Monday, March 31, 2008

Doing it the Hard Way

The threat of global warming is truly an inconvenient truth of life in the 21st century. One of the most troublesome inconveniences is the fact that we cannot go on building coal plants to meet our energy needs as we have done in the past. That is because coal in uniquely good at spewing millions of tons of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas most responsible for global warming, into the atmosphere every year.

Santee Cooper, unfortunately, is learning this the hard way. As of 2006, nearly 80% of Santee Cooper's energy came from coal. If its plans unfold as they'd like, they will have added 2400 additional megawatts of coal to their system between 2006 and 2016, dramatically increasing their dependence on coal and nearly doubling their greenhouse gas emissions to the size of a country like New Zealand.

This "all eggs in one basket" strategy puts Santee Cooper's customers (and really the whole world) at great risk. Clearly, they are not taking global warming seriously.

They say they'd rather not build a coal plant (which is good), BUT the technology is not available to do it any other way (which is wrong). But don't take it from me. Below is a weekly "Climate Fact" from the folks at Environmental Defense. Santee Cooper could play a role in nearly every one of the 5 sectors indentified below.

We CAN do it! Technology exists to cut greenhouse gases.

Think we don’t have the technology to significantly cut our greenhouse gas emissions? Think again.

In December of 2007 the widely-respected management consulting firm McKinsey & Company released an analysis[1] showing that the U.S. has the technologies available today that can significantly cut U.S. emissions. In fact, the report identifies more than 250 opportunities within the U.S. to cut emissions using conservative assumptions: No less than 80 percent of these reductions can be had with technologies that have already been proven to work at a commercial scale, while the remainder can be achieved by existing technologies with high-potential for commercialization by 2030.

All together the emission-cutting opportunities McKinsey identifies could result in U.S. emissions in 2030 that are 28 percent below 2005 levels, about the level called for in leading climate legislation.

These technologies fall into five key sectors:

1. Buildings and Appliances – Increasing energy efficiency in buildings and appliances can cut up to 870 million tons of annual emissions – and actually save consumers money in doing so.

2. Transportation – Lowering the carbon intensity of fuels and improving the efficiency of transportation can reduce emissions by up to 660 million tons each year.

3. Industry – Deploying a variety of existing technologies in the industrial sector, like expanding the practice of combined heat and power and recovering non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions, could cut up to 770 million tons annually, many of which can directly benefit companies’ bottom-line.

4. Carbon Sinks – Expanding and enhancing carbon sinks in agriculture and forest lands can capture up to 590 million tons of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere each year, which can also benefit farmers and create new habitat for wildlife.

5. Electric power production – A variety of options exist for the utility sector—including the expansion of renewables like wind and solar, improving the thermal efficiency of electric generation, and co-firing fossil fuel with biomass, as well as other options— which combined could cut up to 1,570 million tons each year.

McKinsey also found that the total cost of adopting these technologies is small: Nearly 40 percent of the emission-reduction opportunities would not only pay for themselves, but earn enough savings to largely offset the cost of more expensive options. And, of course, the report does not even consider the costs to society of not taking action on climate change, or the benefits of doing so.

McKinsey did warn, however, that unless we enact strong policies we will fail to capture these opportunities. In fact, we may miss opportunities – especially the cheapest ones – if we wait too long. In other words, the more we delay, the harder and more expensive is becomes to reduce emissions.

We have the technology to reduce emissions steeply and cheaply – if we act soon. It’s time to cap emissions now.

[1] Reducing US Greenhouse Gas Emissions: How Much at What Cost?, conducted by McKinsey & Company and published jointly with the Conference Board in November , 2007is available here.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

SC Small Biz: Clean Energy is the Way Forward

Manufacturing CEOs Take to Airwaves to Support Cap on Global Warming Pollution
Business Leaders See Promise of New Jobs, Economic Growth

(Washington, DC – March 17, 2008) Chief executives from top American manufacturing companies are taking to the airwaves in an unprecedented national advertising campaign that calls on Congress to drive economic growth with a cap on global warming pollution.

The ad, sponsored by Environmental Defense Fund, features the CEOs of two respected American brands – Robert Lane of Deere & Co. and Sandy Cutler of Eaton Corp. – along with Frank Knapp, president of the 5,000-member South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce.

Together they say solving climate change is an opportunity to jumpstart the U.S. economy, and that America can own the energy technologies that will power the 21st Century if Congress acts quickly. Amid a heated national debate over job losses, the business leaders point to the job-creating power of a national cap on global warming pollution.

“We joined this effort not because it was green to do so, but because it’s good business,” said Sandy Cutler of Eaton Corp., a Cleveland, Ohio-based manufacturer with 77,000 employees. “This ad tells the real story about fixing climate change: American companies can win the race for new technologies and the jobs that come with them if Congress acts now to cap carbon.”

"Small business entrepreneurs are ready to be turned loose on developing new energy technologies and conservation efforts. We're just waiting for the federal government to open the gate," said Frank Knapp Jr., of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce. "It's not just about creating a new industry and jobs, it's also about protecting our existing businesses and employees from the negative impact of global warming."

The EDF ad campaign launches as Congress approaches a critical juncture in the climate change debate: the Senate will soon vote on the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act, which would substantially reduce U.S. emissions through an emissions cap and trade system. The House is expected to begin debating a similar plan next month, increasing the odds that Congress will enact a cap this year.

“When corporate leaders openly ask Congress to pass a major environmental law, you know it’s critical to our economic future. These companies want Congress to act now for the economy’s sake,” said David Yarnold, EDF’s executive director. “The environmental imperative is clear, and the CEOs in this ad know the economic reality better than anyone. Congress has a common-sense plan that works for both, and an opportunity to get it done in 2008. There is no time for delay.”

The ad begins running today in dozens of key congressional districts across the country and in Washington, D.C. View the spot online at:

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Week in Florence

The coal debate is heating up in Florence. Not only do concerned citizens continue to ask tough questions about this exceedingly dirty venture, but Florence now has a mayoral candidate who is opposed to the multi-billion dollar project, expected to bring less than 100 jobs to the 9 counties of the Pee Dee.

