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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

EPA threatened states wanting tougher limits on mercury


"Both Georgia and Montana did not want their plants buying credits to continue polluting. When EPA threatened to disapprove their plans, both dropped their limits on emission trading."