Friday, February 29, 2008

"Clean Coal" is Dirty Coal

From today's Myrtle Beach Sun News (Mountaintop removal mining is also "beloved" by Santee Cooper -- it gets all of its coal from this practice):

Coal mining disastrous for residents, land

By June Jordan

We are told that the newest technology of low-emissions coal plants will be a benefit. Cleaner coal from the power plant doesn't start there. Many are not aware that when they flip that electric switch the average modern home burns the equivalent of 6 tons of coal a year through air conditioning, lights and an array of ever increasing appliances, but they do not give a thought to the people who are exploited every day so we may enjoy this luxury.

In order for us to have this inexpensive energy source, the mining companies have destroyed over 500,000 acres of beautiful old mountain forests in Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky. To date, mountaintop mining has destroyed 450 mountains. The mountains are clear cut then 1,000 vertical feet blasted off and the resulting debris scraped into the adjacent river valleys burying and polluting 1,200 miles of streams.

The solid and liquid waste by-product of coal mining is stored in coal slurry impoundments. These impoundments can be hundreds of feet high and sometimes are close to schools or residences. Some exceed 500 million gallons in volume, but can be larger than 7 billion gallons. There are approximately 1,000 of these impoundments tucked away in the mountains of Central Appalachia. The most controversial sludge dam sits above Marsh Fork Elementary School in Sundial, W.Va. The school is 400 yards downslope from one of West Virginia's largest impoundments containing 2.8 billion gallons of coal sludge. Would we want to live here and send our children to this school every day? Residents in these areas can no longer use the water from their faucets. They have to haul their daily water supply in plastic jugs from a water tank truck to their homes.

In 1972, 132 million gallons of sludge rushed through the narrow Buffalo Creek hollow in West Virginia killing 125 people and leaving 4,000 homeless. There have been many sludge disasters including Martin County, Ky., when in October 2000, an impoundment broke propelling 306 million gallons of sludge down two tributaries. Another break sent ooze downstream where it eventually emptied into the Ohio River near Ashland, Ky., affecting over 70 miles of waterway. Communities on the Kentucky and West Virginia water supplies were shut down and private water wells were ruined.

Mountaintop mining is beloved by mining moguls because the need for human labor is nearly eliminated and therefore increases industry profits.

No amount of clean coal as an end product can justify the exploitation of the people who live in this once-beautiful region but are powerless and poor.

The writer lives in Murrells Inlet.

The Easy Math

Coal Plant = Wrong Direction
Right direction =

Starting to piece together an energy policy for South Carolina
Associate Editor

AN ENERGY PLAN for South Carolina is starting to come together — but in a very South Carolina way, in pieces and with halting steps.

Before I talk about what’s been rolled out this month, I guess I still, even in the world of $100/barrel oil, need to make the case that the Palmetto State needs such a plan. Here goes:

On energy, South Carolina is in a painful bind. We are among the poorest of states on citizen income, earning about 80 cents to the nation’s dollar. Add to that our waste of energy: We rank as the fourth least-efficient state in the nation. The combination leaves us spending a lot of our meager income to pay the energy bills and not investing enough in conservation.

Where can we expect energy costs to go in the future? Up. Energy is a global commodity; even if we drill for more oil in the Gulf of Mexico and knock off the tops of more Appalachian mountains to get at the coal underneath, we’ll still be competing with our (weaker) dollars with consumers from here to Beijing to buy these resources. As the Third World continues to grow its middle class, the price of energy seems a lock to keep climbing.

That doesn’t even mention the environmental cost. Given the overwhelming likelihood that all this incinerated carbon is quickly warming the atmosphere, we have to accept that we can’t burn our way out of our energy problems.

What’s the cheapest way to meet energy needs as growth pushes our demand higher? Becoming more efficient, and actually using less. Efficiency improvements to save kilowatts cost about half as much as building a power plant to provide that power, says Ben Moore, project manager at the S.C. Coastal Conservation League. That makes sense, given our state’s limited resources and the need to begin really addressing climate change.

Enough (and then some) about the need. What’s being done?

Earlier this month, utility officials and League executive director Dana Beach, who haven’t exactly been singing in harmony over Santee Cooper’s proposed new coal plant, gathered together as a slate of conservation legislation was announced. Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell said he hoped to get the bills through the Legislature this year.

Among the measures:

• A sales tax exemption and a $750 rebate would be offered for the purchase of an energy-efficient mobile home. Mobile homes are much less efficient, and their owners tend not to have the money to make improvements.

• A nonprofit organization would gather funds from private grants and donations to help poor residents improve the energy efficiency of their homes.

• State agencies would be required to reduce their energy consumption by 20 percent by 2020 and get 10 percent of their energy from renewable resources.

These all strike me as valuable pieces of a broad energy plan for the state. The nonprofit organization tries to get at one of the tougher issues on energy: how to help low-income people. Mr. Moore points out that because low-income folks spend the highest percentage of their income on energy, “They can’t afford such inefficiency.”

Of course, much of the rest is based on the first tool in every lawmaker’s toolbox: the tax credit or deduction. We use tax breaks for anything that we like and want to encourage, but aren’t really emphatic about enough to actually pay for. Tax credits are the policy version of the free lollipop from the bank.

As my colleague Cindi Ross Scoppe noted recently, South Carolina is ridiculously eager to poke holes in its tax system, so that the official rate and the actual tax paid bear little resemblance to one another. In down years such as this, we feel the pain of this problem.

But what’s missing from this efficiency policy? Well, what about those who are coming to South Carolina and not buying a mobile home? They have been the major drivers of growth — and a main reason cited for Santee Cooper’s need for a new coal plant.

Retrofitting existing homes can and should be encouraged, but there always will be a limited number of folks who take advantage of it.

We can, however, hold new residences to a higher level of efficiency — just as we do for hurricane safety. Would it add to the cost of buying a home? Yes, and that would have to be considered when standards are set. Perhaps bigger, fancier houses would have to be more efficient. But most of the costs would come back to the customers in utility bill savings, especially if energy prices keep their march upward.

