Thursday, December 27, 2007

Friends II

Another week, another group of Southerners fighting the good fight against the national push to saddle folks with dirty coal plants.

This time we return to Georgia, where drought is forcing the state to become more efficient. But I don't have to tell you that the right hand is not always aware of what the left is up to. In this case,">Friends of the Chattahoochee, Environment Georgia, GreenLaw and the Georgia Sierra Club are trying to stop the Georgia Environmental Protection Division from issuing its final permit for the "Longleaf Energy Station," a friendly-sounding euphemism for two profoundly dirty 600 MW coal units planned for southwest Georgia, near the Florida border and the Great Okefenokee swamp . A summary of recent developments in this fight is available from an 11/30/07 article in the Albany Herald.

From the No New Coal for Georgia website:

The project will consume 20 million gallons of water from the Chattahoochee River annually, emit tons of toxic pollutants such as mercury, nitrogen oxice and sulfur into our air, and only employ 100-150 people in the county.
Its the same everywhere, isn't it? Utilities that think they're doing the right thing by building out-dated plants in economically depressed areas, while ignoring new technologies, alternative techniques, and changing times. They're not doing the right thing, and groups like No New Coal for Georgia are working hard to point that out for the benefit of the Peach State.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Santee Cooper Christmas

Friday, December 21, 2007

Does a lump of coal in your stocking sound good to you?

American's for Balanced Energy Choices continue their merry meddling in South Carolina, reportedly going so far as to mail SC press contacts a stocking full of coal-shaped chocolates. This shameless (and frankly, gross) stunt suggests ABEC is hoping "you are what you eat," but fortunately, the integrity of the SC media is thus far intact, and there is indication that they are becoming wise to ABEC's dirty (and factually impoverished) hustle. After all, is this where you want your utility bill dollars going? You might tell, Duke Energy, for example, that you don't. Or you might ask Santee Cooper what their connection is to ABEC. Witness the below piece from the SC Statehouse report. I'm faithful that the vast majority of South Carolinians still don't want to find coal in their stocking on Christmas Day (much less in Florence County), either the chocolate-flavored or mercury-spiked varieties.

Use of term "clean coal" is new war of words

Bill Davis

DEC. 14, 2007 -- Conservationists across the state are treating a "clean coal" advertising campaign being waged in South Carolina with the same disdain comedian George Carlin has for the terms "jumbo shrimp" and "military intelligence."

Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (ABEC), an out-of-state lobbying group representing a host of power companies from around the country, has signed up to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in South Carolina on a public relations campaign to recycle coal's image between now and the presidential primaries.

Part of ABEC's mission is to get South Carolinians, as well as residents of other states where its messages are airing and showing up in print ads, to think of coal as an inexpensive substitute to foreign oil. They also want to replace visions of brown-lunged coal miners with those of modern plants producing energy with very little toxins escaping into the environment.

But has the use of the term "clean coal" become a war of words -- a linguistic dodge like a federal "clear skies" initiative that would allow more pollutants into the air than is currently allowed?

Industry says coal much cleaner these days

Not according to ABEC executive director Joe Lucas.

"Since the 1970s, coal plants have become between 70 and 80 percent cleaner per unit of energy produced," he told Statehouse Report. "And that has come despite a tripling of coal use in this country during that same time."

Lucas said new coal processing technologies have already been retrofitted to existing plants across the country, and new, future technologies can be retrofitted to a proposed plant in Florence that Santee Cooper is going through the permitting process for.

It's the combination of the amount of extra pollution that a new Florence plant would produce combined with "disingenuous" language that has concerned Ann Timberlake, executive director of the Conservation Voters of South Carolina.

"This is just out-of-state dirty coal lobbyists trying to sell South Carolina a false bill of goods," said Timberlake. "There is no coal in South Carolina; we don't get to see mountaintops removed so companies can get at the coal."

Timberlake said many of Lucas' arguments, like most mercury in the atmosphere is naturally produced, are merely "distractions" from bigger issues.

Those issues are, according to Timberlake and other conservation groups, increased health costs from a new coal plant. She added that conservation and efficiency programs provide cheaper and quicker solutions to the state's growing energy needs, and with federal "carbon taxation" in the offing, building more coal-burning plants was an unwise business choice.

Conservationists say plant would be least clean type

Dana Beach, executive director of the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, agreed, but went on to attack the actual technology the proposed plant would employ.

He explained there are two basic ways to introduce coal into the "furnace" of a coal-powered energy plant. In a gasification plant, the dirty black rock is cooked down and processed into a liquid form and fed into the fires. This is considered the cleanest way to burn coal because it allows impurities and other potentially lethal toxins to be more easily removed.

The second way is the tried-and-true method of busting coal up into small pieces and stoking the fires with the aggregate. Pulverized coal is tougher to purify and many plants rely on additional technologies to clean the smoke generated.

Beach pointed out the latter was the greater of two evils, in that pulverized coal, the method slated for the proposed Florence plant, is the least clean. He went on to say that within the pulverized coal category, there were two sets of cleaning technologies -- super-clean and ultra-clean.

