in Kingsburg, SC. From Santee Cooper's website:
  • 1400 [temporary] construction jobs
  • Approximately 100 [permanent] full time jobs
So by the time this plant is built, it will have provided less than one-half of 1% of the jobs that can be created through a policy focused on energy efficiency and renewables. As for Florence County, Santee Cooper has been unable to tell the public exactly how many of these jobs will come from the local area. It is a safe bet that this number will not be as great as jobs-hungry southern Florence county needs it to be.

In short, the Tellus report suggests far more jobs can be created by pursuing a clean energy policy than by pursuing a dirty one.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Proposed Coal Plants

Find out where new and recent coal-fired power plants are located. Check out the map.

In Coal Blood

From 8/15/07

Here is the raw truth: The great coal revival of today should be seen for what it really is -- a great coal crisis, both aboveground and below. Neither workplace safety nor mountaintop removal should be taken casually until the next disaster strikes.

Coal mining is emblematic of our nation's failed energy policy. The drama unfolding in Utah is one of its latest reckonings; coal miners and their communities continue to pay the highest personal price. Until the Bush White House, Congress and our coal-dependent citizenry make genuine steps toward shifting our energy policy to renewable sources that not only sustain our energy demands but also our local economic needs, it is nothing short of a crime to deny our coal mining communities the best possible protection from accidents and the repercussions of strip-mining.

As a nation, even after the television coverage shifts to some new disaster, we must hold fast to the fate of the coal miners and their families in Utah. We must strive to make sure that mining does not go on, business as usual, in coal blood.

Behind the Coal Plant (Again)

A recent article in The State points out something that is undoubtedly true: South Carolinians waste a lot of energy:

South Carolinians are the third-highest consumers of energy per capita, according to the Alliance to Save Energy, a nonprofit organization. South Carolinians consume 10 percent more electricity than the national average, and more than twice what the same number of Californians use.
While the author of this article is to be applauded for pointing out these crucial facts,
he misses the point when he allows Santee Cooper, South Carolina's state-owned electric utility, to put all of the blame on its customers for this sad state of affairs:
New homeowners don’t focus on efficiency as they shop, Mr. Carter [Santee Cooper's CEO] said. Even when homeowners do think about it, they often don’t take action. Mr. Carter says that Santee Cooper performs free energy audits of homes, checking to see where power is being wasted. But most people who get one fail to follow its conclusions up with action, he said.
I challenge any one out there to visit Santee Cooper's website, and quickly find any information about how to get someone from Santee Cooper to visit your home to conduct a free energy audit. How about calling Santee Cooper and getting such information without having to talk to more than one person and leaving a message to have your call returned. If you're persistent enough to get someone to your home for an audit, are you to blame if all Santee Cooper does at the end is hand you a piece of paper with some boilerplate "tips" on how you might do better and in confusion you end up doing nothing? Who's supposed to be the energy expert here?

Let's not single out Santee Cooper here though, who, its is true, will audit your home's energy use for you if you go to enough trouble to make them -- no other major utility in the state even offers the service.

Mr. Carter laments the supposed "indifference" of his customers to his company's efforts to help them save energy. But how many of these customers are AWARE of these programs? How hard has Santee Cooper and other utilities tried to get the word out? And are these programs adequate in the first place?

Elsewhere Mr. Carter has been quoted as saying, "I don't have the luxury of not making sure that in the future the customers have the electricity they want. And I can't make them conserve. I can simply give them the opportunity."

It is telling that a Summerville resident took time to respond to this sentiment with a letter to the Editor. In it she wrote:
Tell us what will work. Make a plan. We'll listen. We can pull together.
Can she be the only one? What this article fails to communicate is that a large part of the reason why South Carolina wastes so much energy is that the utilities have yet to do enough to help its customers conserve -- it hasn't given them much of an opportunity at all. Creating programs that are underfunded, customer-unfriendly, and poorly advertised serve as good excuses for utility executives, but nothing more.

South Carolinians can't hope to reverse their history of wastefulness without leadership from the utilities. We need aggressive, comprehensive, utility-led initiatives to save energy now.

Coal Cooling Off?

From the Ocala (FL) Star-Banner 8/15/07

Coal's crown as the nation's energy king is slipping. In Florida, it has toppled altogether.
To add to coal's woes, Gov. Charlie Crist signed executive orders last month mandating Florida power companies severely cut carbon emissions. That means utility companies that once embraced coal for much of their electric power will have to use other sources for their energy needs, namely natural gas and nuclear.

Progress Energy Florida, with about 64,000 customers in Marion County and 1.7 million in Florida, has no foreseeable plans to build another coal-fired plant, said Buddy Eller, the company's spokesman.

The Florida Municipal Power Agency, which includes Ocala Electric Utility and its 54,000 customers as one of its members, also has no intentions to resurrect its plans for a coal-fired plant in Taylor County.

"We announced that it was suspended. As of today, that suspension is indefinite," said Mark McCain, the power agency's spokesman.

"I think there is a fundamental shift in Florida's energy policy," he said. "Coal suffers from a perception problem. I saw that when we proposed the Taylor County facility."

FMPA dropped its plans for a $1.4 billion coal plant a little more than a month after the Florida Public Service Commission denied Florida Power and Light's permission to build a similar coal plant in Glades County.

Florida is not unique, though, because coal is losing its glow across the country.

Florida Power and Light's permit failure with the Service Commission mirrored similar defeats of coal-fired plants in Delaware, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon and Illinois.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Delaware confirms cancer cluster

From the Wilmington (DE) News Journal, 08/05/07

For years, residents in the small towns around the Indian River power plant have noticed friends and relatives falling sick in greater numbers than they thought normal.

Years after citizen activists first asked the state for data to establish a pattern, the Division of Public Health has finally confirmed what they suspected: There's a cluster of cancer cases near the coal burning plant -- the state's worst polluter.

According to the state's own study, the rate of cancer cases in the area is 17 percent higher than the national average.