Group holds meeting concerning proposed power plant

Tuesday, Mar 25, 2008 - 10:31 PM Updated: 12:58 PM
By Mackenzie Taylor
Florence Morning News

Florence County Citizens In Action held the second of two public meetings Tuesday night concerning Santee Cooper’s plans to build a coal-fired power plant near Kingsburg. The meeting was held at Florence Bible Chapel.

Santee Cooper’s senior vice president and general counsel, Jim Brogdon, spoke to the group. He said the power plant is needed to meet growing population demands.

"I believe the numbers that you hear fairly frequently is that by 2025 we will grow by another million people here in South Carolina. So, those folks will come and they’ll expect to have electricity when they get here," said Brogdon.

Some, however, disagree.

"If they increased their use of renewables and combined that with efficiency, there would be no need for a new coal plant and the impacts of this coal plant on the water, on the air, on the health of the citizens of this state would never then happen," said Nancy Cave of the Coastal Conservation League.

I wonder how many of those million folks moving to South Carolina will be choosing to relocate to the Florence area in order to live near a coal plant, a non-attainment area for ozone, or a mercury contaminated river?

I think the northerners are moving down here to get away from all of that.

The Coal Bubble

From the Florence Morning News, earlier this month:

Santee Cooper’s plan part of nationwide rush

Sunday, Mar 09, 2008 - 04:00 AM
By Dana Beach, Executive Director of the Coastal Conservation League

An op-ed in last Sunday’s Morning News by O.L. Thompson, chairman of the Board of Santee Cooper, makes three unsupportable claims regarding the state’s energy needs: first, that South Carolina is in imminent danger of blackouts; second, that energy efficiency and renewable energy cannot meet the state’s energy needs; and third, that the only way for Santee Cooper to serve its customers is to build a new coal-fired electric generation plant on the Great Pee Dee River.

Santee Cooper and Mr. Thompson contend we need this coal plant because of South Carolina’s growing population. If we don’t build coal plants to keep up with growth, they say we’ll run out of power. There are a number of reasons to doubt this claim.

We all expect South Carolina to grow over the long term, but if recent economic trends are any indication, growth will not be coming to our state as quickly as we thought back in 2005 when Santee Cooper began developing its plans for new generation.

In fact, Santee Cooper’s proposal is part of a nationwide rush on the part of utilities to build coal plants. As with any rush, it is characterized by “irrational exuberance.” Indeed, the Department of Energy has recently estimated that far more power plants are being developed than are necessary.

Santee Cooper itself just recently finished constructing a new coal plant last year and will complete another next year. Do we need another? In the Carolinas, the electric power industry’s own planning authority, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, estimates that there will be more than enough power for our region over the next ten years.

Even if bullish growth projections come true, growth doesn’t directly equate to energy consumption. South Carolina is among the least efficient users of electricity in the nation not because of a unique set of conditions beyond our control, but because our utilities have failed to promote ways to maintain our standard of living while using less energy.

Santee Cooper and its Chairman assert that energy efficiency and renewable energy are incapable of meeting the state’s energy needs. Yet the national expert Santee Cooper hired to demonstrate the need for additional power is the same national expert that produced two studies for Santee Cooper’s largest customer, the state’s electric cooperatives. These studies show that energy efficiency and renewables could cost-effectively produce up to 25 percent of the states energy by 2017.

Santee Cooper’s own CEO has led the National Action Plan on Energy Efficiency, which concluded that “Well designed energy efficiency programs are delivering annual energy savings on the order of 1 percent of electricity and natural gas sales.” Energy savings at this level are enough to displace the need for new power plants.

But according to data it has provided to the Department of Energy, Santee Cooper has saved only about 0.6 percent of its retail sales, achieving less than 0.02 percent annual savings over the past four years. In truth, Santee Cooper has yet to take a serious look at energy efficiency.

Instead of spending over a billion dollars to build a new coal plant, our state power authority should provide incentives to its customers to conserve energy and produce renewable energy in homes and businesses.

Clean energy alternatives like efficiency and renewables are faster to deploy, cheaper to build, cleaner to operate, and produce more jobs per unit of energy than any other option. For this reason, they are the clear answer to the needs of Santee Cooper’s customers.

In contrast to Chairman Thompson’s claim, rushing to build a coal plant is the easy way out for Santee Cooper. Its customers will pay the tens of billions of dollars it will cost to operate this plant, over its 50 year lifetime, through increased electric bills; they will pay for the global warming it helps to cause via higher insurance rates; and they will pay for the pollution it generates through more frequent doctor’s visits. Santee Cooper will pay none of these bills.

Before Santee Cooper goes ahead with its plans, it ought to spend a little of its time and money studying the full costs and implications of its proposed coal plant, and how alternative energy options compare. Santee Cooper hasn’t done that yet. We call on the state’s Public Service Authority to join us and the public it serves, to do such a study. It might be tough, but it’s the right thing to do.

— Dana Beach is the executive director of the Coastal Conservation

Read a like-minded letter to the editor of the Florence Morning News.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Got Inflation? $998 Million is now $1.25 Billion

In a move that is beginning to suggest a pattern, Santee Cooper has revised its cost estimate for one of its two proposed Pee Dee Coal plants.

As with its decision to reevaluate its approach to mercury pollution, the revised cost for the plant announced by Santee Cooper is something that opponents of the plant have called for from the beginning.

Too bad Santee Cooper attempts to blame it on pollution control equipment and permitting, when it actuality the price hike is a result of labor, materials, and financing.

Still, its nice to see Santee Cooper moving towards the truth these days. Its clear, however, which side is providing the more reliable information.

There's room for improvement, though, as always. In the Post and Courier article below detailing the inflating price tag of the coal plant, a Santee Cooper spokesperson claims that coal is the most abundant and cost-effective source of energy.

Unfortunately, this is false.

Energy efficiency is indisputably the cheapest and most abundant source of electric capacity available (Coal, meanwhile, is fast becoming one of the more expensive ways to meet our power needs, especially once the federal government puts a price on its unmatchable carbon dioxide emissions).

