Thursday, January 31, 2008

"Virginia is for Lovers (of the Truth)"

Officials in Virginia aren't buying what the utility, Dominion, and their regulators (i.e. their version of DHEC) are telling them about a coal plant proposal in their state.

We need smart government official like Virginia's Mr. Moore to stand up in our state and demand that DHEC and Santee Cooper justify this dirty coal plant proposal.

We can't take Santee Cooper/DHEC's word for it that this plant will use the cleanest technology available (it won't), that other options won't work (they will), that this plant is good for the economy (it isn't), etc., etc.

Our state officials need to stand up and make Santee Cooper and DHEC prove these claims (they can't).

From the Sun News:

Virginia air officials not satisfied with Dominion proposal
Associated Press Writer

Virginia officials decided Friday to explore whether Dominion Virginia Power can reduce air pollution at its plant proposed in southwest Virginia by using different technology or by burning another type of coal.

The Virginia Air Pollution Control Board voted Friday in Alexandria to seek more information from the state Department of Environmental Quality, the utility and the public about other options for the plant proposed for Wise County.

The decision came after board member Hullihen Moore said he was dissatisfied with Dominion's presentation explaining why its plan for the plant was the best option, DEQ spokesman Bill Hayden said. The utility plans to burn coal produced in southwest Virginia, including waste coal, and wood products.

Don Shepherd, a National Park Service environmental engineer, told the board that use of a coal-gasification process would result in lower emissions at the plant and better protect the environment, Hayden said.

A draft DEQ permit would allow the plant to emit 5.3 million tons of carbon dioxide and 12,500 tons of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide into the air every year.

A Park Service spokeswoman did not immediately return a telephone message left by The Associated Press. U.S. Forest Service officials earlier expressed concern about air pollution reaching federal wilderness areas in western North Carolina.

The air board's role is to gather information and provide guidance to DEQ, but Hayden said the body could decide itself whether it will issue a permit for the plant.

The DEQ has scheduled a hearing Feb. 11 in St. Paul on the proposal, and Hayden said the agency has extended it to Feb. 12 as well to take public comment.

A coalition of environmental groups asked the agency also to hold hearings in Richmond, Hampton Roads and northern Virginia, but Hayden said no decision has been made on that request.

The opponents also asked DEQ to extend the Feb. 26 deadline for public comment on the air emissions by 90 to 120 days. Hayden said the deadline will be Feb. 27 because of the second hearing, but no decision had been made on a further extension.

Don't forget to check out the folks fighting this coal plant in Virginia, and the local VA Sierra Club recently released a report showing how that state could meet its energy needs and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions using clean energy.

Is this our future?

Click on the photo above for more of what a coal plant might do to the air quality (and scenic value) of our state. This plant is in Charleston, West Virginia.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Coal Truth

Ever wonder where all that dirty coal comes from? Where Santee Cooper gets its coal? Where the coal that will be burned in the proposed Pee Dee plant will come from?

The answer is something Santee Cooper would rather you not know.

The answer is something that we, as Southerners, proud of our history and our region, as Americans, who love our country and its natural splendors, should be shocked and appalled by.

The answer is mountain top removal.

You can find out more about where Santee Cooper get its coal here.

You can find out more about mountain top removal by watching ETV tomorrow night at 10 PM. Then you'll have a chance to see an award-winning documentary titled, simply, "Mountain Top Removal."

It as simply as that really.

We are destroying our Appalachian mountains in order to power coal plants of the sort Santee Cooper is busy trying to convince us we need.

Those of you out there thinking there is nothing wrong with coal, who think there is nothing wrong with a state-owned utility proposing that we use more of it in the 21st century, you need to watch this film and others like it. You need to learn about mountain top removal mining and consider the consequences of choosing coal very well.

Santee Cooper is not telling us the whole truth about their coal plant.

Stop Coal

Architect Ed Mazria of Architecture 2030 issued a webcast this morning persuasively outlining the threat of global warming to our coasts, the need for a coal moratorium to stop runaway greenhouse gas emissions, and the potential in the building sector to save massive amounts of energy.

Take a look at the webcast here and see if you are not convinced.

Click on this map of Savannah, Georgia to see how it would be affected by sea level rise driven by carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

North Carolina Gov. Candidates Say No To Coal

Y'all might have heard, but our neighbor North Carolina recently had its leading candidates for governor urge clean energy options that create more local jobs and protect the state's valuable tourism industry instead of building a coal plant. South Carolina would do well to follow this lead.

Democrat gubernatorial candidates oppose new Rutherford coal plant

By Jordan Schrader

January 24, 2008 12:15 am

The Democrats vying for the governor’s job agree on something: Now is not the time for a new power plant in Rutherford County.

Duke Energy wants to build a new coal-fired unit at its Cliffside plant, saying the growing state needs more electricity and must harness traditional fuels as well as renewable sources.

On Wednesday, first State Treasurer Richard Moore and then Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue expressed their opposition to that plan.

Moore, echoed by Perdue, called for state regulators at the Division of Air Quality to wait to approve a permit for the plant.

“North Carolina should focus on new, efficient energy choices and conservation rather than building more high-polluting, coal-fired power plants,” Moore said in a statement. “This type of plant should be a last resort, not a first option.”

Environmentalists have opposed the plant, saying it would contribute to climate change and pollute the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The statements encouraged the N.C. Sierra Club, said state director Molly Diggins.

She said the authority over the permit ultimately falls to the secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, appointed by the governor.

Perdue said as governor “a particular emphasis of mine will be developing a green economy” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Energy Film Fest in Florence

The National Stage

Heard this on the radio this morning. Will DHEC and Santee Cooper just ignore these folks? It would take a rare kind of arrogance and disregard for the good of our state and of America.

Attorneys general oppose coal plant

8 top prosecutors want Santee Cooper to be denied permit
By Tony Bartelme
The Post and Courier
Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Eight attorneys general want South Carolina to nix Santee Cooper's plan for a new coal-fired power generator in the Pee Dee, saying the plant would pump millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the air and undermine their efforts to reduce greenhouse gases.

Opposition from these top government prosecutors shows how the high-stakes debate over Santee Cooper's Pee Dee project has landed firmly on the national stage.

In a letter dated Jan. 22, to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, the eight attorneys general urged the agency to deny Santee Cooper a permit and focus instead on cleaner technologies to produce electricity.

Citing a compact by 10 Northeastern states to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, the prosecutors said the Pee Dee plant would release 9 million tons of carbon dioxide into the air every year, effectively canceling reductions planned in their states.

Attorneys general from California, New York, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont signed the letter.

"I think it's extraordinary that they have written this letter," said Blan Holman, a lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center. "It shows the plant doesn't just have significance in the Pee Dee and in South Carolina, but that it's part of a national debate."
Related stories

Read previous stories on mercury.

Santee Cooper wants to build a $1 billion coal plant on the banks of the Great Pee Dee River in Florence County. The state-owned utility says if it doesn't move forward with the generators, parts of South Carolina could face blackouts and brownouts by 2013. The utility's plan enjoys wide support from the state's manufacturing community.

Laura Varn, Santee Cooper vice president of corporate communications, said DHEC doesn't have any legal authority to order the utility to reduce carbon dioxide emissions for the Pee Dee project.

Lawmakers are pushing new laws that would tax carbon-based emissions. But Varn said that Santee Cooper has to operate under existing laws, and that its Pee Dee plan meets or does better than current pollution rules require.
Attorneys General letter

The letter urging DHEC to deny Santee Cooper a permit for a new coal-powered power generator.

In their letter, the attorneys general, including aggressive prosecutors such as Andrew Cuomo of New York and Jerry Brown of California, said that "climate change is the single greatest environmental challenge facing the world today," and that state and federal laws require Santee Cooper to use the "best available technology" to reduce greenhouse gases.

The prosecutors said Santee Cooper should consider a plant fueled by natural gas, biomass or gasified coal — technologies that produce less carbon dioxide than traditional plants. Santee Cooper has said that these technologies are either unproven or too expensive, and that it plans to use state-of-the-art technology in the Pee Dee complex.

In 2007, 53 coal-fired plants across the nation were canceled or delayed in 2007, according to Global Energy Decisions, a company that tracks power plants for the Department of Energy.

As concerns mount about global warming, states are taking aggressive stands on pollution from their neighbors. In recent years, North Carolina's attorney general cited South Carolina and 12 other states as contributing to North Carolina's air pollution. New Jersey sued a utility in Pennsylvania last month over its air emissions.