Shouldn’t that be one part of an energy policy for South Carolina? If we’re going to address both climate change and the increasing costs of energy we can’t afford, we’ll have to do some things that aren’t easy. Making our new homes more energy-efficient should be one not-so-easy thing.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Mercury Rising, Cont.

Mercury continues to make headlines around the Southeast following the Federal Court's decision to scrap the Bush Administration's lax mercury rules for utilities. As a result, the draft air permit for Santee Cooper's Pee Dee plant is now explicitly illegal, and Federal Courts agree that our state owned utility is not doing enough to control its mercury emissions. As the below article from from Wednesday's Myrtle Beach Sun News indicates this is making building a coal plant difficult for another SC utility:

Environmentalists look at mercury emissions to derail coal plants
Associated Press Writer

Duke Energy Corp.'s newest coal-fired power generator will pump 5 1/2 million tons of carbon dioxide into the North Carolina sky every year, outraging environmentalists worried about the threat of global warming.

But for now, as lawmakers wrestle with how best to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, the plant's opponents are focused instead on a few dozen pounds of mercury as they fight to keep it from ever coming online.

Backed in part by a recent court ruling, environmentalists and others see the toxic metal - a powerful neurotoxin that can damage developing brains of fetuses and very young children - as an undisputed threat to the public's health. If successful, they hope mercury could become a new front in their efforts to halt the rapid growth of coal-fired power plants.

"It does give environmentalists another tool, another hook to use when arguing that it's time to phase these things out," said Scott Edwards, a lawyer for the New York-based environmental group Waterkeeper Alliance. "And the law gives us that argument. And public health gives us that argument. And ecological and aquatic health gives us that argument."

Duke's new $2.4 billion generator, at its existing Cliffside Steam Station about 50 miles west of Charlotte, is among more than 20 coal-fired plants now under construction nationwide.

While the rate of construction is the most in more that two decades, environmentalist say they have already helped delay or completely block nearly 60 other projects.

Coal plants provide about 50 percent of the nation's electricity, and a third of the country's carbon dioxide emissions - 2 billion tons annually. While there is talk about a carbon tax or other limits, Edwards said there are not yet any hard regulations on carbon emissions that environmentalists can tap to stop a plant's construction.

Work on Duke's new 800-megawatt unit began last month, the day after state regulators granted the Charlotte-based utility a final air quality permit.

Opponents plan to appeal that decision as early as this week, citing a ruling issued this month by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The court found that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency violated the Clean Air Act when it scrapped a policy that required utilities to install the best available
technology to capture mercury.

Duke spokeswoman Marilyn Lineberger said the company plans to use controls, including using wet and dry scrubbers and filters, that will reduce mercury emissions by 90 percent at the new Cliffside unit. Environmentalists argue technology exists that can reduce emissions by up to 98 percent.

"Before Duke can build this plant, it has to demonstrate it is achieving the highest level of mercury pollution control that is possible with available technology," said John Suttles, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Duke initially proposed in a draft air quality permit to limit the new generator's mercury emissions to 294 pounds a year. That's almost double the 157 pounds currently emitted by five older coal-fire generators now operating at Cliffside, four of which will be shut down when the new generator comes online.

"They came up with a number that was shocking," Suttles said. "I was more than a little agitated when I saw that number. It totally astounded me."

Keith Overcash, director of the N.C. Division of Air Quality, admits regulators didn't object to that increase until environmentalists protested, and opponents are still upset the permit doesn't include a hard cap on mercury emissions.

The 101-page permit includes a promise from Duke to burn a combination of Western and Appalachian coal at a lower emissions rate to keep mercury levels low. Lineberger said the company will have no trouble keeping mercury emissions under 100 pounds per year.

"For them to say the plant won't ever produce more than 100 pounds annually is ridiculous," said Donna Lisenby, director of Catawba Riverkeeper, a group that monitors water quality along the 225-mile Catawba River system. "If the state is serious about protecting the public from the harms of mercury, they would have put an average total pound limit in the permit."

Overcash said the limit was reasonable.

"If they don't meet that on an annual basis, they can be fined," Overcash said. "If they meet that number, the amount of mercury emissions will be in that range we're talking about."

Hans Daniels, executive director of Global Energy Decisions, a private consulting firm that tracks power plants for the U.S. Department of Energy, said the threat of a carbon tax or other emission regulation remains the greatest potential threat to coal-fired plants. While mercury controls add cost to a plant, they are still a known cost.

"That cost can be incorporated in all the other costs. They are added up. And they can determine whether that plant should be built," Daniels said. "For mercury, right now, it probably won't be as big an issue as the uncertainty associated with CO2."

Still, environmentalists aren't alone in their focus on mercury. The metal is among the substances listed in North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper's pending lawsuit against the Tennessee Valley Authority, which accused the nation's largest utility of causing a "public nuisance" in the Smoky Mountains by failing to reduce pollution from its coal-fired power plants. "It's a tremendous irony," said Suttles, the environmental attorney. "In this case, North Carolina has allowed this new facility without forcing Duke to demonstrate what impact this plant would have on the Smoky Mountains. It's within an area that would be expected to - and does, in fact - affect air quality in the Smoky Mountains."

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Public (Self-)Service Authority

Santee Cooper, otherwise known as the South Caroilna Public Serivce Authority, is fond of pointing out that it is a "non profit" organization, "serving" the people of South Carolina.

Its also true that it is a state-sanctioned monopoly -- meaning it faces no competition from other businesses, it sets its own prices, it pays no taxes, it is exempt from many laws that apply to private utilities in our state. As many conservatives in our state have pointed out, Santee Cooper's situation is not unlike the way things are done in communist countries.

All of this raises the question, why would such an organization need to advertise?

Small business owners know that advertising can be an expensive necessity; a way to differentiate a business from competitors in a cutthroat marketplace.

But none of those conditions apply to Santee Cooper. Instead of "serving" the people of South Carolina, it is wasting their money on advertising.

And what are they advertising?

Their ill-considered coal plant idea.

That's right. Instead of spending money on creating the best energy efficiency program money can buy, or on renewable energy technologies, or on a public process to determine the best way to meet South Carolina's energy needs -- or even lowering residential rates -- this state-sponsored organization is spending dollars trying to pull the wool over the public's eyes with misleading ad's designed to scare us into submission.