Here's hoping Santee Cooper comes around to admitting this fact soon too.

Santee Cooper ups cost of coal plant
Utility increases price tag for proposed Pee Dee facility to $1.25 billion
By Tony Bartelme
The Post and Courier
Thursday, March 27, 2008

The price of gasoline isn't the only thing that's going up. Santee Cooper said Wednesday that the first phase of its proposed Pee Dee coal-fired power plant will cost $1.25 billion, up from its original estimate of $998 million.

Surging demand for electricity is driving up prices for new power plants across the world, as utilities scramble for concrete, steel and other construction materials, said Laura Varn, Santee Cooper's vice president of corporate communications.

The costs of new pollution-control equipment coupled with delays in getting state and federal permits also kicked up the Pee Dee price tag, she said. Ratepayers will pay for the increase, she said, though it's too soon to say how much it might add to people's power bills. The new estimate isn't a deal-killer for the project, she added. "Coal is still the most abundant and cost-effective fuel source."

Santee Cooper wants to build a 600-megawatt plant near the tiny town of Kingsburg in Florence County. Santee Cooper said it needs the plant by 2012 or its customers could face brownouts and blackouts.

The utility is seeking state and federal permits for two 600-megawatt generators, but the power company's board has OK'd only one.

Conservation and citizens groups say the Pee Dee project will foul the air with greenhouse gases and add mercury pollution to areas already suffering with high levels of mercury-contaminated fish. They say that focusing on conservation and renewable energy makes more sense.

Blan Holman, a lawyer for the Southern Environmental Law Center, said Santee Cooper's $1.25 billion price tag is "still a lowball" that "doesn't even include the big rise in coal prices or the Hindenburg-sized" costs that could come with proposed new taxes on carbon emissions.

Ben Moore, climate and energy project manager for the Coastal Conservation League, said that the $1.25 billion estimate is more realistic, but that it "won't be the final number."

Santee Cooper and many other utilities have long depended on coal to provide low-cost, year-round power. But amid rising construction costs and concerns about global warming and mercury pollution, utilities canceled or postponed more than 45 projects in 2007, a new analysis by the U.S. Energy Department found.

In another setback to coal interests, Wall Street investment banks said last month they would include the cost of carbon emissions in their financing calculations, a move that some analysts think will cut coal's cost advantage over other energy options,
including wind and some types of solar power.

A look at other coal projects shows Santee Cooper's estimate is on the low end of the spectrum.

Duke Power, for instance, said a new 800-megawatt generator for its Cliffside plant near Charlotte will cost $1.8 billion, plus another $550 million to $600 million in financing costs.

In Florida, a utility recently scuttled a plan to build a 750- megawatt generator for $1.4 billion. In Idaho, another utility abandoned a 600-megawatt plant tagged at $1.4 billion.

Varn said the "very distinct reason why our construction costs are lower" is that Santee Cooper serves as its own general contractor when it builds a plant.

She said this approach is "fairly uncommon in the industry," but that it keeps costs down and ensures employees "know the system inside and out."

She added that the original $998 million estimate was two years old, and that Santee Cooper revised the cost as "a good business practice."

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

New Dark Age?

Santee Cooper is fond of saying that we in South Carolina are running out of power; if we don't roll over and let them build another one of their coal plants, South Carolina will be plunged back into the "dark ages."

In Santee Cooper's defense (sort of), this is really no different from what utilities trying to build coal plants all over the country are saying to the public. Nothing like a healthy dose of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) to sway public opinion and get what you want...

Only, it turns out (surprise) that there's not as much to this "sky is falling" scenario as folks would have us believe.

At least, that is what the Department of Energy is saying.

From the Gristmill blog:

Want to kill one coal plant? Use a lawyer.

Want to kill a hundred? Use a spreadsheet.

On March 4, without fanfare, a bureaucrat named Guy Caruso caused 132 coal plants to disappear with a wave of his magic mouse.

Caruso is the head of the Energy Information Administration, the division of the U.S. Department of Energy that, well, comes up with information on energy. Sort of like the CIA, but less glamorous.

A year ago, the EIA projected [PDF] that electricity use would grow at the rate of 1.5 percent per year through 2030. But on March 4, Caruso told Congress [PDF] that the EIA had decided to put a new figure in the "projected growth rate" cell of his forecasting spreadsheet: 1.1 percent.

As we all learned in algebra, a small change in a percentage rate can make a big difference over time. Applied to coal, the new growth rate caused projected electricity generation in 2030 to drop from 3191 terawatt hours (tWh) to 2756 tWh, a decrease of 435 tWh.

What does 435 tWh equate to in terms of coal plants? Assuming a 75 percent capacity factor (the percentage of hours in an average year that a plant is running full-bore), that's the output of 66,200 megawatts (mW) of generating capacity, or 132 new coal plants (500 mW each) that won't have to be built after all between now and 2030.

Of course, a lot of people already knew this was going on, including Wall Street. For years, the Energy Information Administration, which should be leading the way in guiding decision makers, has been out of step with reality. It tends to play the role of cheerleader for an industry that has always wanted to build, build, build.

But at some point reality intrudes -- the cheerleader turns around and actually looks at the game.

And that's why 1.5 percent just became 1.1 percent, and 132 coal plants suddenly went poof.

Of course, it's not really the EIA administrator who decides which power plants are going to be built -- that's done by individual utilities and power authorities, each making its own economic and power growth projections. But EIA projections do set the tone for federal policy at all levels. An aggressive projection sets in motion the policy wheels of regulation, subsidies, and any number of other measures. So even though 132 coal plants weren't directly cancelled by Caruso's scaled back projection, the revision will nonetheless have the effect of curbing the coal boom.

But there's another lesson here as well. Like nuclear plants, coal plants tie up great gobs of capital during their extended construction periods. For the sponsors of such projects, the shifting sands of economic uncertainty can spell financial disaster, as many a utility learned the hard way during nuclear's fiscal meltdown.

In contrast, solar, wind, and conservation all have shorter lead times, a fiscal advantage not sufficiently appreciated, especially in uncertain economic environments like the present. So in addition to loving these options for being "green," planners can also love them for being "just in time."