Last year, the eight government prosecutors opposed to Santee Cooper's plant urged Kansas health officials to deny a permit for a new plant there. They did so, citing concerns about global warming.

"Those attorneys general letters were very influential in Kansas, and my hope is that they'll be very influential in South Carolina," said Nancy Cave of the Coastal Conservation League. "I hope they won't shrug it off."

Engineers with DHEC received more than 700 comments about the plant but have set no timetable for their decision whether to allow its construction.

Reach Tony Bartelme at or 937-5554.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

SELC, state and national environmental groups, attack Pee Dee coal plant proposal

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Controls has issued a draft permit for a proposed two unity 1320 megawatt pulverized coal-fired power plant on the banks of the Great Pee Dee River in Florence County. The period for the public to comment on the permit close[d yesterdsay].

SELC, on behalf of a host of environmental organizations including the Sierra Club and the Coastal Conservation League, contends that Santee Cooper has not established a need for the plant, that a new coal unit is not the best way to meet any energy needs, and that the plant as proposed does use the cleanest technology available as the law requires.

Gudrun Thompson: “DHEC’s proposal to allow a new, dirty coal plant at a time when the State of South Carolina faces unprecedented air quality-related challenges, including mercury pollution that damages the brains of our most vulnerable citizens, global warming pollution that threatens our fragile coastline with rising sea levels, and soot and smog pollution that contribute to asthma attacks is irresponsible and flies in the face of the agency’s responsibility to protect public health.

“Santee Cooper hasn’t proposed and DHEC isn’t requiring the use of the cleanest technology available at the Pee Dee plant. Not only is this dangerous, it’s illegal and in clear violation of the Clean Air Act. As it stands, any final permit based on this half-baked draft permit is vulnerable to a legal challenge.”

So goes the press release from the Southern Environmental Law Center. Santee Cooper is fond of claiming that it's proposed plant will be among the cleanest power plants in the nation. SELC's comments on DHEC's draft air quality permit gives the lie to that spurious claim many, many times over. In fact, by the time it would be built (IF it is ever built), Santee Cooper's plant will be dirtier than many plants that already exist today. In some instances, it will be dirtier than the coal plant they just finished building last year. In an election year, its more obvious than usual that we need more than empty promises from our leaders -- that includes DHEC and Santee Cooper.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Carolinians on Coal

More video from the recent Republican debates, plus a take from "the other side" here (at the Myrtle Beach Sun News website).

Monday, January 21, 2008

It's cold out there for coal

Seems like there are a lot of articles along these lines lately. Take notice. Another from the Los Angeles Times. (The unspoken message here is that our country needs a commitment to efficiency -- the cheapest, fastest and cleanest way to meet our energy needs. South Carolina lags behind the nation in efficiency; utilities like Santee Cooper have never agressively pursued ways to help its customers save money as other public power utilities have done with great success for many years. With a commitment to achieve cost-effective efficiency goals, Santee Cooper could dispense with its coal plant plans entirely, and still provide cheap, reliable power):

Coal is no longer on front burner
The rush to build power plants slows as worries grow over global warming, building costs and transportation.

By Judy Pasternak, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
January 18, 2008

WASHINGTON -- America's headlong rush to tap its enormous coal reserves for electricity has slowed abruptly, with more than 50 proposed coal-fired power plants in 20 states canceled or delayed in 2007 because of concerns about climate change, construction costs and transportation problems.

Coal, touted as cheap and plentiful, has been a cornerstone of President Bush's plans to meet America's energy needs with dozens of new power plants. Burned in about 600 facilities, coal produces more than half of the nation's electricity.

But urgent questions are emerging about a fuel once thought to be the most reliable of all. Utilities are confronting rising costs and a lack of transportation routes from coal fields to generators, opposition from state regulators and environmental groups, and uncertainty over climate-change policies in Washington.

"Coal projects need more regulatory certainty before any new ones are going to get built in the near future," said David Eskelsen, a spokesman for PacifiCorp, which serves more than 1.6 million customers in six Western states. "The current situation does make utility planning very challenging."

Just a few weeks ago, PacifiCorp dropped plans for two coal-fired power plants in Utah, citing the many unknowns in assessing the costs and objections on global warming grounds from a major customer: the city of Los Angeles. PacifiCorp said in filings with the state of Utah that it hadn't found a substitute for production that it will need to bring online in 2012 and 2014.

Shortages are feared

The setbacks have energy regulators jittery about the prospects for meeting America's ever-increasing hunger for electricity. They say that any delays in building new capacity -- coal-fired or otherwise -- add pressure to an already strained electricity infrastructure, raising the prospect of shortages or sharply higher prices.

Energy planners say coal needs to be in the mix because the other mainstay fuels for generating electricity also have serious drawbacks. Natural gas has proved volatile in both price and supply. Nuclear power plants are costly and take much longer to build -- and the problem of radioactive-waste disposal remains unsolved.

Second thoughts"We're very close to the edge," said Rick Sergel, who keeps a close eye on the grid as chief executive of the quasi-governmental North American Electric Reliability Corp. "We operate under tight conditions more often than ever. We need action in the next year or two to start on the path to having enough electricity 10 years from now."

This fall, regulators in Kansas and Washington state denied applications for coal plant permits because of concerns about carbon dioxide emissions.

After Republican Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said in October that he wasn't a "fan" of coal, utilities postponed plans to build coal plants in Tampa and Orlando.

Xcel Energy has told Colorado officials that it plans to close two coal plants and add 1,000 megawatts of wind and solar power, in addition to a new natural-gas plant. The company wants to cut its carbon dioxide emissions 10% by 2015.

In Nevada, Sierra Pacific Resources delayed construction of a coal plant and moved up the schedule for a natural-gas-powered plant instead.

The Tennessee Valley Authority decided in August to add a $2.5-billion unit to a nuclear power plant rather than construct a new coal facility -- the other main option -- because of the uncertain economics.

Altogether, 53 coal-fired plants were canceled or delayed in 2007, according to Global Energy Decisions, a private consulting firm that tracks power plants for the Department of Energy.

In the near term, coal clearly will remain a part of the American energy picture. Even as the postponements and terminations pile up, plans for new coal-fired power plants continue to advance in New Mexico, Mississippi and Indiana.

Although TXU Energy canceled eight coal-fired power plants it had proposed in Texas, the utility is going ahead with three others.

Last month, an energy industry consortium announced plans to build a government-subsidized power plant in southern Illinois to demonstrate low-emissions coal technology. But the ballooning cost of the FutureGen plant -- now projected to be about $1.8 billion, nearly double its original estimated price tag -- has drawn criticism from the Department of Energy, which could delay or kill the project by withholding funds.

The growing push in Washington to do something about global warming is a major factor that affects the cost of burning chunks of solid carbon, by far the dirtiest way to manufacture power.

A recent study by the industry-funded Electric Power Research Institute projects that coal power will cost more than nuclear power or natural gas by 2030 if coal's carbon dioxide problem is solved the way most experts envision. Still unproven, that method involves separating carbon dioxide from the gas stream before it heads out of the stacks, collecting the vapors and then storing them underground. That would also require a new network of pipelines to move carbon dioxide from the power plant to a geologically sound site.

Another industry analysis predicts that wholesale electricity prices will rise 35% to 65% by 2015 if the Warner-Lieberman climate change bill -- one of the more conservative plans put forward in the Senate -- is enacted.

A more immediate challenge is transportation, from missing links in the rail routes to silted-up Great Lakes shipping channels, which raise concerns that coal may not be so simple to get at after all.

"Can coal deliver?" asked Gary Hunt, president of Global Energy Advisors, a Sacramento-based unit of Global Energy Decisions. "The answer is no," he said -- not without "billions and billions" spent on improvements for mining capacity, railroads and shipping.

Powder River Basin

About 40% of the coal that America burns comes from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana. Sought after for its low sulfur content, the product is sent all over the country on trains more than 100 cars long. But only two rail companies serve the basin, and for 100 miles they share one set of tracks.

That caused trouble in spring 2005, when coal dust built up between the ties, snow and rain fell on the tracks, and the resulting slush caused two derailments. The ensuing bottleneck delayed coal deliveries for months. Utilities started hoarding the coal they had on hand, and ran their more expensive natural-gas plants more often. They filed for rate hikes, and at least two sued their rail carriers.

