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:


Anonymous3 said...

This site is just constant entertainment! Let's see, a "shameless (and frankly, gross) stunt"

I guess dancing in front of banks in polar bear suits, chaining yourself to Duke's offices, getting 5 or 6 folks to swim around in the river in December (after advertising for WEEKS to get people to do this BTW) are examples of normal "stunts?"

Anonymous2 said...

Thanks guys, for publicizing this. That statehouse report just doesn't get a lot of press.

This further shows that you guys act like you know everything about energy when in fact, you just don't know what you're talking about. Let me help you out.

From the story here (one of your leaders, BTW):

"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."

You would think if it said gasification, you guys would look this up before saying it is a LIQUID!

Coal gasification plants have no "furnace." The coal is not "processed into a liquid." It is processed into a gas, then fed into a combustion turbine, which is much like an aircraft engine. The waste heat is processed through a heat exchanger to make steam and the steam, along with the combustion turbine, turn a generator to make electricity.

Anybody reading this, are you gonna let these guys dictate your energy policy? I don't recommend it.

Student said...


Since you understand coal gasification so well, please explain to everyone why Santee Cooper is refusing to build such a plant in the Pee Dee -- or why it isn't gasifying biomass for that matter!

Why are the energy "experts" letting us down? Refusing to seriously look at efficiency or renewables -- surely your engineers are up to it! Why does the public have to rely on environmentalists to get you guys to even TALK about it?

Picking cherries doesn't prove your point!