The Florence plant being permitted would be a "super-clean" plant, not an ultra-clean one. While much cleaner than past technologies, even ABEC's Lucas admitted that super-clean plants produces many pounds of mercury and large amounts of sulfur dioxide.

"To say coal is clean would be, at best, naïve," Beach said.

Santee Cooper defends proposed plant

Santee Cooper spokesperson Laura Varn defended her company's decision by pointing out that a 1-percent increase in pollution reduction was "a big deal" and that the new Florence plant would be 2.3 percent cleaner.


Varn said thanks to changes in state health and environmental regulations, the proposed plant would produce 69 pounds of mercury a year, a 46-pound drop over what had been allowed. Considering a single drop of mercury is said to be able to contaminate a 20-acre lake, that is also a big deal, she said.

Varn reiterated an argument she's made before in defending the proposed plant: that efficiency and conservation programs cannot supply the state's future energy needs and that the other "cleaner" coal technologies, while tempting, are too expensive and have proven unreliable.

In this war of words, Sen. Phil Leventis (R-Sumter), fresh from stumping in Iowa for pro-carbon tax Democratic presidential candidate Christopher Dodd, has got some pretty good ones to share:

"If coal companies and energy companies spent as much money on cleaner and alternative energy sources as they do on advertising, we could all breath easier."

ABEC's Lucas argued that "there is no perfect energy source" as he talked with Statehouse Report by phone while standing outside in Nevada. With the sun beating down. From above. For free.

Crystal ball: "Clean coal" is an oxymoron. It's dirty. Florence, smack dab in the middle of what some call the "Mercury Triangle, may get a "super" clean pulverized coal plant. And that would mean it would get more methyl-mercury, the really bad stuff that gets into fish and eventually people, will turn up in South Carolina. Until alternative fuel technologies and research gets real funding, like House Speaker Bobby Harrell (R-Charleston) has fought for, South Carolina's environment will continue to be threatened.

Bill Davis can be reached at:

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Coal Plant Taints S.C. Fish

Below is an editorial by South Carolina Wildlife Federation Executive Director, Ben Gregg. It appeared in the Tuesday edition of the Myrtle Beach Sun News.

Not only do fishermen like to fish, most like to eat what they catch. For many S.C. families, fish are a staple of their diets. But mercury pollution in South Carolina's rivers and streams is making it dangerous to eat these fish. What gives?

When you consider that a recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife study found that more than 800,000 people in South Carolina fish, it seems decision-makers should be addressing this danger.

Along many of South Carolina's waterways - on some 1,747 miles of state rivers and streams - the stories are much the same: Either you shouldn't eat the fish or you shouldn't eat them regularly.

Why? Mercury, one of the most toxic elements on Earth.

Thanks to recent scrutiny from concerned citizens and the media, a dirty little secret about state waters is out: Mercury pollution is bad in South Carolina - so bad, in fact, that the black water rivers and streams in the Pee Dee and Lowcountry are a national hot spot for high levels of mercury in the environment.

Some mercury pollution is naturally occurring. But scientists say the amount of mercury now being spewed into the air is three times what it was 200 years ago. The main culprit is pollution from manmade sources. At the top of that list are coal-burning power plants, which are responsible for 40 percent of mercury emissions in the United States.

Once toxic mercury gets into the air, it is absorbed in precipitation and then deposited back into rivers and lakes. Micro-organisms then convert mercury into methyl mercury, which becomes part of the food chain as the micro-organisms are consumed: tiny fish eat tiny organisms; bigger fish eat the tiny fish; then the biggest fish, such as largemouth bass, eat the bigger fish. Mercury concentrations increase at every step in the chain, until they end up in the biggest fishers of all - me and you.

Studies have linked methyl mercury to low birth weight, small head circumference, severe mental retardation, cerebral palsy, deafness, blindness and seizures. Adults exposed to methyl mercury experience loss of motor coordination, loss of or decreased sensation, impaired speech and hearing, and mental disturbances. They are also at higher risk for cardiovascular disease and death.

From its existing dirty coal plants, Santee Cooper already emits about a third of all the mercury pollution in South Carolina. Now this state-owned power company is proposing to build yet another old-style dirty coal plant right near the confluence of the Lynches, the Little and the Great Pee Dee Rivers.

This vulnerable area has been labeled as the "Mercury Triangle." Toxin levels in this region already violate federal law and are some of the highest in the state. People fish these waters for subsistence. Just one pound of methyl mercury is enough to contaminate 500,000 pounds of fish tissue. What impact will this plant have on communities that rely on fishing for subsistence? We don't know. Neither the Department of Health and Environmental Control nor Santee Cooper has addressed these concerns.

Instead, DHEC has hastily issued a draft air permit allowing Santee Cooper to emit 138 pounds of toxic mercury into the air every year. This plant will be operational for 50 years. What will be the cumulative impact of these mercury emissions over the next 50 years? Nobody knows.

It's time to remind decision-makers, including state senators, House members and agency officials, about a few things. Our 800,000 S.C. anglers are putting over $1 billion annually into the state's economy, and a considerable part of that money is spent in strapped rural areas. It's also a good time to remember that our air, our water, our wildlife and our fish are owned by the state's citizens, not by elected officials, not by Santee Cooper and not by DHEC.