Railroads are investing about $200 million to improve and expand the tracks leading out of the Powder River Basin, and they point to record cargoes this year. But the National Mining Assn. still has concerns about the future, spokesman Luke Popovich said. "Capacity is adequate now, but it's close to being inadequate," he said.

In the coal fields of southern Illinois and Indiana, a mining renaissance is hoped for -- but no north-south rail line connects them with Chicago and the Great Lakes.

Purdue University recommends building a 300-mile "Indiana coal corridor" -- at a cost of about $1 million a mile.

Overall, the Assn. of American Railroads estimates that $148 billion needs to be invested in freight infrastructure over the next 28 years. The industry says it needs federal assistance to help it cover about $39 billion of that cost.

We Energies, which provides electricity in Wisconsin and Michigan, said it had faced at least $45 million in higher fuel costs as a result of rail disruptions. Like other producers in the Upper Midwest, the company tried to find relief by shipping coal across the Great Lakes. But lake channels have silted up, creating a "dredging crisis," in the words of James H.I. Weakley, president of the Lake Carriers' Assn.

The Lake Erie port of Dunkirk, N.Y. -- site of a coal-fired power plant -- closed to shipping in 2005. A freighter ran aground at the Lake Huron port of Saginaw, Mich., last year. With ships loading 6,000 to 9,000 pounds less than their capacity in order to stay afloat in the shallower channels, coal-cargo totals on the lakes this year are down 8% from a year ago, the carriers' group said.

The domestic transport problem has led some coal customers to look overseas for supplies. Despite the promotion of coal as crucial to energy independence, imports have been rising since 2003. For example, Southern Co., the largest power supplier in the Southeast, brings in nearly 19% of its supply through East Coast ports from Colombia, Venezuela and Russia, said W. Paul Bowers, president of generation and energy marketing.

Coal's advocates say they are still optimistic about the future, because America has 200 years' worth of reserves -- and growing electricity needs. "If you don't want to use coal," asks Janet Gellici, executive director of the American Coal Council, "which 12 hours of the day don't you want electricity?"

Decisions up in the air

In any case, coal producers say, surging worldwide demand, especially from China and India, indicates there will be a healthy global market for their product. Indeed, that demand has helped drive up the cost of coal, which has been at record levels for much of 2007, which in turn drives up the potential cost of coal-fired energy.

The changing coal picture is making it hard for America's energy planners. Decisions about where power plants are located and when they are built can also determine where -- and whether -- new transmission corridors are built. And that could create spillover effects that hurt the availability of cleaner sources, like wind, that would use the same lines.

With power plant decisions up in the air, there's been a lag in seeking new transmission lines, said Suedeen Kelly, who sits on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. And because the transmission lines -- like power plants -- take years to move from the proposal stage to operations, "ideally, you should be starting to build these transmissions lines today," Kelly said.

It's tough for those who would build power plants to make billion-dollar commitments that will last for the next 50 years while trying to guess what's going to happen in Washington. The White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives are sharply divided over versions of global warming legislation that could provide answers.

The president's threat to veto the energy bill forced congressional Democrats to drop a requirement for utilities to meet targets for use of renewable energy, such as solar and wind power.

Bush has also signaled that he'll reject any global warming legislation that includes mandatory carbon limits. The proposals are controversial in Congress as well.

This could mean at least another year of jousting -- and another year of indecision.

For environmentalists, a pause in the rush to coal is a good thing.

"It's the silver lining" in an otherwise clouded energy picture, said Bruce Nilles, who heads the Sierra Club's National Coal Campaign.

More important is which energy sources utilities turn to in its place, he said.

"That's what this is all about: whether they stick with the old way or we transition to a new, clean way of making energy."

Friday, January 18, 2008

"Advertising is legalized lying."

-- H.G. Wells, quoted in Michael Jackman, Crown's Book of Political Quotations, 1982, New York: Crown Publishing Inc., p. 2.

From today's Washington Post:

Coal Industry Plugs Into the Campaign
By Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 18, 2008; D01

A group backed by the coal industry and its utility allies is waging a $35 million campaign in primary and caucus states to rally public support for coal-fired electricity and to fuel opposition to legislation that Congress is crafting to slow climate change.

The group, called Americans for Balanced Energy Choices, has spent $1.3 million on billboard, newspaper, television and radio ads in Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina.

One of its television ads shows a power cord being plugged into a lump of coal, which it calls "an American resource that will help us with vital energy security" and "the fuel that powers our way of life." The ads note that half of U.S. electricity comes from coal-fired plants.

The group has also deployed teams on the campaign trail; about 50 people, many of them paid, walked around as human billboards and handed out leaflets outside Tuesday's Democratic debate in Nevada with questions for voters to ask the candidates.

"In Iowa, there is a saying that you don't get to be president unless you go through Iowa. We'd like to say that you don't get to be president unless you understand how complicated this issue is," Joe Lucas, the group's executive director, said Wednesday night during a stopover en route from Nevada to South Carolina.

The group's message -- that coal-fired power plants can be clean, and that more of them are needed to meet the growing demand for electricity -- comes when opposition to new coal plants is mounting because they generate greenhouse gases. In Kansas, where a state agency rejected a permit for two proposed coal plants, opinion polls show that roughly two out of three people opposed the plants. That sentiment, plus soaring construction costs and uncertainty about federal climate change legislation, last year prompted U.S. companies to abandon or postpone plans to build dozens of new coal plants.

The coal mining industry is fighting back. It increased the budget of the National Mining Association, the industry's main lobbying group, by 20 percent this year, to $19.7 million. Last September, the industry also boosted the budget of Americans for Balanced Energy Choices more than fourfold. The roster of backers includes 28 companies and trade associations such as Peabody Energy, Arch Coal, Duke Energy, Southern Co. and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

The controversy over coal has been especially heated in Nevada, where environmental groups and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid, who represents the state, have opposed construction of three new coal-fired power plants. "They're all dirty," Reid said last fall. He urged utilities to rely on energy efficiency and solar and wind power. (Last year, according to a report issued yesterday by the American Wind Energy Association, wind made up 30 percent of all new electricity generating capacity.)

On Tuesday night, the issue came up during the debate among the three leading Democratic presidential candidates.
Former senator John Edwards said, "I believe we need a moratorium on the building of any more coal-fired power plants unless and until we have the ability to capture and sequester the carbon in the ground."

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) said, "I have said we should not be siting any more coal-powered plants unless they can have the most modern, clean technology. And I want big demonstration projects to figure out how we would capture and sequester carbon."

Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) did not commit himself on coal plants but said Americans had to make their buildings, lighting and appliances "more efficient."

"Yes, we do need to be more energy efficient," Lucas said. "But even as we become more efficient, we're plugging more things into the wall."

The ads being run by Americans for Balanced Energy Choices talk about "clean coal." New power plants are cleaner than they used to be because they must meet more stringent federal regulations limiting such pollutants as nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide. But climate change is linked to carbon dioxide emissions, which are not yet regulated; those emissions have dropped more modestly as plants have become more efficient.

The group's newspaper ads avoid that distinction. They say that today's carbon-fired plants are "70 percent cleaner based on regulated emissions per unit of energy produced." That does not refer to carbon dioxide.

New coal-plant technologies that might capture carbon dioxide and store, or sequester, it underground are expensive, experimental and not in commercial use. But Lucas says carbon capture and storage "is no longer a pipe dream. It's nearing a point where it's real." Many environmentalists argue that until that time, the United States should focus on renewable energy such as solar and wind. Coal advocates say those energy sources cannot be relied on 24 hours a day and, so far, the energy they produce cannot be easily stored.

ABEC's ads, produced by the same firm that made "what happens here stays here" ads to promote Las Vegas to tourists, also talk about "affordable" energy. The group says in a TV ad that the price of coal is one-third that of other fuels. But coal prices have risen, albeit not as much as oil. And environmentalists and economists argue that the price of coal does not include substantial environmental costs.

"We welcome a vigorous debate about our energy future and solving global warming. Unfortunately ABEC is spending millions of dollars on misinformation about our energy choices . . . instead of engaging in a real debate about the true costs of coal and clean energy alternatives," said Bruce Nilles, director of Sierra Club's national coal campaign.

Environmentalists are also worried that the ads aired by ABEC so far are just the beginning of what could be a much bigger offensive once Congress gets down to work on a climate change bill sponsored by Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John W. Warner (R-Va.). An ad targeting that bill is currently being shown on video monitors at the baggage carousels at Dulles International Airport.