They're trying to buy support for this coal plant with OUR money.

Don't believe me?

$650K campaign included coal plant poll

Monday, 18 February 2008
By Molly Parker, Staff Writer

Last fall, Santee Cooper paid a Charleston public relations firm more than $650,000 to promote its green initiatives and sell the need for a new coal-fired power plant in rural Florence County.

Under the umbrella of creative development and consultation services, that price tag included creation of a new Web site, and execution of a survey, which cost $57,000, to gather opinions on such topics as global warming, coal-fired power, energy demand, conservation efforts, utilities and environmental organizations.

It also tested the weight of commonly echoed arguments both for and against the coal plant.

“It looks like the goal of this survey is to figure out what messages are going to be most persuasive in convincing people that Santee Cooper needs to build a new coal plant,” said John Beasley, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications.

At the end of the survey, 45% of respondents said they would need more information before deciding whether to support the plant, though 57% of Florence County voters favored it. At the time the poll was conducted, from Aug. 17-21, only 27% of those surveyed had heard about the utility’s plans to build the $1 billion plant.

The Charleston Regional Business Journal obtained the survey questions and results and marketing-related expense reports through a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

In total, Santee Cooper paid $658,157 between Aug. 30 and Dec. 18 to Rawle Murdy, a marketing firm in downtown Charleston. The expenses also went toward the reation of Santee Cooper Green, an initiative the utility rolled out in December to brand the 21 existing conservation and renewable-energy programs offered by the
utility, as well as any future initiatives. The main component is the new Web site.

Santee Cooper said the cost was in line with what the state-owned utility has spent on outside marketing and advertising services for projects in the past.“We brought them on board to help us with the most critical issue facing South Carolina, and that is the issue of how do we meet the future energy needs of the state,” said Laura Varn, Santee Cooper’s vice president of corporate communications. “Are we not to communicate on such vital topics that impact the quality of life for the state?”

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Mountaintop Removal

Santee Cooper gets all of its coal thru a practice called "mountaintop removal" -- essentially using dynamite to blow up mountains to quickly and cheaply get at the coal underneath.

We've written about this state of affairs before, pointing out that this practice is destroying the South's natural hertiage (i.e. the Appalachians). To be clear: backing the Pee Dee "energy campus" is a vote AGAINST our mountains.

For those of you with the stomach to learn more about this morally unjustifiable practice, I encourage you to read this in-depth article recently published in the Toronto Star. As it turns out Ontario's coal plants are hooked on Appalachian coal as well. Fortunately, like many U.S. states, Ontario is taking steps to move away from coal, even shutting plants down.

Coal mining ravages Appalachia mountains

By Catherine Porter, Environment
Toronto Star
February 23, 2008

They're ripping the tops off mountains in West Virginia coal country to feed our insatiable appetite for power. It's cheaper that way. And the trees and the animals and the flooding? It may not be pretty, but we've got all those dishwashers to run.

CHARLESTON, WEST VIRGINIA-When you flick on the lights this evening, think of Kayford Mountain. Or what was Kayford Mountain, but now is a sprawling, muddy, trembling construction site 100 metres below Larry Gibson's home.

Three years ago, Gibson hunted wild boar here, picked gooseberries and peaches, and sat under the shade of white oaks and hickories so thick he couldn't see the sky.

"Now, you can see the sky below your feet," Gibson says.

The boars have long scurried away. The trees have been reduced to a heap of pulp. The gooseberries have been bulldozed, replaced by rows of explosives. Just past the "Do Not Enter" sign, the mountain has been brought to its knees -- cut down like a giant tree. Instead of gazing 200 metres up to its peak, as Gibson once did, you peer down at its rubbly remains, clawed at by giant shovels and trundled off by bucking yellow dump trucks.

There are no birdsong or rustling leaves -- just beeping and grinding, and sounds like a 747 taking off.

A small sliver of the former mountain slumps to one side of the construction, like the last piece of Black Forest cake left amid the deflated balloons and streamers. On top are the trees and soil, then sandstone and shale, and at the bottom, a thick chocolate layer - coal.

"They say they can make the land better than it originally was," says Chuck Nelson, gazing down sorrowfully from his friend's property, hands in his pockets. "Who can do a better job than God? This land will never be no good for nothing."

Except of course, electricity.

Which is why all this is happening.

This is the new face of coal mining in Central Appalachia. It is called mountaintop removal. Instead of extracting coal the old- fashioned way, by burrowing, the mountain is extracted from the coal - blown up sequentially to reveal each black seam. Everything left over- trees, soil, plants and rock -- is considered "overburden." It's dumped into the valleys below, filling them up.

Some say as many as 470 mountains in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia have been flattened this way. For the industry, it's a financial jackpot -- fast, cheap and thorough. But for the mountains, and the communities nestled between them, it's war.

Their homes have been flooded, walls cracked, wells poisoned, streams polluted; their jobs have been forfeited, cemeteries unearthed and communities abandoned. Many suffer from early-onset dementia and kidney stones. And they've lost their ancestral home.

"We're mountain people. You don't understand our connection with the land," says Gibson, who traces his heritage back 120 years to this very spot. He had never ventured beyond the company store, halfway down the mountain, until he was 11. "We didn't live on the land, we lived with it."

People who live here think of themselves as collateral damage - accidental victims of a war to feed the nation's insatiable demand for energy.

Read more.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Another Bad Week for Coal

David Roberts, regulator contributor to recently posted this blog at The Nation:

Regular readers of Grist know that coal is the enemy of the human race. They may also know that coal is on the ropes and, despite its recent PR blitz, in something of panic. Let's take a look at some news from just the past week or so.

A new report from gas, coal, and power consulting firm Wood MacKensie says that "the rate of coal plant cancellations accelerated during 2007 to the point that more than 50% of the new coal capacity announced since 2000 has now been canceled." That the trend will likely continue, especially given that fact that the cost of building a power plant has gone up by 130% since 2000.