Fishermen want to be able to catch - and eat - largemouth bass, catfish and a host of other species in South Carolina's waters. But until we stand up and say it's time to clean up our rivers - including not licensing dirty coal-fired power plants - South Carolina's anglers will spend more time dreaming about the good ol' days of fishing than living them.

The writer is executive director of the S.C. Wildlife Federation. Many of the federation's 8,000 members fish in the waters of South Carolina.

A Thirst for Efficiency in Georgia

Georgia, the state famous for questioning the fact of global warming in an era when the majority of states (including our own) are striving to act to prevent and/or cope with it, is moving forward on energy efficiency.

South Carolina should pay attention. The reason is drought -- a reason our state certainly shares with our southern neighbor.

A recent opinion in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution spelled it out:

Flicking a light switch or turning on the bathroom faucet are daily routines that most Georgians perform without a second thought. But this year's drought is making clear the inextricable relationship between water usage and energy consumption, and why it's so important.

Georgia, like every other state, gets most of its electricity from coal-fired and nuclear power plants that require massive amounts of water to prevent them from overheating.

Most of those plants are owned and operated by Southern Company, an Atlanta-based holding company. In addition to Georgia Power, which is the state's largest utility, Southern Company has subsidiaries in Florida and Alabama, where state officials have been feuding with Gov. Sonny Perdue over water.

The company's power plants draw water — averaging about 3.3 billion gallons a day in 2000 — from Georgia rivers including the Chattahoochee, which is also the principal source of drinking water for millions of homes and businesses. The total amount of water withdrawn for electricity generation comprises more than half of the surface and ground water usage for the entire state.

Utility officials contend they've been responsible stewards of the state's liquid resources. In older plants, they say, water is returned directly to the Chattahoochee and elsewhere, while newer plants are designed to use less water throughout the process.

But the facts are somewhat different. Regardless of the technology used, a considerable amount of water is lost either through evaporation or leakage. In both cases, the water returned to the watershed by power plants isn't always available when and where it's needed most.

Southern Company, like every other business in the state, should be put on notice that wasting water will be met with stiff fines. However, smugly pointing the finger at Southern Company or other water guzzlers won't fix the problem.

While praying for rain to refill our parched reservoirs, the more effective and realistic approach is for state officials to get serious about making Georgia more energy efficient, which will also have the salutary effect of reducing our overall water consumption.

Because of our hot and humid climate, Georgia has historically had a higher per capita energy use than other parts of the country. The hotter it gets, the more energy we use — and the more water we waste.

To break that unsustainable cycle in the short term, our leaders could mandate installation of high-efficiency appliances and lights — in addition to low-flow plumbing fixtures — in all new construction.

In the years and decades ahead, Georgia should also take the lead in developing renewable sources of energy, such as solar power, that are less dependent on already overburdened water supplies.

Georgia may not be able to conserve its way out of the current water crisis. But ignoring the connection between saving water and saving energy is no longer an option.

Lyle V. Harris, for the editorial board

It really doesn't need to be pointed out, but South Carolina is also experiencing a terrible drought and South Carolina also gets its its electricity from water-guzzling coal and nuclear plants.

Now one of those utilities, who like the Southern Company, claims to be a good steward of the State's resources, will be adding to the problem if their proposed coal plant project is allowed to go forward. Will Santee Cooper use the water of the Great Pee River, where it plans to build another huge coal plant, responsibly? Not if its behavior with respect to pending legislation that would require permits for large water withdrawls in South Carolina is any indication. Santee Cooper has successfully lobbied for an exemption from this legislative proposal that will allow them to withdraw water without restriction.

Like the author of this editorial opines, our state should be focusing on energy efficiency and renewables -- not coal plants. You've heard this before on this blog, that's because efficiency and renewables are better for our health, better for our environment, better for our economy than coal. But now theres another reason: its better for our state's stressed water supplies.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Utility Sees the Error of its Ways

Some utilities blindly stumble forward with plans to build new coal plants, hoping promises and exaggerated claims and a little luck will allow them to continue outmoded operations well into the 21st century. Others get wise and change with the times.

One such utility is the northwestern utility, PacifiCorp.

From the Oregonian:

PacifiCorp has backed away from plans to build any new coal plants within the next 10 years, conceding that coal no longer can overcome tightening regulations and environmental opposition.

In recent filings and communications with regulators in Utah and Oregon, the Portland-based company said three coal plants included earlier this year in long-range resource plans and subsequent requests for proposals were "no longer viable options."

PacifiCorp cited as reasons for its decision: The likelihood of national carbon emissions legislation, which it said makes accurate cost projections and risk assessment for coal plants "futile," and the fact that most of the coal plants proposed around the United States recently have been canceled, denied permits or been involved in protracted litigation.

In a filing with the Utah Public Service Commission, the company said it wasn't excluding coal from its 20-year planning options. But "absent some change in conditions, it cannot be determined at this time whether new coal generation ownership will satisfy the least-cost, least-risk standards that would enable us to consider it as a viable option in our 10 year plans."

Ratepayer advocates and environmentalists called the utility's decision a victory.