In 1993, an ad campaign by the health-care industry featuring a fictional couple named Harry and Louise helped torpedo the Clinton administration's health-care proposal. Now, some supporters of the Lieberman-Warner bill fear that the coal industry may use a similar strategy to kill legislation aimed at slowing climate change by stressing potential consumer costs and not the societal benefits.

"Big coal may launch a 'Harry and Louise'-style disinformation campaign to sink global warming solutions in Congress," said Daniel J. Weiss, senior fellow and director of climate strategy for the Center for American Progress.

One of the coal industry group's radio ads hints at those themes. A woman asks: "How can we become less dependent on foreign resources? What fuels will keep power bills reasonable and be environmentally responsible?" A man responds, "We have many questions for our candidates, and coal has to be part of the discussion."

Lucas is working on that. Last year, he wrote letters that appeared in a dozen newspapers. On Tuesday, he appeared on Nevada public radio. On Wednesday, the group's views were quoted approvingly in an editorial in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "We're getting the message out," Lucas said.

Hemingway Weekly Observer says "NO"

More and more folks are seeing through the smoke screen that is Santee Cooper's proposed coal burning facility in the Pee Dee.

The true costs are too high; the alternatives are too good to ignore.

This is a rough approximation of the Hemingway Weekly Observer's opinion, expressed wonderfully in print yesterday. We applaud this publication for joining journalists in Georgetown, Beaufort, and Hilton Head in courageously speaking out against this terrible investment for our state.

Much of the supposed benefit of the coal plant is illusionary
Thursday, Jan 17, 2008 - 10:33 AM Updated: 11:12 AM
The Weekly Observer, Hemingway, SC

While I am a strong supporter of bringing jobs and economic stability to the area, a lot of research and thoughtful reflection has led me to oppose the building of the coal plant.

I believe the true costs are being glossed over, and the benefits are exaggerated. One issue that has been ignored is that almost all of South Carolina’s energy dollars - about 18 billion dollars - are going out of state, which is a huge drain on our economy. Hydroelectric is only about 3% of our energy and that is reduced during drought years. The rest goes to purchase coal, gas and other fuels from out of state. The development of more energy sources from within the state, such as wind and solar power, would help us keep those dollars circulating at home.

An interview by Walter Edgar of the State Energy Officer, John Clark last weekend gave these figures and clarified many of the issues and problems with coal plants, as well as outlining some of the alternative energy sources.

Further, the real cost of the energy production from coal is not being paid by the generating agencies, or the users.

While technology has somewhat reduced the pollution, it has not removed it, and some pollutants like mercury are almost impossible to clean up. Mercury has already made it risky to eat fresh water fish from most of our state’s rivers. Acid rain degrades all our environment by weakening and killing plants, and by corroding metals and dissolving mortar and concrete. And carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere creates climate changes that could flood our coastline and create more superstorms.

Added to that are the thousands of acres of some of the most beautiful land in our nation being turned into a wasteland that is almost useless for anything. As a former resident of Kentucky, I’ve seen the barren piles of mine waste, the mountaintops that are chopped off, and the streams that are poisoned by strip mining. I’ve seen the people who are displaced, others whose lives are shortened by exposure to coal dust.

Whenever we are able to slough off the real costs of our actions to others or to a faceless public, it requires a strong moral sense to do the right thing.

Perhaps it would be easier to consider the moral import of our actions when we realize that, in effect, we are passing on the full costs of our cheap energy to our children and grandchildren.

To be truly moral, we must design our systems to be sustainable - if our descendants will be impoverished by what we do, it is wrong.

There is enough wind power along our coastline to produce, in an environmentally benign way, the equivalent of the entire electrical production of either of our state’s largest utilities, said Clark.

Clark noted that there are state and federal tax breaks, so that anyone who installs solar panels can have 55% of the installation cost paid for. Once installed, there is little further cost for many years.

Some critics say that if solar power needs subsidies to compete, it’s not a good idea, but what is not well known is that coal has had a lot of subsidies for many years.

Finally Clark noted the cost of two new coal plants would run about 2 billion dollars, with another 8-10 billion to buy fuel and maintain the plants for their life span. The same amount of money invested in energy savings through more efficient use, could more than match the production of these plants.

My own experience tends to confirm this. Replacing our outdated home heating and air system with an energy efficient unit halved the electric bill.

Over a year ago I discovered a brand-new type of light bulb that cuts energy use by about three quarters to produce the same amount of light. We’ve been replacing our home lights with these bulbs. The best part is that they last for many years - a big help when it comes to replacing bulbs in hard-to-get-at places. These bulbs were hardly known a year ago; now there is a move to federally mandate them.

Another help is the move toward “green” homes, which are engineered for energy efficiency. The cost of a new green building runs about 3% more, but the savings in energy over its life span runs 15% or more.

We need to think of the earth as an island. A study of island cultures showed that some people learned how to live within the resources that were available and these cultures lasted. Others did not plan their lives as well. When they used up their resources, they died out.

If we expect to continue our culture, we must learn to live within our means. One small part of this is NOT to build another coal plant. We must seek sustainable alternatives.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Moratorium in the Heartland

A news roundup as the notion of a coal moratorium gains salience nationally and regionally:

Of course, this week, Democratic Candidate John Edwards announced that he would support a moratorium on new coal plants (even going so far as to oppose Santee Cooper's Pee Dee coal plant).

It is worth noting that the Black Hawk County Board of Health has also backed a coal moratorium in response to a proposal for a new coal plant in Waterloo, Iowa. The health board cited air pollution, most notably particulate matter, as their rationale for supporting the ban. Breathing particulate matter, or extremely fine soot, leads to asthma, bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, decreased lung function in children, heart attacks, inflammation of lung tissue, lung cancer, and premature deaths. They also cited carbon dioxide pollution, which drives global warming, and mercury as reasons for their decision.

In opting to voice their support for a coal moratorium in Iowa, the health board was following the recommendations of an independent, statewide study conducted at the University of Northern Iowa. There report is available here (part I) and here (part II).

South Carolinians interested in the facts should reqeust an independent, academic-quality study of Santee Cooper's proposal too.

Finally, Iowans have been responding to a poll on KWWL TV that poses the question: "Do you support a statewide ban on coal plants?" Click here and scroll down the page to view the poll and its results. They may surprise you.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


From Reuters:

Coalitions geared to block U.S. coal development
Tue Jan 15, 2008 1:08pm EST

By Eileen O'Grady

HOUSTON, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Environmentally-minded coalitions are working overtime to block construction of all new coal-fired power plants in the United States after a "watershed" year in 2007 when plans for dozens of coal units were delayed or scrapped, said one environmentalist.

After years of limited success against power-plant construction, concerned groups were buoyed last year by action in California and Florida to restrict imports of power produced from coal. Coal generators release about 40 percent of U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide, a gas blamed for global warming.

Even more supportive was a Kansas ruling that denied permits to build new coal units by Sunflower Electric.

"Kansas was a major, major victory," said Bruce Nilles, director of the Sierra Club's national effort to block coal plants. "In 2008, we will really begin to act on stopping the majority of these coal plants."

State regulators in Montana Friday rejected a request from environmentalists to require a cooperative to install the same controls on CO2 - which is not regulated in the U.S. - as it plans to use on regulated pollutants at a new coal plant, but the fight is far from over, said Abigail Dillen, an attorney with Earthjustice.

Dillen said the group will appeal a decision by the Montana Board of Environmental Review in favor of the 250-megawatt Highwood plant proposed by Southern Montana Electric. Highwood is also being challenged in federal court over its long-term funding source, the U.S. Rural Utilities Service, Dillen said.

In Georgia, an environmental group said it would appeal last week's ruling to uphold issuance of an air permit for Dynegy's (DYN.N: Quote, Profile, Research) 1,200-MW Longleaf coal plant.

While opponents said developers did not thoroughly evaluate the plant's impact on air quality, Dynegy spokesman David Byford said its joint venture with LS Power builds generation based on the needs of utilities that will buy the power.

"We're going with the technology that we believe our customers are asking us for," said Byford.

In Arkansas, local landowners plan to appeal last month's regulatory ruling to grant a certificate of need to a unit of American Electric Power Co (AEP.N: Quote, Profile, Research) to build a 600-MW coal plant in Hempstead County. An appeal will be filed this month at the Arkansas Court of Appeals, said Little Rock attorney Chuck Nestrud.