Among the blocked coal plants is the infamous Sunflower plant in Kansas, which had its air permit denied late last year based on its projected CO2 emissions. Since then, Sunflower has done everything it can to get around the decision, including jingoistic
on Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius and a laughable coal-friendly compromise" offered by its buddies in the legislature. (That bill passed today, but Sebelius says she'll veto and there aren't enough votes to override her.) Now, it appears, they've resorted to outright bribery: Sunflower says it will give $2.5 million over 10 years to Kansas State University ... but only if the plant is approved. Classy.

Then there's the dirty coal plant planned for Ohio by American Municipal Power. The NRDC made a public records request and got a hold of an internal AMP report (PDF)
which is, to put it lightly, embarrassing. According to AMP's own numbers, the cost of construction has risen 180% in just over two years. The initial estimate put it at $1.2 billion -- it's now at $3.3 billion and rising.

Thanks to the 50-year contract AMP will sign with the state, Ohio ratepayers will be on the hook for any costs that arise from dealing with CO2 -- costs that are all but inevitable given pending legislation. AMP estimates the costs at $73 million a year, but a report (PDF) from independent research firm Synapse Energy Economics puts the costs at between $287 and $500 million a year. Oops!

In short: ratepayers in Ohio are going to get screwed 10 ways to Sunday by politically connected coal barons who haven't bothered to assess the renewable alternatives. Think Ohioans will sit still for it?

(If you'd like to read much, much more about coal plant cancellations, check this Sourcewatch article or Coal Moratorium Now.)

Maybe coal can survive if it's "clean"? Maybe. But an official at Royal Dutch Shell said last week that carbon prices would have to reach about $100/tonne -- three times current levels -- before investment in carbon capture and storage would make economic sense. Ah well.

Does all this churn amount to a necessary and laudable transition? No sir ... it's a crisis! At least that's what the CEO of American Electric Power -- a coal-heavy utility -- says.

Other utilities, however, are getting on the energy-efficiency stick. And it's a good thing: Internationally renowned environmental analyst Lester Brown says that coal's time is up and that Wall Street will increasingly turn against it. (In this he agrees with notorious lefty enviro rag the Wall Street Journal.)

Coal disagrees:

The coal industry shot back, accusing Brown of exaggerating coal's contribution to climate change and ignoring the economic necessity of power generation.

"We're economically necessary." Is that the kind of argument people should have to make? Shouldn't it be self-evident if it's true? Isn't it contradicted by coal's ongoing economic failures? And should it really come coupled with a request for massive government subsidies?

So there you have it: just in the past week, elite opinion against coal has accelerated, two major coal projects have run into embarrassments, and an independent report has confirmed that things are only going to get worse. Now you know why Big Coal has been sponsoring presidential debates, putting Santas on corners around D.C., and pouring millions of dollars into a PR campaign. It knows its time has passed.

A Penny for Your Thoughts

A number of opinion pieces on the coal plant have run recently, including this one from Sunday's Florence Morning News:

Decisions made today affect economic growth

Sunday, Feb 24, 2008 - 04:00 AM
By Responsible Economic Development Board of Directors

The Pee Dee needs economic development.Our local work force needs jobs, our children need education, our homes need electricity, and our businesses need opportunity.

The decisions that we make today, however, will affect the lives of our children and grandchildren, our natural and urban landscape, and the economic growth and development of our region. Investing in a coal fired power plant is not good for the Pee Dee.

Energy conservation and renewables are the cleaner, safer, cheaper and more responsible way to meet our energy needs. Energy conservation, or efficiency, is the practice of saving energy by switching to CFC or LED light bulbs, making homes that are energy efficient, conducting energy audits, and installing Energy Star power saving products.

Renewable means energy produced by a natural resource that comes from an endless or repeating source like: the sun, wind, water or plants (biomass). According to a study done by the Tellus Institute, the net job impact of investing in both renewable power and energy efficiency in South Carolina would result in 11,500 jobs by 2010 and 20,000 new jobs in 2020. These jobs would be spread across all sectors of the community, including: construction, agriculture, transportation, motor vehicles, manufacturing and services. In short, investment in energy efficiency and renewables will create many more jobs than a highly automated and technical coal plant.

Fortunately, South Carolina has huge energy conservation potential. According to a recent study done by the Electric Cooperatives, modest efficiency investments would generate 980 megawatts of electricity in the next decade.

Additionally, our state’s renewable energy resources, including biomass and small hydro, would realize another 655 megawatts of electricity. The combination of these programs would generate more than 200 megawatts more than Santee Cooper’s proposed plant.

Opting for green energy over coal power has the added benefit of being an environmentally sound economic decision. Coal-fired plants are responsible for producing large amounts of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide and mercury into the air that we breathe and the water that we drink.

Mercury, a coal plant emission, is a poison that causes severe mental retardation in children, stunts brain development and causes cerebral palsy in newborns. It takes only 1/70th of a teaspoon of mercury to contaminate 20 acres of fresh water.

The proposed Santee Cooper coal fired power plant is projected to release 138 pounds of mercury every year, for 50 years. Our local rivers and streams already have severe mercury advisories.

Particulate matter (PM), sulfur dioxide, and carbon dioxide (C02) are also coal plant emissions that are extremely harmful to children and the elderly. These poisons are known to cause asthma, respiratory distress, heart attacks and lung cancer.

Our community needs economic development. But we need energy sources that do not destroy our fish and wildlife communities or threaten the health of our families, friends and neighbors.

The Board of Responsible Economic Development (RED) strongly supports the implementation of energy alternatives, such as energy efficiency and renewables.

Read a response opinion by the Chairman of the Board of Santee Cooper. Not surprisingly, it trots out all the old and discredited arguments that the coal plant is a good thing.

Finally, a piece by Dan Abel, a marine scientists at Coastal Carolina University -- it suggests that we can expect indepth coverage of the coal debate in future editions of the Myrtle Beach Sun News.

Ely, Nevada's situation is eerily similar to ours.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Where the real jobs are

Santee Cooper and its allies creatively tout their coal plant as a jobs program, even resorting to using rediculously inflated jobs numbers. Of course, such a project will only employ 100 people or less long term. Given the price tag of the plant, that means were getting 1 job per $10,000,000 dollar investment. So much for fiscal responsibility....