"We're encouraged that they seem to be moving away from coal," said Bob Jenks, executive director of the Citizen's Utility Board. "It's a good sign. I also think it's a sign of the reality that they're not going to get approval for it."

The move away from coal is an about-face for a company that generates nearly 65 percent of its electricity from coal.

Until recently, there was a distinct difference in receptivity to new coal plants on the two sides of the company's service territory. In Utah, where customers make up more than 40 percent of the company's total electricity consumption, regulators and state authorities have been far more willing to consider coal plants.

By contrast, regulators and lawmakers in Oregon, Washington and California have sent a clear signal that they don't want any more.

Earlier this year, Oregon passed a law requiring utilities to serve 25 percent of customer demand with renewable resources such as wind and geothermal by 2025, with interim targets. California and Washington have their own standards in place.

PacifiCorp's decision to drop coal from its near-term resource plans came after that legislation passed. It also came after Utah's decision to join the Western Climate Initiative, a group of Western states working on a regional plan to curb carbon emissions, said Marc Krasnowsky, a NW Energy Coalition spokesman.

David Eskelsen, a PacifiCorp spokesman, said there was no connection between Utah's action and its decision, though the company is certainly aware of increasing state pressures to go green. The question now, he said, is "if not coal, then what?"

The cost factor

Coal-fueled electricity, he said, has been less expensive, and the company's decision to invest in it allowed it to become one of the nation's lowest cost providers of electricity. Uncertainty around coal will push the company toward more gas-fired generators and as much wind power as it can round up, he said.

"If policies change, we'll comply," Eskelsen said, "but we want policymakers to be informed about the consequences on reliability and price. The price impact is unescapable."

Consumers advocates disagree. They contend that climate legislation will dramatically increase the cost of coal power. Moreover, they say, the capital costs for adding a gas plant are low compared with coal, so if a utility is forced to back off using a gas plant or shut it down, it doesn't cost ratepayers as much. By contrast, once utilities sink capital into a coal plant with a 60-year useful life, they want to use it.

Steve Weiss, an analyst with the NW Energy Coalition, also points out that gas-fired power plants, which can be cycled up and down rapidly, are more compatible with the intermittent renewable resources such as wind and solar, which are becoming a larger part of utilities' generation mix.

Natural gas emissions

Burning gas to make electricity still creates carbon dioxide, but at about half the level of an equivalent amount of electricity from a coal-powered plant, Weiss said.

PacifiCorp forecast in May that its overall customer demand would grow by 2.4 percent per year between 2007 and 2016. Most of that growth was skewed toward the east side of its six-state territory, particularly Utah and Wyoming.

By 2012, the company is projecting the need for an additional 1,700 megawatts of generation capacity. Consequently, it is hoping state regulators will expedite their review of a new request for a proposal it hopes to issue to suppliers in January. That call for bids will exclude coal.

Why doesn't Santee Cooper follow this prudent utility's lead. Coal isn't a viable option in our state either.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Dollars and Sense

Since Santee Cooper recently became a patron of the economic impact business, Clean Energy for South Carolina thought it would be timely to point out a study conducted by the government of Ontario. In that Canadian province, the government is responsible for both providing power and health care. So when it came time for the government to find out if continued reliance on coal-fired electricity generation made financial sense, they didn't just rely on inflated jobs numbers, they included the environmental and health costs of coal in their study and compared it against other alternatives.

What did they find? They found that the levelized cost of coal is $37/MWh (presumably in Canadian dollars) if environmental and health damages are not included. But when health and environmental costs are included, the cost of coal inflates to $164/Mwh -- that's right, the cost more than quadrupled. In fact, health and environmental costs make up over three quarters of the true cost of coal.

But here's the rub. Unlike Ontario, Canada, where the government provides both power and health care, in South Carolina Santee Cooper doesn't have to pay the environmental and health costs of coal. But YOU DO. Oh and by the way, if you are a Santee Cooper customer, you'll also end up paying for that new coal plant too, through higher rates.

Still think coal is cheap? Still think its a good investment for South Carolina?

Ontario has taken this data and decided it's in its financial best interest to shut down its coal plants. One has already been demolished.

We're a long way from that in South Carolina; the least we could do it stop a new coal plant from being built.

If you support that, you're not necessary an environmentalist, or a someone concerned about your childrens' health -- you could just be someone interested in fiscal responsibility and sound economics for our state.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Making Plans

According to the Post and Courier Santee Cooper has more up its sleeve than just 4 new coal plants (i.e. two at Cross, two in the Pee Dee).

Last week it announced plans to build a new natural gas-burning plant, while characteristically failing to offer any specific details about the project.

It appears that the plant would generate over 100 MW of electricity and come online in 2008. Natural gas plants, while still significant sources of carbon dioxide, the anthropogenic emissions of which are largely responsible for global warming, are far less polluting and costly than coal. Construction of this plant makes it even more feasible for Santee Cooper to meet the rest of its growth with energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Indeed, the article reported that Santee Cooper has boosted its expenditures on renewable energy to 1.6%. Of course, a 21st century utility, especially a state-sanctioned utility, should be spending far more than 1.6% of its budget on the energy supply of the future. It should also be spending more on efficiency, the energy supply of the present. Santee Cooper doesn' t spend enough on either.