In Kentucky, a coalition, including the Sierra Club, the National Parks Conservation Association and others, has notified the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that it may file a lawsuit after that agency failed to act on a petition opposing Peabody Energy's (BTU.N: Quote, Profile, Research) 1,500-MW Thoroughbred coal plant in Muhlenberg County.

While the strategy differs from state to state, the groundswell of opposition to coal projects grew steadily in 2007, said the Sierra Club's Nilles.

"We're seeing a lot of action on the state level on a scale we've never seen before that is really taking the market away from the coal industry by requiring a certain amount of generation to be from renewables," such as wind and solar power, Nilles said.

New coalitions combine traditional environmentalists, local landowners, religious groups and elected officials.

"It is now a broad cross-section of people who say we need urgent action on global warming," Nilles said. "The first thing we need to do is not dig the hole any deeper" with new coal plants.

Building new coal plants locks the country into a supply of carbon-intensive power and may hurt investment in renewable technology and efforts to increase efficient use of power which can slow the growth in demand for new generation, he said.

Utilities and the coal industry argue that new coal plants can operate with lower emissions than are needed to guarantee a reliable source of future power generation. (Editing by Marguerita Choy)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Now we know who Santee Cooper will not vote for

SC: Edwards Calls for Ban on Coal Plants
By PAGE IVEY 01.14.08, 4:54 PM ET

Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards on Monday said a proposed coal-fired power plant shouldn't be built in northeastern South Carolina, continuing his call for a ban on those facilities.

"My view is that needs to stop," Edwards said of the $1 billion, 600-megawatt plant set to be built along the Pee Dee River in this early voting state. Santee Cooper officials are awaiting a final permit from state environmental regulators.

The utility's officials say they need the plant to meet energy demands, and can't wait for newer or cleaner energy to be developed, but have said the plant will be
environmentally responsible. They hope to have it running about 2012.

Edwards, a former North Carolina senator, told about 150 people at a campus of Coastal Carolina University that coal-fired plants are "taking a bad situation and
making it worse."

He also said he was opposed to new nuclear power plants and that the U.S. has no credibility in global warming discussions. "We are the worst polluter on the planet," Edwards said.

He took a swipe at rival Hillary Rodham Clinton, saying the New York senator takes more money from power industry interests than any other presidential candidate.

"We have to have a president willing to stand up to the oil and gas industry," Edwards said.

Despite poll numbers that show him consistently in third place in South Carolina, Edwards has contended he can win over voters when people hear his message.

"That was the reason we extended the tour here because we were getting such a positive response," Edwards told reporters after the town hall meeting.

A CBS (nyse: CBS - news - people ) News poll last month showed Edwards with just 13 percent of the vote compared with Barack Obama's 35 percent and Clinton's 34 percent. Edwards, a South Carolina native, won the 2004 Democratic primary win here and hopes to repeat that victory Jan. 26.

His focus on reducing pollution won over at least one undecided voter Monday.

"I liked what he had to say, particularly about environmental issues,"said Suzer Sachs, 59, of Myrtle Beach, who came to the town hall meeting at a friend's invitation. "He addressed them more seriously than other candidates."


From today's Post and Courier, and AP article on the national coal fight (with reference to our very own contest, here in SC).

Fight against coal plants heating up

Environmentalists see more success battling powerful coal interests, but the need for this reliable fuel unlikely to disappear soon
Associated Press
Tuesday, January 15, 2008


In federal and state courtrooms across the country, environmental groups are putting coal-fueled power plants on trial in a bid to slow the industry's biggest construction boom in decades.

At least four dozen coal plants are being contested in 29 states, according to a recent Associated Press tally. The targeted utilities include giants like Peabody Energy and American Electric Power down to small rural cooperatives. It also includes a proposed coal-fired plant that state-owned Santee Cooper wants to build in Florence County, S.C.

From lawsuits and administrative appeals against the companies, to lobbying pressure on federal and state regulators, the coordinated offensive against coal is emerging as a pivotal front in the debate over global warming.

"Our goal is to oppose these projects at each and every stage, from zoning and air and water permits to their mining permits and new coal railroads," said Bruce Nilles, a Sierra Club attorney who directs the group's national coal campaign. "They know they don't have an answer to global warming, so they're fighting for their life."

Industry representatives say the environmentalists' actions threaten to undermine the country's fragile power grid, setting the stage for a future of high-priced electricity and uncontrollable blackouts.

"These projects won't be denied, but they can be delayed by those who oppose any new energy projects," said Vic Svec, vice president of the mining and power company Peabody Energy.

While observers say forecasts of power grid doom are exaggerated, the importance of coal — one of the country's cheapest and most abundant fuels — is undeniable.

Coal plants provide slightly more than 50 percent of U.S. electricity. They also are the largest domestic source of carbon dioxide, emitting 2 billion tons annually, about a third of the country's total.

Environmental groups cite 59 canceled, delayed or blocked plants as evidence they are turning back the "coal rush." That stacks up against 22 new plants now under construction in 14 states — the most in more than two decades.

Mining companies, utilities and coal-state politicians promote coal in the name of national security, as an alternative to foreign fuels. With hundreds of years of reserves still in the ground, they're also pushing coal-to-diesel plants as a way to sharply increase domestic production.

The outcome of the fight over coal could determine the nation's greenhouse gas emissions for years to come, said Gregory Nemet, assistant professor of public affairs at the University of Wisconsin.

"It's pretty much irreversible," Nemet said. "Once a coal plant is built, it will last 50 years or so."

But in opposing coal projects across the board, environmentalists risk hobbling more advanced coal plants that could rein in at least some of those emissions, Nemet said. He added that rising demand for electricity means more power "has to come from somewhere."

"There's too much pressure — in terms of energy independence and the inexpensiveness of that resource — to not use that coal," Nemet said.

One of the latest challenges to a utility came in the heart of coal country — Montana, which boasts the largest coal reserves in the nation.

On Friday, a state panel refused to rescind an air-quality permit it had granted for a plant proposed for the Great Falls area by Southern Montana Electric, despite concerns about the plant's carbon dioxide emissions. The 250-megawatt plant is projected to emit the equivalent of 2.8 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, as much as a half-million vehicles.

The Montana Environmental Information Center, which had asked the panel to review the permit, vowed to appeal the ruling.

Nilles said the Sierra Club spent about $1 million on such efforts in 2007 and hopes to ratchet that figure up to $10 million this year.

Meanwhile, coal interests are pouring even more into a promotional campaign launched by the industry group Americans for Balanced Energy Choices. It spent $15 million last year and expects to more than double that to $35 million in 2008, said the group's director, Joe Lucas.

Funding for the group comes from coal mining and utility companies such as Peabody and railroads that depend on coal shipments for a large share of their revenues.

Peabody's Svec acknowledged a rush to build new plants, but denied the goal was to beat any of at least seven bills pending before Congress to restrict carbon dioxide emissions — a charge leveled by some environmentalists.

Rather, he said, the construction boom is driven by projections that the country will fall into a power deficit within the next decade if new plants are not built.

Industry attorney Jeffrey Holmstead said that could lead to a future of rolling blackouts as the economy expands and electricity consumption increases. Holmstead was in charge of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's air program during the first five years of the current Bush administration.

The power deficit cited by industry officials is based on projections from the North American Electric Reliability Corp. David Nevius, NERC vice president, said his group is "neutral" on what kind of plants should be built to meet rising demand.

"We're not saying the lights will go out. We're just saying additional resources are needed," Nevius said. "We don't say coal over gas over wind over solar."

Utilities currently burn more than 1 billion tons of coal annually in more than 600 plants. Over the next two decades, the Bush administration projects coal's share of electricity generation will increase to almost 60 percent.

That projection held steady in recent months even as courts and regulators turned back, delayed or asked for changes to plants in at least nine states.

Other projects in Utah, Texas, Wyoming, Florida and several other states have been abandoned or shelved.

Some were canceled over global warming concerns. Utilities backed off others after their price tags climbed over $1 billion due to rising costs for materials and skilled labor.

Environmental opposition to coal plants was galvanized by a U.S. Supreme Court decision in April that said carbon dioxide is a pollutant open to regulation.