Now, as for actual job creation, the notion of "green collar" jobs has been getting a lot of attention lately, both in the local and national press. Despite studies showing the massive potential for such employment in South Carolina, some remain skeptical.

Nevertheless, General Electric's plant in Greenville just announced that it will add 200 new engineering jobs this year (after adding 300 last year).

What does GE build at the Greenville plant? Wind and gas turbines. The former is, of course, greenhouse gas and pollution free renewable energy; the latter burns the cleanest fossil fuel we know, yielding substantial pollution reductions relative to coal.

I think we already have enough evidence to conclude that if its jobs we want (or reliable, cost effective energy for that matter), the Pee Dee plant will fail our state miserably.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

S-C Responsible for "Non-hazardous" Spill at Coal Plant

The latest news from our environmental heroes at Santee Cooper (who recently submitted to the largest consent decree in our state's history after gettign caught red handed attempting to build the coal plants in Cross, South Carolina without a permit):

Santee Cooper detects spill
Nonhazardous wastewater leaks into swampy area

By Tony Bartelme
The Post and Courier
Saturday, February 16, 2008

GEORGETOWN — A broken pipe in a slurry pond at Santee Cooper's Winyah power plant caused as much as 200,000 gallons of limestone-laced water to spill into a swampy area next to the sprawling facility before crews contained the breach.

Santee Cooper officials said the wastewater in the pond isn't hazardous, and late Friday the area around the spill didn't appear to be affected. State health investigators took water samples but hadn't determined whether the spill caused any environmental damage.

Santee Cooper crews noticed a leak in the pond dike Thursday morning during a routine inspection of the dike system, said Phil Pierce, Santee Cooper vice president of fossil fuel and hydro generation.

The pond collects limestone slurry from the plant's sulfur dioxide air pollution scrubbers, Pierce said. A private company next to the plant uses the same material to make wallboard.

A 30-inch pipe used in the dike's construction during the 1980s apparently failed, he said. Once crews noticed water leaking from the dike, they contained most of it by piling rocks on it and diverting it into a ditched area. They pumped the spilled water back into the pond.

Nancy Cave of the Coastal Conservation League said the leak stands as a warning for the potential environmental damage that could occur from leaks from other, more dangerous waste-containment areas at coal-fired power plants.

Santee Cooper feels "this incident and its swift containment are proof that the utility's environmental policies and procedures are effective," said Mollie Gore, a public relations specialist with the utility.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Point / Counterpoint

The Spartanburg Herald printed opposing perspectives on the Pee Dee coal plant over the weekend. You can read the "pro-coal" piece here (complete with gross misrepresentations of the job impacts of the project). Below you will find the "anti-coal" piece. Read both; make up your own mind.

Efficiency upgrades, demand reduction are alternatives to these polluting plants
Published: Sunday, February 17, 2008

The coal plant that Santee Cooper wants to build on the Great Pee Dee River is no longer just an expensive, polluting idea. The plant has become a symbol of how different Santee Cooper is compared to privately owned utilities.

One might guess this contrast is flattering to state-owned Santee Cooper. In fact, the opposite is true. Duke and Progress Energy, although owned by private investors, have abandoned new coal plants in South Carolina. And both have proposed programs to boost energy conservation and efficiency.

The initiatives are related. Programs that reduce electrical demand also reduce the need for new polluting power plants.

If demand reduction and efficiency upgrades were not a dependable and inexpensive way to produce power, Duke and Progress wouldn't pursue them. Neither would South Carolina's electrical cooperatives, which commissioned a study showing that
efficiency upgrades in their service areas could produce most of the power promised by Santee Cooper's plant. Extended to Santee Cooper's total service area, that conservation could displace need for the plant entirely.

Is Santee Cooper taking notice? Not yet. It continues to chug along with a 1,320-megawatt coal plant comprised of two units that will supposedly cost about a billion
dollars each. In reality, the units will cost far more. Rising concrete and steel prices have boosted the price of a single unit in North Carolina past $2 billion.

And that's before the balloon payment. From Wall Street to Main Street, everyone knows that some form of carbon controls are coming - controls that will exact a cost. According to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, this plant would emit some 11.6 million tons of carbon dioxide every year. With a middle-range carbon tax of $15 per ton, this coal plant will cost ratepayers $174 million more per year.

But Hindenburg-sized balloon payments are not the only problem. DHEC wants to let the plant belch 138 pounds of mercury every year. That sounds like a little, but mercury is so toxic that it's usually measured in ounces - not pounds. Mercury in fish gets into the people who eat them. Babies and breast-fed infants and children exposed to mercury are at risk for lowered intelligence and learning disabilities.

South Carolina already has one of the country's worst mercury problems. Our entire coast and all our major rivers and lakes have health advisories due to high mercury levels in fish. Recent testing of citizens in the Pee Dee region showed mercury levels eight times higher than EPA health standards.

Given all this, how can Santee Cooper claim that this plant will be one of the cleanest "in the country"? It can't. The Intermountain coal unit in Utah will emit one-fourth as much mercury as the Pee Dee plant.

Similarly, while the Pee Dee plant will emit 7,489 tons per year of sulfur dioxide - a substance that forms fine particle pollution that aggravates existing heart and lung diseases, particularly for children and the elderly - other plants produce half as much. Likewise, the Pee Dee plant will emit 3,495 tons of nitric oxides (NOx), which react with other compounds to form ozone smog, a pollutant that is linked to asthma and lung disease. Its removal rate (59 percent to 74 percent) is far less than other plants (90 percent to 95 percent).

This plant is not the "least-dirty" option available, and no coal plant could be called clean." Every day it will slurp millions of gallons of water from the stressed Pee DeeRiver and ingest a mile-long train's worth of coal stripped from Appalachian mountaintops. What comes out the other end will fill hundreds of acres of ash ponds and landfills.

In light of the plant's serious effects and growing costs, the time has come for Santee Cooper to pursue Plan B: an aggressive efficiency and conservation project that will
delay the need for this plant or displace it entirely.

Privately owned utilities have launched these initiatives already. Our state-owned utility should do the same. Alternatively, it should explain why it cannot keep up with the private sector to provide us with reliable power without salvaging our health and environment, not to mention our budget.