And it still claims it must build two coal burning units on the Pee Dee. But Santee Cooper should be cautiously applauded for its actions (not its words), which suggest that it is beginning to plan for a world in which its proposed Pee Dee plants are NOT a reality.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Exaggerated Claims

Both the Florence Morning News, and less surprisingly, the Charleston Business Journal, were recently duped by a misleading Santee Cooper press event, while the Post and Courier faired somewhat better.

The event, held at Francis Marion University, touted the release of an economic impact study of the utility’s proposed coal plant. In the past, Santee Cooper has stated that construction of the plant will create about 1,000 temporary construction jobs and less than 100 full-time jobs, at least a quarter of which will be upper-management jobs sourced outside of the Pee Dee region.

At the event, Santee Cooper claimed that the plant will create over 9,000 jobs. Attendees, including the press, were understandably impressed. However, those who took the time to read Santee Cooper’s own press release – or the report, for that matter (which Santee Cooper has not made available to the public) – have reason for chagrin. From the press release:

It is important to note that for purposes of this study, the timetable was collapsed into one year. Therefore, if one worker was working on a job for five years, it is counted as five jobs for the analysis of this study.

So, the 9,000 figure is the product of double (or even quintuple counting). If you run a small business and you employ 5 people in 2006, and you end up keeping them on in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010, how many people have you employed? If you are honest, you’d answer FIVE; if you are Santee Cooper, you would answer 25!

Why must they resort to this kind of funky accounting to justify this unpopular project?

Some more tough questions:

What happens to the economy when those 1,000 or so temporary workers finish building the plant and lose their jobs? Will the remaining 100 or so permanent employees still have a large impact on the Pee Dee’s fortunes? Wouldn’t it be better to use the 1 to 2 billion dollars this coal plant will cost for direct investment in economic development, job training, and incentives that will lead to permanent employment in the Pee Dee, instead of a coal plant?

And where will the money come from to pay all these workers? Will it come from revenues generated from products sold around the nation or the world, brining new wealth to South Carolina? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Of course it will come from Santee Cooper’s South Carolina customers, who will end up paying for the plant via increases in their electric bills. That’s like taking money out of one pocket and putting it into another. No net gain to the community or South Carolina.

Finally, who will calculate the negative costs that will result from building this plant? The lost tourism from mercury polluted waters and fish? The lost work days from mercury poisoned people? The emergency room bills from increased acute asthma? The decrease in local property values due to the pollution and unsightliness of the coal plant? The lost economic development because of restrictions on future growth in the Pee Dee (due to EPA regulations that limit growth in areas that fail to comply with air quality standards)? The increased risk from climate change to the state’s water supplies, agricultural output, and quality of life?

It won’t surprise you to hear that no one has a good answer for these questions.

Let’s not pretend a coal plant is a tool for economic development – it’s a dirty way of generating electricity, and not much else.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Latest News Posted

See our "Pee Dee Plant News Coverage" section for updated news coverage of Santee Cooper's proposed coal plant, including local Physicians and newspaper editors calling on DHEC to test South Carolinians for mercury poisoning and an exaggerated economic development study on the coal plants completed by Francis Marion University. Read all about it!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Physicians Call on DHEC for Mercury Tests

Florence Morning News
Thursday, Dec 06, 2007

By Jamie Durant

Local doctors and environmentalists gathered Thursday in front of S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Florence office to ask the agency to test residents living in the area of the proposed Santee Cooper coal plant for mercury levels.

John Mathes, a local family practice physician at McLeod Family Medicine, said he attended the protest to voice his concerns about mercury contamination from the proposed plant.“My concern is that high mercury levels could have profound impacts on the health of our community,” he said. “I’m concerned that this hasn’t been fully researched, and we haven’t been told all we should have been told about this.”

He said he thinks DHEC should investigate the mercury levels among people who fish and eat their catch from the Great Pee Dee River in the area around the proposed plant site.

Mike King, an environmentalist and member of the Pee Dee River Watchers, lives in the area where the proposed plant would be built. The Pee Dee River Watchers is an informal group of local citizens concerned with the environmental state of the Great Pee Dee River. King said he thinks DHEC isn’t doing all it can to protect people from industry giants.

“I would like to say DHEC has a checkered past in protecting people in South Carolina from mercury poisoning,” he said.

He said DHEC does not have a policy in place for testing mercury contamination among citizens beyond telling people to see their family physician.

“It shouldn’t be like that,” he said. “It should be done on a voluntary basis. It’s very easy to do with a hair sample.”

Dr. Tim Dancy, a family medicine practitioner at McLeod Family/Sports Medicine, said he feels the DHEC policy concerning testing for mercury contamination is nothing more than a roadblock to what he thinks needs to be done.

“We need, as a public health policy, to find out how bad the health contamination is in our citizens, so that we can make an appropriate reaction to it,” he said. “I think it is irresponsible to continue in that vein.”

He said he feels DHEC should be taking proactive steps to learn more about the state of contamination in the Pee Dee, such as making mercury testing readily available to anyone with a legitimate concern.