The case, Massachusetts vs. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, involved vehicle emissions. But environmentalists aim to use the decision as a fulcrum to leverage regulators to take a harder line on greenhouse gases in several emerging power plant disputes.

The result could serve as an early barometer of the reach of the Supreme Court ruling.

More tests of the two sides' arguments are certain. Industry groups say at least 15 coal-fired power projects are nearing the end of the approval process and could soon start construction.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Coal , Global Warming, and how SC can Help

From today's Grist a forceful opinion piece by Ed Mazaria. Mazaria fronts Architecture 2030, an outfit known for its powerful sea-level rise images and aggressive climate change messaging.

There is a silver-bullet solution to global warming

The dialogue between this country's youth and key decision-makers during the important Focus the Nation (FTN) event on January 31st has the potential to become diluted and confused. If it does, another opportunity to move a segment of the country towards seriously addressing climate change will have been wasted.

Shotgun Approach Falls Short

Although every personal effort at reducing energy use and greenhouse-gas emissions is laudable and helps change the way we think about global warming, taking the shotgun approach to emissions reductions is simply not enough. Time is extremely short, and we must act immediately and boldly if we are to avert a climate crisis.

The Silver Bullet

Contrary to what many are saying, there is a "silver bullet" solution to global warming, and it is time we, as a nation, faced up to it.

By calling for "no more coal," we not only immediately cap GHG emissions, but we also meet the reductions needed to avert dangerous climate change. Why? Because coal is the only fossil fuel plentiful and supposedly cheap enough to push the planet to 450 parts per million of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere -- the threshold set by the scientific community beyond which we will trigger dangerous tipping points.

What does "no more coal" mean? It means first a U.S. and then a global moratorium on the construction of any new conventional, GHG-emitting coal plants, and the gradual phasing out of existing plants by 2050. This results in an immediate cap on GHG emissions while allowing time to retrain coal workers for other jobs.

Oil and gas consumption will not get us to 450 ppm CO2 in the atmosphere. We are now reaching the peak in global oil and, soon, natural gas production. As oil and gas peak, production and consumption will decline, prices will increase, and alternative fuels will become more economically attractive. After they peak, oil and gas depletion rates will stretch out over many years. To quote NASA's Dr. James Hansen from his recent personal testimony before the Iowa Utilities Board:

It is clear that Congress does not "get it." They stand ready to set a goal of 60% reductions, 80%, 90%! Horse manure. Those are meaningless numbers, serving nothing but their campaign purposes. Before you cast a vote for a politician, ask whether they will support actions that can actually solve the problem.

The most important question, by far, is the moratorium on new coal-fired power plants in the United States and Europe, the places that have created the climate problem. Until we take that action, we have no basis for a successful discussion with China, India, and other developing countries.

Coal will determine whether we continue to increase climate change or slow the human impact. Increased fossil fuel CO2 in the air today, compared to the pre-industrial atmosphere, is due 50% to coal, 35% to oil, and 15% to gas. As oil resources peak, coal will determine future CO2 levels."

If we do not stop coal, we do not make it. It's that simple.

The beauty of a "silver bullet" solution to the climate crisis is that it joins us together around a single, powerful goal, concentrating our efforts and magnifying our effectiveness in solving the problem1.

Face It Webcast on January 30-31, 2008

To get this message out, and to show how we can meet our energy needs without coal, the nonprofit research organization Architecture 2030 will be hosting a nationwide webcast, called Face It: There is a Solution to Global Warming. To help kick off and input the Focus the Nation dialogue, the Face It webcast will be broadcast from Architecture 2030's website, It can be viewed any time after 9:00 a.m. EST on January 30, making it easy to substitute the half-hour webcast for classes or watch together in an office meeting.

During the webcast, Architecture 2030 will unveil two competitions about the solution to global warming, with $20,000 in prize money. Students will be asked to create something (you'll have to tune in to the webcast to learn what) that will reverberate throughout their campus and society at large.

The Face It webcast will build on the information provided during Architecture 2030's highly successful webcast, The 2010 Imperative Global Emergency Teach-in. The Teach-in, which broadcast live in February 2007, reached a quarter of a million students, design professionals, and government officials worldwide (in 47 countries).

Georgetown Flunks "Energy Campus"

Late last Fall, the Georgetown City Council voted 5-1 to decline a resolution supporting Santee Cooper's proposed coal-burner on the Great Pee Dee. Georgetown is downstream of the plant and is justifiably concerned about the environmental impact of the project, including its effect on the water quality and availability of water from the river.

Today's Georgetown Times included the following editorial on the cynically-titled "Pee Dee Energy Campus" (that is, the coal plant):

Cost of mercury pollution

Sherod Cooper, 7, caught a 7.5-pound largemouth bass near Socastee in the Intracoastal Waterway a few weeks ago. It must have been a big thrill to reel in such a catch, and his family likely enjoyed a fish dinner soon afterward.

He should have thrown the big bass back. Fish caught in mercury polluted South Carolina waters are unsafe to eat. Largemouth bass and catfish are so contaminated in some rivers that DHEC says people should not eat a single bite.

Such toxins in our region’s waters have moved DHEC to post warning signs at coastal boat landings for people not to eat fish they catch.

Yet, South Carolina is displaying a split personality over this harmful pollution.

DHEC has begun an intensive review of mercury pollution that may include a first-ever study into whether the poisonous metal is harming South Carolinians.

Santee Cooper, the state’s own electric company, is proposing to build a $1 billion coal-fired power plant near Pamplico and Kingsburg south of Florence along the Little Pee Dee River. Though it’s name is a futuristic-sounding Energy Campus, opponents say the new plant will emit a projected 138 pounds of mercury per year.

Santee Cooper has been running a series of newspaper ads hinting that the state could go dark without the new coal plant. The real fear is that the cost of power will rise.

Santee Cooper directs readers to its website where it promises to use the best available environmental control technology and generate power in an environmentally responsible way. It plans to generate 40 percent (more than four times present levels) of its energy from non-greenhouse gas emitting resources, biomass fuels, efficiency and conservation by 2020.

Grace Gifford of the Five Rivers Meeting, Religious Society of Friends, says the new Pee Dee plant does not include Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle or carbon sequestration technologies and does not represent state-of-the-art.

Mercury is a neurotoxin linked to human illnesses like birth defects, nerve disorders and heart failure. Mercury becomes toxic methyl mercury in our rivers.

One pound of mercury is enough to contaminate 500,000 fish. People and particularly children eating contaminated fish are at risk. According to a recent article in the Charleston Post and Courier, there are mercury “hot spots” that form a “Mercury Triangle” of contaminated fish around the proposed coal plant. All three rivers near the proposed site, the Little Pee Dee, the Lynches and the Great Pee Dee are contaminated with mercury according to DHEC.

“Don’t worry; be happy,” is no way think in a state that is among the leaders in infant mortality until some meaningful data is collected on the effects of accumulated mercury in the mothers of those dead babies.

Mercury is only one of the pollutants associated with burning coal. Of the 14 major industries in Florence County, seven emit between 6,900 and 4,271,543 pounds of pollutants annually, according to a toxic releases inventory on the website

Close to 600 people, many of them in the Kingsburg and Pamplico areas, have signed a petition opposing the plant. Their voices deserve to be heard before a plant is built that will extend coal-burning through this century.

Until the effects of mercury pollution on people are understood more fully, the state should not approve a project that will put more into our air and water. The human cost is too high.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Mercury Saga Continues (and Continues...?) in South Carolina

DHEC refuses to test people for mercury poisoning, but hints at an interest at doing an epidemiological study -- were the funds to do so available. Meanwhile, its gone ahead and issued a draft permit for a coal plant that would dump over 100 pound of mercury into the atmosphere. Are they doing enough to protect us?

See the latest in an article from the Post and Courier below:

Mercury pollution goes under DHEC microscope
By Tony Bartelme

The Post and Courier

Friday, January 11, 2008

COLUMBIA — Amid rising concerns over mercury, the state has begun an intensive review of mercury pollution that may include a first-ever study into whether the poisonous metal is harming South Carolinians, the state's top health official said Thursday.

Recent news reports and the debate over a proposed coal-fired power plant in the Pee Dee sparked the agency's new push, said Earl Hunter, commissioner of the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.

"Given that attention, I thought it was time to take a comprehensive look at its prevalence in the environment and its impact on our citizens," Hunter said.