We all want to keep the lights on, but some ideas are brighter than others. Santee Cooper has better options than coal. It just hasn't looked at them.

Blan Holman is senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Kentucky legislators try to curb mountaintop removal mining

A group of Kentucky legislators have written legislation to end the economically and environmentally destructive practice of mountaintop removal mining. More than 1200 miles of mountain streams have have been impacted from mountaintop removal mining that coal mining companies are pursuing. With the destruction of these streams, people's homes are put at risk, and the water quality is severely impaired by runoff from the mine waste deposited when the mountains are blown away. Mountaintop removal mining is just another of the ways that the coal to be used in Santee Cooper's proposed plant dirties our beautiful South and hurts working families in our fellow southern states. Let's hope those Kentucky folks can get the support they need for this legislation.

Check out the article here.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Energy Efficiency Thought of the Day

California has been pursuing energy efficiency for 20 years; its demand has barely increased over that time. South Carolina does very little. California spends the least on electricity per capita in the nation; South Carolina residents spend more than 45 other states. Still think a little energy efficiency can't obviate the need for another coal plant in South Carolina? (If so, maybe you don't like saving money).

(click on for larger image)

Mercury Poses Problems for Duke Energy, Nation's Children

In the wake of the Federal Court's rejection of Bush era Mercury rules, coal plants in the permitting process across the country are likely to hit significant speed bumps. See this article on the financial news website for how this judicial decision might affect Duke Energy's plan to move forward with a new coal plant near Charlotte. Duke's plant recently received a final air permit from the North Carolina Department of the Environment and Natural Resources. The permit must be revised to comply with the law. (Note how much more mercury Santee Cooper's plant, which would be smaller than Duke's, will be permitted to emit: over 130 pounds vs. 40 pounds).

This re-evaluation of how these plants will control their mercury emissions is in the best interest of of the health of everyone in the nation, since Mercury is such a potent neurotoxin. From the autism website,, a 2006 story from the Los Angeles Times reporting on a study linking mercury contamination with autism, here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Carolina Utility Turns Back on Coal

From the Charlotte News and Observer:

Coal's future not in Carolinas
Duke CEO says Midwest
better-suited for coal-fired plants

RALEIGH -- At a global warming
conference Monday, Duke Energy chief executive Jim Rogers said he wouldn't build another coal-fired power plant in the Carolinas because of its geology.

Any future plants would have to offer technology that could capture and store carbon dioxide underground. Geography in the Carolinas isn't suitable the way it is in Indiana, where Duke has a new coal-gasification plant under way, he said.

That technology -- which turns coal into a gas rather than burning it directly -- might allow Duke to pump the gas underground for storage, he said.

Duke has researched building pipelines to send the gas for storage to the Midwest. But it's too expensive, he said. So the CEO said Duke's Cliffside power plant project in the Blue Ridge foothills would be the Charlotte utility's last in the Carolinas.

Instead, the CEO envisions boosting major transmission capabilities so Duke could build its future coal plants in its three Midwest states and nuclear power plants in the South and then zap the electricity back and forth, as needed.

Ideas to reduce carbon dioxide emissions floated around the annual Emerging Issues Forum on Monday at the McKimmon Center at N.C. State University in Raleigh.

A lineup of speakers, including New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, traded ideas and delivered speeches about global warming and green energy. Rogers was on one of the panels Monday afternoon.

Coal-fired power plants are among the largest sources of carbon dioxide, blamed as a cause of global warming. Scientists say the rising temperature is hurting the environment and threatening mankind, including melting polar ice caps that could cause coastal flooding and massive hurricanes.

The forum featured leaders from the energy, governmental and academic worlds, including U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Nobel Prize winner Rajendra Pachauri, an N.C. State graduate who runs the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The annual conference this year is focused on global warming and how the state can or should economically benefit from it. The forum continues today and features Bank of America Corp. chief executive Ken Lewis.

Opponents of the Cliffside project and the use of fossil fuels say energy efficiency and renewable energy, such as wind and solar, should replace old-fashioned power plants.
Rogers told the crowd at the forum that the $2.4 billion Cliffside project was needed to bridge the gap to a noncarbon world. Energy demand requires it, he said.

The morning began with a dozen protesters outside the conference center.

The small group from N.C. WARN held a banner criticizing the 800-megawatt, coal-fired Cliffside project. The protesters said Rogers' commitment to energy efficiency and clean energy is hypocritical.

Friedman, the Monday morning headliner and author of the bestselling "The World is Flat," had his own take on how to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

He said the country needs a "massive carbon tax" to jolt industry into pushing the green movement beyond the pop culture stage.

Former Duke CEO Paul Anderson has said a tax on carbon emissions, as long as it was economy-wide, would be a good idea.

But Rogers said he supports a different approach called cap-and-trade.

The complicated method involves trading pollution credits. It would give utilities time to meet a national emissions cap that would be slowly lowered over time.

But Rogers on Monday also proposed a national tax on electricity that everyone who used power would have to pay. That money could then be funneled into research and development to find alternative ways to produce clean energy, he said.

Profit, or not, from global warming?

The annual conference this year is focusing on how the state can or should conomically benefit from global warming.

Speakers said that the state could benefit from money that would flow to research institutions trying to come up with energy innovations. And new companies might also locate in the state because of those research universities.

A clean energy revolution will also require traditional manufacturing infrastructure.

For example, a study said the Carolinas would benefit economically from a coming wind energy boon because the state has the capability to produce gears, blades and other parts needed to build a windmill.

PPG Industries near Shelby was able to retool some of its operations to manufacture windmill blades. And General Electric also recently moved its windmill turbine manufacturing headquarters to its Greenville, S.C.

Keep in mind: Duke's CEO's position is certainly laudable and rational, but don't forget that his statement comes only a couple weeks after Duke received a permit for its 800 MW coal plant at Cliffside. So Cliffside is Duke's last hurrah.

Santee Cooper recently finished a new 600 MW coal plant at Cross, SC last year and will finish a second 600 MW plant there in 2009. Why isn't Cross Santee Cooper's last hurrah?