Taking on an unbridled rogue agency like Santee Cooper, or the full P.R. weight of the coal industry, can be a wearying task at times for the growing grass-roots collective of South Carolina residents opposed to the Pee Dee coal plant.

At such times, its nice to remember we are not alone.

Big Coal is attempting to dupe hard-working Americans all over the county with costly coal projects that will harm their health, threaten their natural heritage, and raise their bills. Luckily, in most of these places, folks are fighting back and increasingly beating the Big Boys.

So, this might be the beginning of a series featuring grassroots efforts to fight coal plants all over the country. A utility in nearby Viriginia, tellingly titled Dominion Power, is attempting to exercise the authority implied in its name to build a 585 MW circulating fluidized bed coal plant (incidentally, a technology marginally cleaner than that proposed by Santee Cooper) in Wise County, Virginia.

However, a coalition of concerned citizens and groups including Appalachian Voices, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards have come together in opposition to the proposal. They've created a website cleverly titled "Wise Energy for Virginia." Check it out to see how folks in a fellow southern state are endeavoring to beat Big Coal. It won't surprise you to learn that much of their message is the same as the one in South Carolina, i.e. new coal is unnecessary, coal will hurt our state, and clean energy is the alternative. It's nice to compare notes. While visiting Virginia's coalition, consider signing their petition in opposition to Dominion's coal plant.

It's the golden rule, right? Show 'em South Carolina cares!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Coal: You Lose Again

Regulators in Washington state have followed the example set by Kansas and sent a utility eager to build a new coal plant back to the drawing board. Regulators are requiring the utility, Energy Northwest, to figure out what it is going to do with its proposed plant's greenhouse gas emissions before they will consider the utility's application. From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

State energy regulators have stopped the permit application for a coal-fueled power plant in southwest Washington until the builder meets requirements of a new climate change law.

In an order issued Tuesday, the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council has suspended the application from Energy Northwest until the public power consortium addresses how it will sequester carbon emissions.

There are a few parallels to South Carolina and Santee Cooper's proposed coal plant: Energy Northwest is essentially a consortium of public utilities in Washington State and the proposed plant represents an unprecedented power-plant building spree for the utility. Santee Cooper is also a public utility, supplying power to a consortium of electric cooperatives. Its also on a mission to double its CO2 emissions via a crash-course of coal plant construction projects.

But the similarities end there. The Washington plant was stopped by the Washington Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, a regulatory agency charged with "specifying the conditions of construction and operation; [issuing] permits in lieu of any other individual state or local agency authority; and [managing] an environmental and safety oversight program of facility and site operations." Boy could we use one of those here. That's because Santee Cooper is subject to ZERO regulatory oversight.

Moreoever, Washington State has passed a climate change law that limits utilities ability to build new coal plants that would emit greenhouse gases willy-nilly into the already warming atmosphere!

Of course, we South Carolinians don't have to just sit by and watch in awe. We can let Santee Cooper know we don't want this plant, we can also let our elected officials know.

Read more about this victory for good government and climate stewardship here.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Feds to Santee Cooper: Don't Build that Plant!

The U.S Department of Interior wants Santee Cooper's proposed "coal campus" put on hold, according to a report in today's Post and Courier. Apparently even the Federal government feels that Santee Cooper (and DHEC, for that matter) has yet to perform an adequate analysis of the impact of this massive coal-burning project. From the article:

The Fish and Wildlife Service expressed its concerns about the plant in two letters obtained this week by The Post and Courier.

In a letter dated Sept. 11, Fish and Wildlife urged DHEC to make no decisions permitting any aspect of the plant until "a comprehensive and adequate review of the project and its affects to the environment, the atmosphere, and the quality of human life is conducted."

In a second letter, dated Oct. 3, the service said the project's air pollution emissions, particularly mercury and sulfur dioxide, pose threats to several state and federal wildlife sanctuaries, including the Cape Romain and Waccamaw national wildlife refuges.

The letter said much of South Carolina's coastal forest and the dune and marsh grasses in the Cape Romain refuge could be damaged by increased levels of acid rain due to the sulfur releases.

In addition, the letter urges DHEC to fully analyze the effects of increased mercury fallout from the plant into rivers already contaminated with enough mercury that the state warns people not to eat fish caught in some of the waters.

Read the rest of the article here. The Fish and Wildlife's service's concerns have been echoed by local residents in the Pee Dee. Will DHEC and Santee Cooper ignore them now in addition to the Feds?

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Pee Dee Area Physicians Call On DHEC to Test Humans for Mercury

Florence, SC – In light of mercury threats to the Pee Dee region, area physicians and concerned citizens gathered outside the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) Florence offices at 12:15 p.m. today to request formally that DHEC begin testing human populations in the Pee Dee region for mercury contamination. Citizens living near the proposed site of Santee Cooper's coal plant also spoke, asking that they be tested.

A recent investigative series in the Charleston Post & Courier documented alarming and dangerous levels of mercury in South Carolina citizens who eat fish from the state's mercury contaminated rivers, including the Pee Dee. State utility Santee Cooper plans to build a pulverized coal plant in the midst of a "Mercury Triangle"; mercury levels there violate state and federal laws and are among the highest in the state.