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Virginia Takes Power into its Own Hands

Despite repeated calls from a coalition of groups opposing Santee Cooper's plans to build a coal plant on the banks of the Pee Dee, it took a Federal Court ruling that struck down a flawed law to get our state owned utility to study how it could better control the mercury emissions from its coal project.

Nothing like the threat of being caught breaking the law to motivate a state-owned power monopoly into being a good corporate citizen.

In Virginia, where a similar coal proposal has been advanced, citizens are taking power into their own hands.

Otherwise, it seems, the tough questions will never get asked.

Last week, a citizen advisory group in Virginia exercised its legal authority to take over the permitting process for a coal plant planned in their state from the state Department of Environmental Quality. The reason? They didn't have confidence in their state regulatory agency (or the utility) to adequetly examine alternatives to the coal project.

Why do we need Federal Courts and engaged citzens to ensure that our utilities and state agencies do a thorough job? Especially when we are considering multi-billion dollar, long-term projects that have serious impacts on our health and environment? Do we really want businesses and regulators to cut corners in these situations?

Why won't DHEC and Santee Cooper committ to thoroughly studying not only the impacts of Mercury pollution from the proposed Pee Dee coal plant, but alternatives to building the plant in the first place?

If they won't, who will?

Air board takes over power plant permitting

KEITH STRANGE / Staff Writer

Expressing concerns that all alternatives aren't being addressed, the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board voted Thursday to take over the permitting process for Dominion Virginia Power's Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center.

It was an unusual move last taken two years ago, according to the Department of Environmental Quality. Typically, the board — citizens appointed by the governor — defers to DEQ staff on air permitting decisions.

Contacted yesterday, DEQ Public Affairs Director Bill Hayden confirmed that the board decided to take charge of the permitting process with a 3-2 vote.

According to Hayden, who attended the meeting, board members Hullihen Williams Moore, Bruce C. Buckheit and Vivian E. Thomson were in favor of overseeing the permit, and John N. Hanson and chairman Richard D. Langford wanted DEQ to continue to handle the matter.

Hayden said the board expressed concerns that all options aren't being addressed and DEQ's proposed emissions limits aren't stringent enough.

"They want to look at options that provide for cleaner, more efficient use of coal in whatever power plant gets looked at," he said.

Hayden noted that state law enables the board to seize control of the process. He said DEQ will now provide any information requested to the air board and draft any potential permit at the board's direction.

"If they decide to take over the permit, they direct DEQ on what kind of analysis will be done, they oversee the drafting of the permit," he said.


According to Hayden, the last time the air board voted to take over permitting authority was about two years ago on a proposed power plant in Alexandria.
"They still have taken no action on that permit," he said.

Prior to that, Hayden said, there were only a "handful" of instances in which the air board took over permitting authority.

"It's not routine, but they do have the authority," he said.


Dominion had been hoping for permit issuance on April 1.

"I think DEQ will not have a permit on April 1," Hayden said. "The board indicated they would like additional analysis and will be conferring with DEQ over the next several weeks on what type of information and studies they would like presented to them."

Hayden said there is no longer a specific timetable on the air permit for the $1.8
billion plant, but the air board indicated it would like to see a draft permit in May.
The DEQ spokesman declined to speculate on when the board might take action on the Virginia City permit.

"They did say they wanted to get it done expeditiously," he said. "But it's difficult to speculate on their time frame."


In a press release issued shortly after the vote, Dominion spokesman Jim Norvelle called the decision disappointing.

"An extended delay — much beyond 60 days — in granting the air permit could result in a very significant increase in costs to Dominion and its customers as some
construction contracts likely would have to be re-negotiated," he said.

According to Norvelle, the utility has already invested more than two years and spent more than $6 million on studies and emissions modeling for the plant.

"It has shown that the 585-megawatt station scheduled to begin commercial operation in 2012 in Wise County . . . will meet or exceed all environmental laws and regulations," he said.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Sun News Says No to a Coal Plant w/ No Mercury Controls

Long touted as "one of the cleanest coal plants in the country," the Pee Dee "Energy Campus" is finally coming back to earth. Yes, Earth, a planet on which thousands of pounds of mercury pollution are NOT considered clean. And a planet where the U.S. court system is finally making EPA and the utilities they regulate do something to control these mercury emissions.

Kudos to the Myrtle Beach Sun News for noting Santee Cooper's return from orbit, and for pointing out the utility's responsibility to stay on terra firma from here on out.

For a true grounding, however, we need to consider if a coal plant is even necessary if our state utility would do more with renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Reducing mercury in rivers worth higher electric rates

In response to government and interest-group pressure, Santee Cooper agreed last week to study how much mercury its proposed Florence County coal-fired power plant would produce. Good.

Mercury, a heavy metal neurotoxin, is an inevitable byproduct of coal-burning. Even trace amounts of can cause brain damage, especially in small children.

The existing plan for the $1 billion plant envisions emissions of about 100 pounds of mercury per year. For this, leaders of the state-owned utility have a weak defense: Because the Pee Dee River (along which the plant would sit) and other rivers are already polluted with mercury from other sources, emissions from the plant would make matters no worse.

The utility's view of the mercury situation was consistent with the Bush administration's lax interpretation of the U.S. Clean Air Act. For a while, it looked as though this thinking might be enough to persuade the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control to issue an air permit for the plant.

Then last month came a federal court ruling that effectively shot down the administration's twisted logic on mercury emissions. All new coal-fired plants, said the court, must meet the strict standards of the law. That decision threw a roadblock into Santee Cooper's path toward DHEC air-permit approval.

There ensued a spirited effort by S.C. conservation groups to bend the utility to the perceived will of the federal court decision. And after it became clear that the decision posed a threat to swift DHEC approval of its air permit, Santee Cooper last week ordered a maximum-achievable-control-technology analysis - in effect, a new environmental impact study. The MACT study will determine whether Santee Cooper should modify its power-plant plans to include more equipment to further reduce emissions of mercury and other pollutants.