Do they disagree w/ Rogers that coal's future is not in the Carolina's? What does Duke Energy know that Santee Cooper doesn't?

SCE&G recently announced in the Post and Courier that new coal is a last resort and Progress Energy has a long-standing moratorium on new coal.

Our state-owned utility is out of step with the times.

Monday, February 11, 2008

NC Lt. Governor: No New Coal

From the Florence Morning News:

Perdue: No more coal-fired power plants should be licensed in NC

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- North Carolina shouldn't license any more coal-fired
plants because they pollute too much and don't move the state to greater use of alternative energy and conservation, Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue said Friday.

Releasing her energy platform in her run for governor, Perdue said if elected she would work to require utilities to create half of its future power generation needs through efficiencies. North Carolina should be a national leader in helping to reduce dramatically U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, she said.

"In North Carolina, changing our energy strategy energy is about more than protecting our environment - it's an opportunity to build a green economy and a 21st century green work force," Perdue said in a news release.

Her leading Democratic opponent - State Treasurer Richard Moore - released an energy platform last week. Perdue said issues surrounding last month's licensing of a coal-fired power generator in Rutherford County for Duke Energy Corp. "must represent the end of an era for North Carolina."

Future technology may capture all pollutants from coal-fired plants, but "until such a day arrives, we should table any discussion about licensing" similar plants, she said.

Perdue also would expand the number of alternative fuel vehicles in the state's motor fleet and improve efficiency standards for government buildings. She's also interested in creating a sales tax holiday on purchases of high-efficiency appliances similar to the weekend-long exemption on school supplies and clothing.

If elected, Perdue would explore whether the state should enter a cap-and-trade system to limit carbon emissions by polluters.

Such a system, already in place in the U.S. to limit sulfur dioxide emissions, would give companies "credits" equal to the amount of carbon dioxide they could emit. Firms with excess credits could sell the credits on a commodities market to others that exceed their limit.

A "Green Business Fund" approved by the Legislature to encourage clean-energy industries also should be expanded, according to Perdue.

Read more here. See what the fellow running for lieutenant governor thinks here.

What does our Governor think?

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Mercury Rising on Santee Cooper

Please see more coverage of the Federal Court's decision to nix the Bush Administration mercury regulations, which excused utilities from using the toughest pollution controls, and aided and abetted the mercury crisis in our state, below.

Santee Cooper's Pee Dee coal plant proposal contains no controls specifically designed to protect us from Mercury, despite repeated "claims" in the press that their plant will be the "cleanest in the nation." The Federal Court decision exposes such statements for the shamless falsehoods that they are.

Thankfully, after this court decision, DHEC and Santee Cooper will be forced to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to really control the large amounts of mercury this plant would admit.

In the meantime, we have a nice opportunity to consider whether we need this plant anyway, especially when its being promoted by an agency that appears to have been playing fast and loose with our health.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Federal Court Sends DHEC Permit Back to the Drawing Board

A federal court ruling today will mean that the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) must re-evaluate Santee Cooper’s plans to control mercury at the utility’s proposed Pee Dee coal plant near Pamplico, SC. The D.C Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that EPA violated the Clean Air Act when it removed oil- and coal-fired power plants from the list of hazardous air pollution sources that are subject to the Act’s most stringent air pollution controls. As a result, air permits for new coal plants such as the Pee Dee plant must be based on a case-by-case analysis of the maximum available control technology for mercury and other hazardous air pollutants.

"We warned DHEC that the mercury standard it was using for the Pee Dee permit was too weak and would get tossed out in federal court. And that is exactly what happened. Now DHEC and Santee Cooper need to start over and examine all alternatives with lower mercury emissions. It's too bad they didn't do that in the beginning, but now they have no choice," said Blan Holman, SELC attorney. "This decision is very good news for South Carolinians."

In December, DHEC issued a draft air permit for the Pee Dee plant would allow the Pee Dee plant unit to emit 138 pounds of toxic mercury each year in an area of the state that is already known as the “Mercury Triangle” because of high levels of mercury contamination. In developing the permit, DHEC did not conduct a case-specific analysis of maximum available control technology (MACT) for mercury, and the permit does not require Santee Cooper to install mercury-specific pollution control equipment.

In comments filed on January 22, SELC notified DHEC of the anticipated federal decision and urged the agency to consider these expected mercury regulations when developing its final permit. The D.C. Circuit’s ruling means that DHEC must withdraw the draft air permit for the Pee Dee plant, go back to the drawing board to conduct a case-specific MACT analysis, and issue a revised draft permit for public comment before finalizing a new permit.

Because mercury is classified as “hazardous,” the Clean Air Act requires EPA to identify its sources and develop the most stringent standards to control emissions from those sources. The court ruled today that EPA acted illegally when it took power plants off the list of hazardous pollution sources when issuing its Clean Air Mercury Rule.

Released in May 2005, the federal Clean Air Mercury Rule exempted power plants from the most stringent Clean Air Act requirements to control mercury and instead instituted a flawed “cap and trade” scheme, which allows facilities to trade mercury pollution credits with other less-polluting power plants. As a result of the D.C. Circuit’s ruling today, EPA and the states must now develop tougher regulations to control mercury and other toxic pollutants from new and existing power plants, the leading source of mercury pollution in the country. Today’s ruling could result in a 95 percent or greater reduction of mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants

Mercury emitted from power plants deposits in water bodies, where it is converted to its most toxic form, methylmercury. Methylmercury exposure from eating contaminated fish is linked to permanent damage to the central nervous system. Developing fetuses, breast-fed infants and children exposed to methylmercury are at risk for lowered intelligence and learning disabilities. Adults exposed to even low amounts of methylmercury also may be at higher risk for altered sensation, impaired hearing and vision, and motor disturbances. EPA estimates that as many as than 600,000 children are born each year with unhealthy levels of methylmercury in their bodies. Despite this figure, EPA adopted the flawed mercury rule ignoring the counsel of its own Children’s Health Public Advisory Committee and thousands of health professionals nationwide.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Connecting the Dots

Hear about environmental impact of 'mountaintop removal' tonight
By David Quick
The Post and Courier
Thursday, February 7, 2008

Name the worst environmental disaster in United States history.