According to Dr. Bernetha George, one of the physicians requesting DHEC conduct testing, "DHEC has an historic opportunity to live up to their mission by looking into this issue. First we have to get the data. Until then, put the plant on hold."

DHEC has stated that the agency will not begin testing without a request from a physician. At today's conference, two physicians in addition to Dr. George requested testing, Dr. John Mattheis, and Dr. Timonthy Dancy. Both practice at Mcleod Hospital. A fourth physician, Dr. Ken Kammer, was detained by surgery, but asked that a statement be read in his name.

Dr. Kammer's statement reads: "The agency has known for years of the threat posed to the environment: mercury fish consumption advisories are in effect for every major watershed in the coastal plain, most major lakes and for the entire coast. The agency now knows, thanks to publicized laboratory findings, that citizens in this state have dangerously high levels of mercury in their bodies. Given mercury's toxic effects, this is a clear health problem."

In addition, members of the community who live near the proposed plant site or who have been active hunters and fishers, spoke to reporters, volunteering to be tested.

"I have been a fish eater all my life, fishing on the Pee Dee river," said Mike King, whose home is just five miles from the proposed site. "From 1985 to 1995 I ate fish from Black Creek every week. I cooked my fish right on the bank, so I feel I need to be tested."

Terry Cook, who lives within a half mile of the proposed site, said: "My husband and I have hunted and fished along the Pee Dee and Lynches rivers all our lives. I have raised five children on these rivers. It's a shame my grandchildren will not know the same joy and peace."

Terry Cook also pointed out that the proposed site is within five miles of a grammar school and a high school. "I think they [DHEC] need to test us all before going forward with any permits," she concluded.

Present also was Reverend Leo Woodberry, who directs the Eastern Carolina Community Development Corporation: "With this coal plant, we need to be very careful before putting up yet another plant that may be a risk to our community." Of the fourteen major industries in Florence County, seven emit between 6,900 and 4,271,543 pounds of pollutants annually, according to a toxic releases inventory that is tracked nationally. Citing the website, which tracks emissions by county, Reverend Woodberry noted, "We already have a lot of toxic emissions in this county."

Close to 600 people, many of them in the Kingsburg and Pamplico area, have signed a petition opposing the plant.

Two weeks ago Dr. Ken Kammer submitted a formal letter to DHEC requesting that a draft air permit that would allow Santee Cooper to emit up to 138 pounds of toxic mercury be suspended and that the agency undertake an extensive campaign to test human populations for mercury.

On December 4, DHEC extended until January 22 the comment period for the draft air permit.

Moore's Better

A recent interview in the Business and Economic Review published by the Moore School of Business at USC exposes one of the coal lobby's greatest myths, i.e. that coal is cheap.

Santee Cooper can often be heard making this argument when trying to justify its multi-billion pet project -- the massive, coal-burning "Pee Dee Energy Campus." Of course, coal is far from cheap. In fact its rather expensive -- and its cost will only increase.

Since those who are trying to foist coal on South Carolinians aren't being straight with us on this point, its refreshing to find one the country's top business schools weighing in on this important topic.

The subject of the interview, Stephen Smith (Executive Director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy) sums up his case nicely:

...the presentation of coal as a cheap source of energy is, in fact, misleading and incredibly short-sighted because that analysis ignores the human health and environmental costs as well as future changes to the market place.
Mr. Smith does a good job pointing out that coal only seems cheap because much of its true cost goes unaccounted for -- the companies that mine it and the utilities that burn it don't pay, instead regular folks do, e.g. through damaged health, degraded environments, and higher utility bills.

He also points out why Santee Cooper's proposed coal plant will be extremely costly for South Carolina.

Read the rest of the interview here. Curious as to how even the market price (e.g. the price of coal minus its health and environmental impact) of coal has trended recently? Click here (hint: its going up). There has also been a good discussion on the cost of coal going on here and here. Here's to truth in advertising!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Mercury Message

South Carolina physicians are calling on DHEC to test citizens for mercury poisoning according to a story in today's Post and Courier. As others have pointed out on this blog, coal plants (and Santee Cooper in particular) are the main source of mercury pollution in our state and evidence suggests that this problem is getting out of control. From the P&C:

In a letter sent Nov. 14 to Earl Hunter, commissioner of the Department of Health and Environmental Control, neurosurgeon Ken Kammer called mercury a "pressing public health threat" and urged the department to respond "by undertaking testing of citizens."

Two other physicians, Tim Dancy and Bernetha George, are joining in Kammer's request, according to Nancy Cave of the Coastal Conservation League.

In his letter, Kammer cited a recent Post and Courier series that showed some people who eat fish from mercury-contaminated sections of the state's rivers have elevated levels of mercury in their bodies. High levels can cause brain damage and other health problems.

State officials have issued warnings about mercury-tainted fish in more than 1,700 miles of rivers, mostly on the coastal plain.

The newspaper's series, "The Mercury Connection," found that coal-fired power plants are among the biggest sources of mercury contamination. The newspaper identified especially high areas of contamination in a triangular shaped area near the site of Santee Cooper's proposed $1 billion coal-fired power plant.

To read The Post and Courier's previous stories on mercury, click here.