Ever since Santee Cooper proposed the plant, Chief Executive Lonnie Carter has pledged that the plant, called the Pee Dee Energy Campus, would include the best emissions-control equipment available. So if the MACT analysis shows pollution-control deficiencies in the current plans for the plant, Carter will surely ask the Santee Cooper board to approve a pollution-control upgrade and alter the plans accordingly.

Such an upgrade would likely increase the cost of the plant. And that, in turn, could result in higher rates for business, industrial and residential customers who use Santee Cooper power. That population includes direct service to residents of the
utility's service area - Horry, Georgetown and Berkeley counties - and indirect service to electric-cooperative customers statewide.

Conservation groups insist otherwise, but there seems little doubt that the plant is a necessity. Growth in our part of the world is strong and will continue. Carter makes a persuasive case that strict conservation measures alone can't "create" enough spare power to make construction of new generating capacity unnecessary.

If it's possible for Santee Cooper to build a cleaner plant at higher cost, then
ratepayers should gladly pay higher rates to support its construction. As the utility effectively recognized in knuckling under to a MACT analysis, promising to increase toxic pollution only a little bit no longer cuts it. Even as we heat and cool our houses, heat our bath water, light our houses, boot up our computers and crank up our home theaters, we should resolve to decrease power-plant pollution to the greatest extent possible.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

At the movies, w/ SC Sierra Club

Wanna watch another? The coal fight down the road in Georgia.

Mercury Rising, continued....

In response to a federal court ruling that rendered current mercury regulations in the United States illegal, Santee Cooper has announced that it will conduct a review of how its proposed Pee Dee plant would limit significant mercury pollution (since as it stands; the plant is illegal).

Readers of this blog will note that opponents of this plant have argued for this kind of review all along.

Questions that will remain unanswered even after Santee Cooper completes this analysis:

How will more mercury pollution affect the health of South Carolinians?

How much will more mercury pollution cost of state, our citizens?

Why hasn't Santee Cooper considered alternative ways to generate the power it claims it needs that would have ZERO mercury emissions?

From the Post and Courier:

Pee Dee power plant pollution to be examined
Santee Cooper to analyze mercury-reduction methods
By Tony Bartelme (Contact)
The Post and Courier
Thursday, March 20, 2008

Amid rising
concerns over mercury and greenhouse gases from coal-fired power generators, Santee Cooper on Wednesday said it plans to take a closer look at its pollution-control strategy for the proposed $1 billion Pee Dee plant.

Conservation groups have been pushing Santee Cooper for months to do such an analysis. "It should have started long ago," said John Suttles, a lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

The group says other coal-burning technologies, including one that turns coal into gas, are cleaner than Santee Cooper's Pee Dee plan.

Santee Cooper decided to do what's known in regulatory circles as a "Maximum Achievable Control Technology" analysis after a federal appellate court last month struck down the Bush administration's controversial "cap-and-trade" program to reduce mercury pollution.

Among other things, the program would have let utilities buy and sell mercury pollution "credits." The court said this was wrong and that utilities should find the most effective technology to cut mercury, a powerful neurotoxin linked to numerous health problems.

Santee Cooper said its study will examine technology in other plants to reduce mercury and other pollutants and that such studies usually involve more opportunities for the public to comment.

Santee Cooper wants permits for two 600-megawatt generators for a new power plant on the Great Pee Dee River near Kingsburg. The utility says it needs the plant to keep lights burning in fast-growing areas of coastal South Carolina.

Lonnie Carter, Santee Cooper's president and chief executive, said he was confident the utility's plans to reduce mercury "are among the most stringent in the country." Suttles said Carter's statement suggests "it already knows the results of a mercury study before the study has even been conducted. That's like announcing the winner of American Idol before first the contestant sings."

The study will delay the permitting process by a few months, said Laura Varn, the utility's director of corporate communications.

More coverage from the Florence Morning News and The State.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Small town thinks big

From SCBIZ, "South Carolina's Media Engine for Economic Growth," an inspiring story about how small-town South Carolina is finding new ways to generate the power it needs to grow (see below).

Bethune, South Carolina -- not too far from where Santee Cooper plans a dirty coal power plant -- went with solar panels to generate clean energy, but of course there are a number of other ways to do it: biomass, wind, and don't forget energy conservation.

If more towns and more homes followed little Bethune's example, our state would be cleaner, healthier and, perhaps most importantly, more economically vibrant... and we wouldn't need another dirty coal plant.

Small town Bethune is going green

Wednesday, 19 March 2008
SCBIZ Daily Staff

BETHUNE – Thanks to a state grant, Bethune will soon be known as a small town that thinks big. Bethune’s Town Hall, which also houses the Police Department, will have 48 solar panels installed on its roof, which will generate about half of the Town Hall’s total electricity.

The grant, entitled "Peacefully Green" was submitted in March 2007 by then Town Councilor Worth Thomasson, which asked for $125,000 "to help our town start a transformation to become a model S.C. Green Community."

Considering the size of the town, population 352, Thomasson was pleased that the state recognized Bethune's desire "to improve our community's health and environment, improve our position to develop economically, and offer a reason for travel and tourism in our area."

After receiving the check in September, Thomasson began looking for solar installation companies, explaining, "It was a long process. We were looking for a turnkey operation, a company that would oversee the entire process. We didn't find

The town eventually found Argand Energy Solutions, and co-founder Erik Lensch has been working with the town for months preparing for the town's transformation next week.

According to Lensch, "The roof of the Town Hall building is wide open and faces south" where it catches the most light. The photovoltaic solar panels will generate 8kW of electricity, which, according to Lensch is enough to power one to two homes for a year. It will generate about half of the town hall's total electricity and will offset approximately 11,400 pounds of CO2 emissions annually.

"It's not a huge amount of electricity, but it works well for their situation. Most of the town hall's power consumption occurs during the day when the offices are open and there are computers, air conditioning, and lights on," said Lensch. "They also did some solar lighting around the town's entrance signs."In addition to powering Town Hall with solar energy, Thomasson says they are converting a deserted two acre little league baseball field into green space for use by the public, with gazebos, a fountain,
and new playground.