The agency's move comes in the wake of a recent Post and Courier series that identified mercury hot spots in South

Carolina. Last year, the newspaper collected hair samples from people who ate fish from these hot spots and found some had dangerously high levels of mercury in their bodies.

The series also exposed how coal-fired power plants, cement factories and incinerators, many around Charleston, annually emit thousands of pounds of mercury into the air. It showed how DHEC tests more than 1,800 fish every year but had never checked to see whether mercury was harming people.

The series prompted protests in Florence over Santee Cooper's plan to build a coal-fired power plant in the Mercury Triangle, an area bounded by the Great Pee Dee, Little Pee Dee and Lynches rivers that has some of the state's most mercury-contaminated fish. It also prompted a group of physicians to write Hunter in November and urge DHEC to begin testing people immediately for mercury.

During DHEC's monthly board meeting, Hunter acknowledged the physicians' letters but said it would be difficult to set up a large-scale system to test people.

He said a better approach is to do a targeted epidemiological study. His agency also has begun looking at better ways to warn the public of mercury's dangers. By March, for instance, DHEC will begin posting warning signs at boat landings.

Conservation groups applauded DHEC's move.

For years, "there's been a lack of epidemiological studies for pollutants like mercury and port pollution that are having huge impacts on people," said Nancy Vinson of the Coastal Conservation League. "This is great news."

Tiny amounts of mercury can be dangerous. The equivalent of one drop can contaminate fish in a 20-acre lake. The substance builds up in people's tissues when they eat certain species of fish, especially predators such as largemouth bass and catfish. At high-enough levels, it can cause nerve damage, heart disorders and other health problems.

Last year, South Carolina issued warnings for people to avoid or limit consumption of fish in more than 1,700 miles of rivers, mostly in the coastal plain.

Hunter said the agency has worked hard to warn people about mercury, distributing roughly 50,000 pamphlets a year explaining which fish are safe to eat and which ones people should avoid. The agency also worked with the auto industry and Nucor, a major mercury polluter, to encourage auto salvage companies to remove mercury switches from junk cars before they're sent to smelters.

But he said a comprehensive program developed in Louisiana could serve as a model for what might be done here. That state has done extensive studies on fish, people and the sources of mercury pollution. He added that the Louisiana state legislature funded that program, and that his agency so far has no such funding.

Reach Tony Bartelme at 937-5554 or

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Do you love mountains? (Santee Cooper, ABEC don't)

I received this letter from the group yesterday. They're a coalition of 7 non profit groups representing five states across Appalachia. They work to protect the southern mountains from coal mining practices known as "mountain top removal" -- a practice that would be considered barbaric if it were practiced, say in South American, but is apparently legal in the good ole USA. Santee Cooper's proposed coal plant will received its coal from Appalachia as a result of mountain top removal mining. More on that topic in future posts:

Dear Rusty,

If you've been watching cable news, you've probably seen the television ads from the coal industry that tout coal as a "clean energy" that provides "America's power."

Why is the coal industry suddenly spending so much money on the airwaves, trying to convince Americans that coal is good for them?

They're doing so because as the public learns the dirty secrets behind so-called "clean" coal" -- from the more than 450 mountains destroyed by mountaintop removal mining to coal's role in contributing to global warming -- they're doubting the coal industry's contention that expanding the use of coal is worth the high costs to our environment.

That's why the coal industry is going on the offense with a full-scale PR blitz featuring media buys and fake "astroturf campaigns" in the early presidential primary states.

For example, in South Carolina -- a state that relies upon mountaintop removal coal to power its coal plants -- an industry front group called Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (ABEC) has launched TV and print advertising alongside a new website to influence the debate over coal during this month's presidential primary:

[The ABEC website features an] array of young people, many of whom appear to be under 10 years of age, enlighten visitors about the happy, hunky-dory world of coal. Alicia sets down her book bag to explain how coal and environmentalism go hand in hand, while young Sarah tells how we have more energy in the form of coal than the Middle East has in oil. "I'm doing my homework," she says. "You do yours too."

The website is part of a multimillion dollar campaign by ABEC to promote American coal interests. They estimate they'll spend around $200,000 in S.C. during this election cycle, and they're focusing on newspaper and television advertisements..... ABEC also appears to have a dedicated staff of bloggers and public relations folks — within hours of a recent post about coal on City Paper blogs, their representatives had left comments in favor of the industry.

ABEC doesn't deny that they're funded by power, mining, and shipping industry interests....

But across the country, people like you are standing up to prevent the greenwashing of the coal industry and to get the truth out about the high cost of coal to our nation's environment and the mountains we love.

And in 2007, you made incredible gains:

-More than 25,000 Americans have pledged to end mountaintop removal mining (MTR) on
-An incredible 122 cosponsors in Congress are now supporting the Clean Water Protection Act , which would sharply curtail mountaintop removal coal mining
-More than ten thousand letters have been sent to Congress and the Office of Surface Mining, urging Congress to act to stop MTR and demanding that the Bush administration leave alone rules that protect our mountains and streams from the destructive waste of MTR coal mining.

Your efforts are part of a nationwide movement that is putting pressure on the coal industry to clean up its act on multiple fronts. For example:

-More than 50 proposed coal plants have been defeated in recent years, with more than 60 proposed coal plants being fought around the country
-CARMA (Carbon Monitoring for Action) have unveiled an online campaign that reveals the carbon emissions of more than 50,000 power plants and 4,000 power companies in every country on Earth.
-Our own My Connection campaign is raising awareness of how power companies across the United States are helping to fund mountaintop removal coal mining through the purchase of dirty coal.

These efforts are just the beginning. In 2008, we have a plan to ensure that the debate over coal and mountaintop removal coal mining remains at center stage.

The coal industry may be gearing up for a fight -- but so are we.

In the coming weeks, I'll be writing more about what we have in store for the coming year. But you can help grow the movement today by forwarding this email to five family members or friends. Ask them to join you in pledging to stop mountaintop removal coal mining in 2008. They can join by clicking here:

Thank you for everything you do.

Mary Anne Hitt

Fun w/ Coal?

Since unscrupulous groups like Americans for Balanced Energy choices are spending tens of thousands of dollars on advertisements to convince us that coal is the best thing since sliced bread (and not one of the dirtiest things on the planet), and since our state public service authority, Santee Cooper is spending tens of thousands of ratepayers’ dollars on their website, on media consultants, and other efforts to make us think that their “Pee Dee Energy Campus” has nothing to do with coal (when, in fact, it is nothing BUT a coal plant), we thought we’d post a couple slick coal advertisements too:

Here's another one from Kansas, where a coal plant was recently blocked by that state's equivalent of SC DHEC.

(Readers, create & send us your own coal ad's and we'll post 'em on this blog.)

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Something New Under the Sun

Renewable energy will never be able to power a significant portion of South Caroliana's electricity needs because it is too unreliable. The power will go out when the sun isn't shining or the (offshore) wind isn't blowing. Right?


This is just an engineering challenge to be met by SMART engineers. German university researchers recently completed a pilot study indicating that their nation could feasibly generate 100% of its energy needs from renewable energy.

And they made a video about it (in English)! If the Germans can do it, why can't we?

New coal power plant won't help Pee Dee's economy

And Santee Cooper's customers could get stuck with high bills

Published: Saturday, January 5, 2008 - 2:00 am
The Greenville News

By Nancy Cave

Economic development and jobs are needed for the people of the Pee Dee. Unfortunately, a new coal plant will not make good on promises to deliver prosperity to this region.

Recently, Santee Cooper touted the release of an economic study of the utility's proposed billion-dollar coal plant. Conducted by Francis Marion University economists, the report highlighted the claim that the coal-burner would create more than 9,000 jobs.

Is this claim true?

Santee Cooper's own assessment of the project, completed a little more than a year ago, stated that construction of the plant will create only about 1,000 temporary construction jobs, at least 10 percent of which are expected to be sourced outside of the Pee Dee region. The utility estimated only 100 full-time jobs, at least 20 percent of which will be sourced outside of the Pee Dee.

Why the discrepancy in the job numbers? Surprisingly, the answer comes from Santee Cooper's own press release, in which it acknowledges collapsing the timetable into one year; the result multiplies the reported impacts by as much as a factor of five.

Suppose you started a new business this year and you hired five people. If over the next five years you kept these same five people on your staff and didn't hire any new employees, how many people have you employed? If you are honest, you would say five. Based on the method used in the economic study on Santee Cooper, on the other hand, you could insist you have employed 25 people!