Not sure what to do about GHG emissions? Hire a consultant!

McKinsey, perhaps the most esteemed management consulting firm around, is well known for the good advice it gives to the world's leading corporations. It seems doing something about climate change is part of that sage counsel -- and it strikes me that organizations that are interested in being successful should pay attention.

From McKinsey's website, here is the "central conclusion" of their recent study on the cost of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in America:

The United States could reduce GHG emissions in 2030 by 3.0 to 4.5 gigatons of CO2e using tested approaches and high-potential emerging technologies. These reductions would involve pursuing a wide array of abatement options with marginal costs less than $50 per ton, with the average net cost to the economy being far lower if the nation can capture sizable gains from energy efficiency. Achieving these reductions at the lowest cost to the economy, however, will require strong, coordinated, economy-wide action that begins in the near future.
There are a number of notable other conclusions in McKinsey's report, which you can download here. I'll share a few, but encourage you to at least browse the executive summary of the report:
  • 40% of the greenhouse gas reduction opportunities identified by McKinsey can be had at a net savings to the economy, i.e. they will make use richer.
  • The fast-growing Southeast has the greatest potential for GHG reductions -- don't believe the hype that growth mandates dirty patterns of development.
  • 30% of the greenhouse gas reduction potential resides in the power generation sector. That means the Santee Coopers of the world have both an extraordinary responsibility as well as an unrivaled opportunity to do something about the global warming problem they've had a large part in creating. This is just another reason we can't allow Santee Cooper to hold back progress by building a coal plant that will emit nearly 9 million tons of CO2 annually.
For climate deniers and coal-partisans, a blog like this is an easy target. So its always nice when you can refer folks to McKinsey & Co. Its hard to argue with the market economy's best and brightest.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Mercury Alert

Pee Dee Area Physicians Call On DHEC to Test Humans for Mercury

In light of mercury threats to the Pee Dee region, area physicians will gather outside DHEC's Florence offices at 12:15 p.m. on Thursday, December 6 to request formally that DHEC begin testing human populations in the Pee Dee region for mercury contamination.

A recent investigative series in the Charleston Post & Courier documented alarming and dangerous levels of mercury in South Carolina citizens who eat fish from the state's mercury contaminated rivers, including the Pee Dee.

DHEC has stated that the agency will not begin testing without a formal request from a physician.

Two weeks ago, Florence resident and neurosurgeon Dr. Ken Kammer submitted a request, and since that time two other physicians, Dr. Tim Dancy and Dr. Bernetha George, have submitted supporting letters calling for DHEC to test humans for mercury.

Physicians will address the human health risks of mercury and ask that DHEC rescind the draft air permit it granted Santee Cooper allowing the utility to emit 138 pounds of toxic mercury a year. One pound of methyl mercury is enough to contaminate 500,000 pounds of fish tissue.

Please join us on your lunch hour as we meet outside the DHEC offices for our press event.

WHAT: Physicians request DHEC to test humans for mercury
WHERE: DHEC offices, 145 E Cheves St, Florence, SC 29506
WHEN: Thursday, 6 December, 12:15 PM

Monday, December 3, 2007

No Balance; One Choice

D.C. based front-group for Big Coal, the so-called "American's for Balanced Energy Choices" have begun a full court press in South Carolina. Any connections between ABEC's interference in South Carolina and Santee Cooper's increasing desperation with respect to the ill-advised coal plant it wants to build in Pee Dee? Well, ABEC says no, and Santee Cooper has cleverly maintained its distance from ABEC -- those who believe there isn't a connection should be sure to leave some cookies and milk by the fireplace before they go to bed on December 24th.

The Post & Courier reporter responsible for the excellent series on Mercury recently wrote a brief piece exposing the hypocrisy of this shameless industry group. According to the piece, they'll be spending $200,000 in South Carolina to convince you that Santee Cooper's coal plant is GREAT for our state.

Using the slogan "clean coal, America's power," the group's [Americans for Balanced Energy Choices] goal is to persuade voters and the presidential candidates about the benefits of using new technology to "keep coal in the mix," according to one official with the group....

The group plans to crisscross the state in a decorated "Flex Fuel" van and buy newspaper, online, television and radio ads. She said the group wants to raise the issue's profile as presidential campaigning picks up before South Carolina's primary. The national campaign's budget is $8 million to $10 million.

Dana Beach, executive director of the Coastal Conservation League, took issue with the group's name and goals. "This campaign is neither balanced nor about energy choices," he said. "I'm confident the public will see it for what it really is: a shameless greenwashing scheme funded by the coal industry designed to disguise the reality that coal is the dirtiest, most polluting energy source available."
ABEC also appeared on the NPR/ETV program The Big Picture on the Radio and in the Florence Morning News. More on ABEC here.

Its absurd to think we need a pro-coal group espousing "balance" and "choices" in our state when we already get nearly 50% of our power from coal (how's that for balance) and utilities like Santee Cooper are only offering one choice: more coal. These D.C. special-interest lobbyists clearly think we are a bunch of witless hicks. Not so. Its especially a shame since what South Carolina DOES need is more dialogue on fuel diversity, including more renewable energy and efficiency.