I bet you guessed the 1989 wreck of the Exxon Valdez, which spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska's pristine Prince William Sound and beyond. It was a national tragedy that even the most ardent of anti-environmentalists couldn't deny.

But I bet you didn't know, or perhaps didn't remember, another tragedy that took place just over seven years ago in Martin County in Kentucky.

It involved 300 million gallons of coal slurry — a thick, puddinglike waste from mining operations — spilling out of a reservoir and flooding the land, polluting rivers, killing everything in streams for 100 miles and destroying property in Eastern Kentucky and Southwestern West Virginia.

The slurry, which contains hazardous chemicals such as arsenic and mercury, is the byproduct of yet another multifaceted environmental tragedy that's been taking place since the 1970s and continues into this era of energy volatility.

It's called mountaintop removal.

The process involves a clear-cut of diverse, hardwood forests. Coal companies then blow up the top 600 to 800 feet of mountains to get to seams of coal. Leftover rock and debris are scraped into valleys and fill streams. Barren land, usually covered in grass seed native to Asia, then is prone to flooding and erosion. So far, about 300,000 acres of forest have been turned into barren grassland. And then there's the coal slurry.

So what does this have to do with Charleston?

According to, we get coal from some mines that use mountaintop removal. And at 7 p.m. today in Charleston, one man hopes to expose locals to the full cost of the process.

Coal, which we already tap to run power plants, has made headlines lately as Santee Cooper, citing a potential power shortage by 2013, proposes building a $1 billion coal-fired plant in the Pee Dee. Conservation groups oppose it, noting that coal plants are among the largest contributors of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Dave Cooper, a retired engineer who travels the country talking about mountaintop removal, will bring his "Mountaintop Removal Road Show" to the local Sierra Club. The event, which is free and open to the public, will be at the Medical University of South Carolina's Baruch Auditorium, 284 Calhoun St., Charleston.

Cooper does not want to abandon use of coal, but rather just stop the practice of mountaintop removal. As you may imagine, he's been called an "ecoterroist" who wants to take away jobs from people in some of the poorest counties in the United States.

"I'm not against jobs," says Cooper. "I just think mountaintop removal is incredibly short-sighted. ... Underground mining is less damaging and involves more manpower."

He noted that since the increase of mechanization and mountaintop removal, mining jobs in West Virginia have gone from about 120,000 in 1960 to fewer than 15,000 now.

So what are we supposed to do?

First, Cooper urges people to take energy conservation seriously, from buying compact fluorescent bulbs to replacing appliances with ones that save the most energy. Second, contact Rep. Henry Brown, R-S.C., and ask him to support the Clean Water Protection Act (H.R. 2169) that would ban mountaintop removal.

I think most people who love to be active and outdoors care, to varying degrees, about the quality of the environment. But in our busy lives, we just don't connect all the dots. And sometimes we need sobering reminders of our impact on this special planet and what we can do to lessen that impact.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Sun News Steps Out

Yesterday the Sun News in Myrtle Beach published an editorial asking for what those opposed to the coal plant have long been asking for:

A public conversation about the need for this coal plant, its true costs and benefits to South Carolina, and the real alternatives available to us.

There are strong feelings on both sides of this issue, but no one should shy away from an independent review of this project. Tough questions need to be asked and answered before we commit ourselves to 50 years of coal in the Pee Dee.

Hopefully this is the beginning of that necessary process.

Coal Plant Conundrum
'We have met the enemy and they are us'

On Jan. 22, seven attorneys general from across the nation asked the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control to shoot down Santee Cooper's plan to build a 600-megawatt coal-fire power plant in Florence County. The attorneys general in question may know how things work in their home venues: California, New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, D.C. But they obviously don't understand how things work in South Carolina.

DHEC is conducting an environmental review of the Santee Cooper proposal to erect the plant on the banks of the Pee Dee River. But DHEC doesn't have the authority to accept or reject any Santee Cooper project.

No one except the Santee Cooper board has that power, and its members have already approved the plant. Were Santee Cooper an investor-owned utility like Duke Energy or SCANA, it would have to obtain permission to expand its generating capacity from the S.C. Public Utilities Commission. But because Santee Cooper is a state-owned utility started with a $1 million federal grant in the 1930s, it is exempt from Public Utilities Commission oversight.

The attorneys general argue that Santee Cooper's planned "Pee Dee Energy Campus" would issue 9 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per year. Carbon dioxide, as any middle-school science student could tell you, is no respecter of political boundaries. Emissions that originate in South Carolina really could taint the air in their states and the District of Columbia, and other states as well.

The Santee Cooper leadership, however, argues that without the new plant, brownouts - electric-service lapses at times of peak customer demand - could become commonplace in its service area within five years. That service area includes the most populous parts of Horry, Georgetown and Berkeley counties. The service area also includes most of the rural and small-town parts of South Carolina because Santee Cooper's biggest customer is electric cooperatives - such as the Horry Electric Cooperative.

Here's what makes judging this project really hard: The main force driving Santee Cooper's decision to build the plant is rampant growth on the Grand Strand. (As Walt Kelly's famous cartoon character Pogo once observed: "We have met the enemy and they are us.")

The S.C. conservation community argues, persuasively, that a combination of energy-savings strategies and alternative generation technologies - solar, wind, etc. - could eliminate the need for the plant. Or, failing that, Santee Cooper could redesign the plant to run on gasified coal or to include sequestration technology that keeps carbon from reaching the atmosphere.

Santee Cooper argues, equally persuasively, that it is touting energy conservation and exploring alternative-generation technologies. Utility leadership also promises to use the best coal-fired technology available to minimize carbon and mercury emissions, but adds that coal-gasification and carbon-sequestration are unreliable and cost too much.

Who's right? Who knows? That's why Gov. Mark Sanford, as a born-again environmentalist and chief state executive, should conduct - top to bottom - an independent review of the Santee Cooper proposal and report his findings to the people of South Carolina. No other state official or entity can do this. Better he than the outside attorneys general to tell us whether we can get by without Santee Cooper's Pee Dee Energy Campus.