Why must Santee Cooper resort to this kind of accounting to justify the construction of its proposed coal plant?

The truth is that this is not a project that will revitalize a region. For a billion-dollar investment, we ought to do better than 80 long-term jobs for the Pee Dee.

There are at least three reasons why Santee Cooper's coal plant will not deliver significant economic benefits to the Pee Dee or the state.

First, a true accounting of the coal plant would show that its costs outweigh its benefits. Second, rather than increasing the state's prosperity, this coal plant would merely transfer wealth across regions; and third, by building the plant, South Carolina misses the opportunity to invest in projects that would do more for the wealth of the Pee Dee and the state.

Any consideration of the benefits of the proposed coal plant is only half the story. Costs must be considered too. As it turns out, the costs of building a coal plant are high. According to a study conducted by the government of Ontario, when the adverse health and environmental impacts of coal are considered, a coal plant's cost can increase by as much as five times, making nearly any other means of generating electricity a better idea.

Another cost that should not be ignored is the cost of carbon. Polluters do not have to pay for their carbon dioxide emissions today, but most observers agree that the federal government will require them to very soon. When that happens, it could increase the cost of Santee Cooper's coal plant by anywhere from $20 million to $40 million annually, according to the utility's own estimates.

Guess who will get stuck with these steep bills? The answer is the residents of the Pee Dee and Santee Cooper's own electricity customers. Residents of the Pee Dee will pay in the form of higher health-care bills and reduced land values, for example, while Santee Cooper's customers will face rising bills.

Indeed, instead of generating economic benefits, a new coal plant would really just move money from the pockets of some South Carolinians to others. Excluding the cost of carbon, double-digit rate increases have been projected in other states where coal is being considered. This state needs real economic development, not a transfer of wealth.

Finally, committing to a coal plant skips over alternatives that could both meet our need for power and provide greater economic growth. For instance, a recent study conducted by the Renewable Energy Policy Project, in partnership with United Steelworkers, indicated that a 10-year effort to generate electricity from renewable resources could create more than 20,000 long-term manufacturing jobs in our state, nearly 2,000 of which would be sourced in the Pee Dee.

So 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.

Coal's Bad Year

As we start a new year, it always good to look back on the year that has passed us by – and it’s been a bad year for coal!

Here’s hoping 2008 is even worse and that Santee Cooper abandons its ill-considered plan to move forward with a massive coal-burning facility.

Meanwhile, take a look at the list of proposed coal plants that were stopped last year (from

• Sunflower Electric Power Corporation (Kansas) - proposed 1,400 megawatt (MW) coal plant denied air permit by Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) due to concerns about global warming. The Director of KDHE stated that it would be "irresponsible" to ignore global warming concerns when evaluating whether to build a new plant. October 2007.

• Southwestern Power Group’s Bowie Power Station (Arizona) - proposed 600 MW IGCC coal plant canceled by company in favor of pursuing a natural gas fired plant, in part because of market economics and regulatory uncertainty. September 2007.

• Florida Power & Light’s Glades Power Plant (Florida) - proposed 1,960 MW power plant rejected by Florida Public Service Commission due, in part, to the uncertainty over the cost of future carbon regulations. July 2007.

• American Electric Power and Oklahoma Gas & Electric’s Red Rock Generating Station (Oklahoma) - proposed 950 MW plant rejected by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission for failure to evaluate alternatives such as natural gas. September 2007.

• Tenaska’s Sallisaw Electric Generating Plant (Oklahoma) - company cancelled its plans to build a 660-880 MW plant on the grounds that it is not economically viable. July 2007.

• Peabody Coal Company’s Thoroughbred Generating Station (Kentucky) - air permit for 1500 MW plant reversed by Franklin Circuit Court due to inadequate air pollution control analysis. August 2007.

• Seminole Electric Power Cooperative’s Seminole 3 Generating Station (Florida) - proposed 750 MW plant rejected by Florida Department of Environmental Protection on the grounds that the plant would not minimize environmental and public health impacts, and would not serve the public interest. August 2007.

• Great Northern Power Development’s South Heart Power Project (North Dakota) - applicant withdrew air permit application for 500 MW plant. August 2007.

• Florida Municipal Power Agency’s Taylor Energy Center (Florida) - proposed 800 MW plant withdrawn by applicant shortly after Florida PSC denied application for Glades Power Plant. July 2007.

• TXU Corporation (Texas) (March 2007) - as part of a buyout of TXU Corporation by private equity firms, TXU announced that it would abandon plans for eight out of eleven proposed plants in Texas. July 2007.

• Duke Energy’s Cliffside Steam Station Modernization (North Carolina) - proposal for one of two 800 MW coal-fired plants rejected by North Carolina Utilities Commission, due to increase in estimated construction costs. March 2007.

• Westar Energy’s Coal Plant Project (Kansas) - company deferred plan for new 600 MW plant because of significant increase in estimated construction costs. December 2006.14 Westar later launched a 300 MW wind power project, Kansas’ largest. Wind project is expected to be producing energy by the end of 2008, with possibility of an additional 200 MW available by year end 2010. October 2007.

• Idaho Power (Idaho) - company canceled plans produce 250 MW from coal-fired plants by 2013; adopted new plans to develop a natural gas turbine in Idaho by 2012, and to add 101 MW of wind power and 45.5 MW of geothermal power by 2011. November 2007.

• Avista Utilities (Washington) - company plans to sell more electricity generated by natural gas plants and wind turbines, and not invest in new coal power plants. Avista’s twenty-year plan, as submitted to the state government, includes the sale of some 275 MW available from a natural-gas power plant in Lancaster, WA. September 2007.

• Xcel Energy (Colorado) - company agreed to obtain 775 MW of wind power to supplement power from 750 MW coal plant it is building near Pueblo, CO. July 2007.

• Xcel Energy (Colorado) - company plans to roughly double its renewable generation capacity by 2015 and close two coal-burning plants in the state, the Araphoe Generating Station in Denver and the Cameo Generating Station east of Grand Junction.

Monday, January 7, 2008

DHEC to Consider Human Testing for Mercury

From yesterday's edition of The State

State health officials will discuss testing mercury levels in people as concerns about growing levels of the pollutant in state waters has led to warning signs at boat landings in South Carolina.

The state Department of Health and Environmental Control has warned people not to eat certain species of fish found in parts of South Carolina’s rivers, mostly along the coast, because of contamination with mercury, a byproduct of coal-fired power plants, factories and natural sources.

The neurotoxin that has been linked to birth defects, heart failure and other health problems ends up in rivers, lakes and streams where it builds up in fish over time. Mercury is particularly dangerous for expectant mothers and young children.

A recent series of stories by The (Charleston) Post and Courier identified people who eat fish from several South Carolina rivers who also have high levels of mercury in their bodies. The newspaper ran tests on the people through hair samples.

Read more in the Post and Courier and the Myrtle Beach Sun News. If DHEC is coming around to the idea that mercury pollution is so bad in South Carolina that people need testing, maybe its not such a good idea to add a bunch more mercury to our lives by building a coal plant...


A few weeks ago we acquainted you with the coal fight going on in Wise County, Virginia. Folks there are fighting a 585 megawatt coal plant tooth and nail, just like folks are here in South Carolina.

As the saying goes, “the truth will out.” Now the Bristol Herald Courier, a local newspaper in the region, is on to it. Initially assured by utility company propaganda about jobs and economic benefits, the paper supported the plant. But a little research was enough to convince it that what the Wise Energy for Virginia folks were saying all along was the real truth: coal is bad for health, bad for the environment, bad for economic development. Now they oppose the plants construction. Read about it here.

Now the same might be happening in South Carolina. On January 1st, a time for new year’s resolutions, the Myrtle Beach Sun News, formerly a supporter of Santee Cooper’s proposed coal plant, printed this:

We … are considering whether to continue our early support of the Santee Cooper coal-fired power plants proposed for the banks of the Pee Dee River in Florence County. Support for atmospheric carbon reduction makes no sense unless you're willing to act locally on the problem - especially when other alternatives may ensure local ratepayers a power supply adequate to their lifestyles.

Just like Dominion Power's proposed coal-burner up in Wise County, Virginia, the Pee Dee coal plant is not a boon to the Pee Dee. We’ve been pointed that out for a while now; and we’re resolved to continue doing so in the new year. Now it looks like others are coming along. The truth will out.