The goal, he says, is to create a green space that gives citizens and families a peaceful location for social activities, community involvement, and raises the public's awareness about the benefits of "green communities."

Besides residential conversions, Argand Energy Solutions has been working on larger solar installations like the Freedom Center in Charlotte, NC and the Charleston Battery's Blackbaud Stadium and is excited to be involved in the "Peacefully Green" project for the Town of Bethune.

Says Lensch, "I think it's part of a bigger initiative to put Bethune on the map as a green and renewable energy friendly community," a municipal trend that he hopes to see grow in the future.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Green = $$$

Renewable energy and energy efficiency are right for South Carolina and coal plants are wrong.

Forget for a moment the environmental issues.

Clean energy is better business. Read up on the growing "Green Tech" industry here.

See below for a recent opinion on the potential for job creation in Ohio from a committment to clean energy (as opposed to coal).

The same is true here in South Carolina.

In our state about 75% of our electricity consumption is sourced from coal (in Ohio the figure is 90%). As the recent woes on Wall Street remind us from time to time, it is NOT smart to keep all your eggs in one basket.

Ohio, like South Carolina, has been bleeding high-paying manufacturing jobs for years now. Fortunately, like Ohio, South Carolina stands to gain big time from an economy focused on clean energy.

Witness GE in the upstate which continues to add hundreds of jobs per year just to keep up with the demand for wind turbines.

Or check out this study indicating 20,000 manufacturing jobs could be had in our state in the solar and wind manufaturing business.

Santee Cooper's multi-billon dollar coal plant will create less than 100 jobs and increase substantially our dependence on coal.

One often hears that a committment to clean energy would increase electricity rates in our state (already some of the lowest in the nation). Study after study shows that renewable energy would increase electric rates only slightly -- if at all. Ohio has studied it and reached that conclusion.

A small price to pay for thousands of jobs, and a healthier environment.

Green energy = jobs And it won't harm Ohio's coal industry
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Richard Stuebi
Cleveland Plain Dealer

You may have seen billboards cropping up around town showing an electrical cord plugged into a lump of coal. They suggest that coal mining and coal-based electricity
generation is essential for creating or preserving jobs in Ohio.

Similarly, advertisements in The Plain Dealer and other publications ask the question: "Green-collar jobs might sound good to some people, but what does that mean for Ohio jobs . . . what does it mean for your job?"

This media blitz is sponsored by Americans for Balanced Energy Choices, an organization funded by coal interests. It presents one side of the debate over the future of our state economy, implying that a continued dependence upon coal in Ohio's energy mix is the best path for our state's economic health.

On the other side are those who see the need to build an advanced energy economy more reliant on energy efficiency and renewable technologies. They believe advanced energy not only will meet our power needs while better addressing environmental concerns, but also will spawn many thousands of green-collar jobs to manufacture and install wind, solar and other advanced energy sources.

The old-liners are skeptical. Advanced energy represents a threat to their livelihood, and they want you to believe it will cause energy prices to rise dramatically, forcing
companies to lay off employees or go out of business.

We at the Cleveland Foundation have studied these issues at length and have concluded that a concerted move to advanced energy in Ohio would not cause undue
economic harm. In fact, the economic benefits would far outweigh the costs.

A study we commissioned last year confirmed that public policy to promote advanced energy in Ohio would cause, at most, miniscule increases in electricity prices 10 years from now and would not materially harm our coal industry.

We are not against coal. Coal has been a backbone of our electricity sector - and, therefore, our heavy industry and consumer society - for decades. Almost 90 percent of the electricity generated in Ohio comes from coal, and that's not going to change overnight. In almost any scenario, environmentally responsible mining and utilization of coal will be essential for a long time.

But consider this: Would you want 90 percent of your financial assets in one investment? Not if you're prudent.

So, ask yourself: Do we really want 90 percent of our electricity to come from one source? Especially when coal-fired power generation is almost certainly going to face adverse economic consequences when the next president signs legislation to reduce carbon emissions?

Let's not allow ourselves to mortgage the future of Ohio, continuing to rely too much on a single type of fuel for our electricity needs to protect jobs that are increasingly
vulnerable and may not be savable.

Instead, Ohio needs to create new employment opportunities - green-collar jobs associated with advanced energy - to replenish the blue-collar jobs that are going away.

If you care about the possibilities and the future, not only for you, but also for your children and grandchildren, encourage your elected officials to push aggressively for policies favoring advanced energy. It's the right thing to do for the economy as well as for the environment.

Read More

Monday, March 17, 2008

Coal Moratorium Law

Will our SC delegation vote for it?

Top House Dems offer bill to stop coal plants
Darren Samuelsohn, E&ENews PM senior reporter

Two top House Democrats introduced
legislation today that would prevent the permitting of coal-fired power plants that cannot capture and sequester most greenhouse-gas emissions.

Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said their bill should give the electric utility industry and its investors a clear signal that a new U.S. climate policy is on the way.

"Comprehensive economy-wide regulation to address global warming is coming soon," Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said in a press release. "But new uncontrolled coal-fired power plants are being built today."

Under the bill, U.S. EPA and all state permitting agencies would face a moratorium on issuing permits for any electric utility that does not capture and permanently sequester at least 85 percent of its heat-trapping emissions. The moratorium would stay in place until Congress or EPA adopts a mandatory measure that limits midcentury greenhouse-gas emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels.

"This bill will make companies prepare for the future and prevent them from building low-tech coal fired power plants before a global warming bill is passed that will necessitate the use of the newest, most climate-friendly technologies," said Markey, the chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.

According to a recent Energy Department
analysis, 47 coal-fired power plants are in either the permitting or the construction phase across the country -- but only a small number have the capacity to capture their greenhouse-gas emissions. Another 67 plants are in earlier stages of development.

'A common sense policy'

The Waxman-Markey legislation becomes the latest piece to a climate debate already brewing on Capitol Hill. The two lawmakers rank Nos. 2 and 3 in terms of seniority on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, but they are often among a select few to push such far-reaching environmental measures.

A senior Waxman aide predicted the bill would get other lawmakers' attention. "The prospects for this legislation are excellent because it is such a common sense policy," the aide said.

Speaking earlier today with reporters, Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) said there is a greater than 50-50 chance that a cap-and-trade bill limiting U.S. emissions will make it into law this year.

Boucher, chairman of the House Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee, also addressed the specific carbon capture technologies that Waxman and Markey would envision requiring right now of the electric utility industry.

Under conservative estimates, Boucher said carbon capture technologies would not be commercially available until about 2025. "This isn't rocket science at all," Boucher said during a news conference hosted by Platts.

"It isn't even auto mechanics. ... It will work."

House Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) "welcomes contributions from all members and plans to review this proposal," a spokesman for the lawmaker said.

Sierra Club national coal campaign director Bruce Niles said the Waxman-Markey legislation would challenge electric utility companies into following through on their multimillion-dollar commercial campaign aimed at promoting "clean" coal technologies. "This bill holds them to their rhetoric and will demonstrate whether there is any truth behind the industry's slick public relations campaign," he said.

But Edison Electric Institute spokesman Dan Riedinger rejected the bill's underlying premise.

"The power sector is keenly aware of the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but this bill isn't going to get us there," Riedinger said. "Halting coal plant construction will do almost nothing to reduce atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, yet it will leave U.S. consumers exposed to higher and more volatile energy prices at a time when they can least afford it."

Click here to view the bill from Reps. Waxman and Markey.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Do you need another?

Area scientists are weighing in on coal, and they are not for it. See a recent editorial in the Sun News by marine scientist Dr. Dan Abel (below); or this one from the Charlotte News & Observer by biogeochemist Dr. William Schlessiger

More reasons to say no to coal

Do we need a new coal-fired power plant in southern Florence County, as Santee Cooper asserts? Here are reasons the answer is a resounding no.

Because of the magnitude of their contribution to global warming, no more coal-fired power plants should be built. This proposed plant will annually emit about 8.6 million tons of carbon dioxide, the primary contributor to global warming. Coal-fired power plants are responsible for about 40 percent of the U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. Since we have already exceeded the planet's capacity to absorb CO2, building new coal-fired power plants is irresponsible. And since it is inevitable that CO2 will soon be heavily taxed, it is also stupid. Also, significant amounts of methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, are released during mining.

Global warming is the defining issue of our era and is at least as large a threat to the security of the U.S. and its citizens as nuclear terrorism is. Ironically, this plant will contribute to the sea level rise that severely threatens coastal South Carolina. Kansas recently became the first state to reject a permit for a coal-fired power plant on the
basis of CO2 emissions.

Traditional pulverized coal-fired power plants represent the dinosaurs of technology and are throwbacks to a technologically primitive era.

While the new plant will be slightly more advanced than current plants, it is but a variation on the theme.

Coal burning is a major contributor of mercury to the environment. Mercury levels in freshwater and marine fish here and in other states are high enough to trigger health warnings. Levels of the most toxic form of mercury, methylmercury, which might not harm an adult, can damage a child's developing brain, leading to deficiencies in IQ,
attention deficit and impaired motor function. Fetuses and infants are especially vulnerable. The plant will annually emit 138 pounds of mercury annually. It is morally indefensible to allow this to happen.

Burning coal produces other pollution, including high levels of toxic sulfur oxide gases; appreciable quantities of toxic heavy metals like uranium and chromium; and
oxides of nitrogen.

Sulfur oxide gases and oxides of nitrogen can contribute to smog and acid precipitation, which can damage buildings and cause pulmonary problems. Jeff Goodell, in his book "Big Coal," reports that air pollution from coal plants has killed more than 500,000 Americans in the past 20 years.

Discharge of heated water will warm the Pee Dee River. Thermal pollution is often the forgotten pollution. Discharge of heated water can cause hypoxia (low dissolved oxygen levels) that may lead to fish kills and other ecosystem damage. Nearly 30 million gallons of water will be withdrawn from, heated, and after some cooling, returned to the Pee Dee per day.

Building the plant will destroy critical habitat. About 93 acres of wetland will be

Santee Cooper does not adequately promote conservation, efficiency or green power sources.

Santee Cooper underestimates its ability to develop green energy and promote its use. Investing the $1 billion or more that the coal plant will cost into these areas can easily achieve increase in efficiency necessary to obviate the need for the plant. Santee Cooper is also reluctant to institute any meaningful conservation programs. Curbing energy waste through a combination of incentives or tiered-pricing (such as lower cost for the first 1000 kilowatt-hours and higher rates for excessive use) could result in old power plants being retired.

The human and environmental costs of mining coal have not been considered.

These are two moral issues beyond the boundaries of the state. First, while the U.S. has among the world's safest coal mines, deaths from 2000 to 2006 averaged about 30 per year. The U.S. Center for Disease Control estimates that each year 2,000 former miners die from lung diseases caused by exposure to coal mine dust.
Second, mountaintop removal, a controversial form of surface coal mining that is changing the very face of states like West Virginia and Kentucky, levels mountaintops and produces millions of tons of debris that are dumped into adjacent valleys, changing the contours and drainage patterns of thousands of square miles in the eastern U.S., spoiling an entire way of life, and contributing to flash floods that kill residents. Mountaintop-removal mining has permanently destroyed more than 1,200 miles of streams, polluted groundwater and rivers, and demolished some 400,000 acres of forest in Appalachia alone.

Building large projects like power plants and prisons as jobs programs is a poor substitute for sustainable economic development. For better and permanent jobs, invest in job training, tax incentives, green public works projects, infrastructure, and meaningful K-12 education.

Let's hope that the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers put the people and environment of the state first and refuse to issue permits to Santee Cooper for this ill-conceived and immoral plant.

DAN ABEL is an associate professor of marine science at Coastal Carolina University and director of the CCU Campus and Community Sustainability Initiative.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Another coal plant cancelled!

This time by the very utility planning to build one -- and an electric cooperative no less! Santee Cooper partisans out there -- please note the utility's reasons for cancelling plans for the plant, reported in the Kansas City Star:

Nancy Southworth, a spokeswoman for AECI, told the Carroll County Commission on Monday that the cooperative had two main concerns: The cost to build the plant had increased from just under $1 billion to $1.7 billion, and regulations for costly carbon dioxide controls are being considered by Congress.

Both apply to Santee Cooper's project. Also cited was the fact that their federal finacing fell through. While Santee Cooper may be seeking private financing for its project, its hard to believe that private funders will not be far behind when the government thinks its too risky to invest in these things.

Also note how AECI intends to serve its customers needs in lieu of a coal plant:
AECI will continue to look at energy efficiency initiatives, natural gas, renewables and nuclear resources to address future generation needs.
Read the full story in the Kansas City Star below:

Construction of coal-fired power plant east of Excelsior Springs delayed indefinitely
The Kansas City Star

Utility officials have delayed indefinitely construction of a coal-fired power plant 50 miles east of Excelsior Springs because of financial and environmental concerns.

The announcement Monday by Associated Electric Cooperative Inc., which provides electricity to almost all rural Missouri, caught many by surprise.

The decision, voted on by the utility’s board on Friday, comes just days after AECI had received a permit from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, a signal that construction could begin.

Nancy Southworth, a spokeswoman for AECI, told the Carroll County Commission on Monday that the cooperative had two main concerns: The cost to build the plant had increased from just under $1 billion to $1.7 billion, and regulations for costly carbon dioxide controls are being considered by Congress.

In addition, Southworth said during an interview that a loan from the Rural Utilities Service, a government agency that provides funding to co-ops to build coal plants, fell through. The agency has halted giving loans because of increased construction costs and the regulatory uncertainty.

“This will force us to find other sources of generation,” she said. “We are looking at gas, energy efficiency, renewables, and we will look at nuclear. All of those are part of the mix.”

Southworth said the co-op did not seek private funding.

Wall Street investment bankers recently announced that loans to build new coal plants were risky because of the concerns over future CO2 emission controls. Also, Rep. Henry Waxman, a California Democrat, has begun an inquiry into government financing of new plants.

Nelson Heil, Carroll County presiding commissioner, said the county was taking a major financial hit by the “shocking” decision.

Heil said the plant would have meant 135 permanent jobs and a payroll of $10 million to $12 million annually. The number of construction jobs was expected to peak at more than 1,000.

“We have nothing in this county that even compares,” Heil said. “I don’t know at this point what we are going to do. It’s a big economic hit for the residents.”

But a number of county residents didn’t want the plant. More than 300 people turned out for a public hearing in November to argue the merits of the plant.

Four years ago the country had plans to build at least 160 coal plants, and now 63 of those proposed plants will not be built, said Bruce Nilles, director of Sierra Club’s National Coal Campaign.

“All indications are that this trend is accelerating as costs of coal skyrocket and the nation focuses its attention on global warming solutions,” Nilles said.

The Sierra Club was on the verge of filing litigation against AECI to try to halt the construction, said Melissa Hope, Sierra Club’s Missouri Chapter development director.

“Associated Electric is taking a giant step forward in our collective fight to stop global warming,” Hope said. “Associated Electric was the first in Missouri to embrace wind power and today they vault into the ever-growing ranks of electric providers moving beyond coal. Unfortunately in Kansas, Sunflower (Electric Power Corp.) is still headed in the wrong decision.”

Steve Miller, a spokesman for Sunflower, a co-op that wants to build two generators in western Kansas, expressed surprise over the decision.

“I am just bamboozled by that,” Miller said. “If the United States is evolving itself into a policy of no coal, we are going to be in trouble. I feel really sorry for the people of Missouri.”

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Mercury (continues) Rising

From yesterday's Post and Courier, a story on DHEC's (pathetic?) effort to deal with the mercury contamination issue faced by our state. Signs are great; requiring the absolute best pollution controls on coal plants (or denying permits for new plants) would be better.

Mercury warnings posted
Signs about tainted fish going up at fishing spots in S.C.

By Tony Bartelme
The Post and Courier
Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Hoping to raise awareness about mercury-tainted fish, health officials have begun posting roughly 400 warning signs at fishing holes and lakes across South Carolina where biologists have found high levels of mercury.

DHEC State health officials are installing signs on the Edisto River and other sites around the state advising people about the dangers of eating fish with high levels of

Written in English and Spanish, the signs have pictures of fish tailored to each particular water body and include advice on how much fish is safe to eat and, in some cases, whether people should avoid eating a single bite.

Mercury is a potent neurotoxin linked to nervous disorders, brain damage and other health problems.

A series in The Post and Courier last year identified freshwater mercury hot spots in the state and revealed for the first time how people who frequently eat fish from these areas have unusually high levels of mercury in their bodies.

The series prompted the state Department of Health and Environmental Control to take a new look at how it measures and regulates mercury. Installing the signs is one of the first steps in this effort.

"The signs are to increase awareness about eating the right types and safe amounts of fish," said David Wilson, chief of DHEC's Bureau of Water.

Wilson said the 400 signs cost about $50,000 and should be in place within six weeks. Among other things, the signs include advice to those most at risk of mercury poisoning — women who are pregnant, nursing or in childbearing years.

Some signs also will identify waters that have high levels of fecal-coliform bacteria from human or animal waste, he said. People who swim in these waters have a higher chance of getting sick.

More than 1,700 miles of river in South Carolina have fish with high levels of mercury, DHEC records show. Man-made sources of mercury include coal-fired power plants, cement plants and certain factories.

"There was such a burning need for these signs," said Nancy Vinson of the Coastal Conservation League. "Unless people had computers or read the paper, they weren't likely to know that most of our rivers have fish that are toxic for human consumption."

The next step, added Blan Holman of the Southern Environmental Law Center, is for DHEC to clamp down on the state's biggest mercury polluters: coal-fired power plants."

Read previous stories on mercury in the Post and Courier

Progress-ive Policy

Progress Energy recently made a presentation to Wall Street that just a few years ago would have seemed incredible. The presentation was motivated by a recent survey Progress made of its customers in Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina.

While the findings may not be palatable to stodgy, reactionary utilities, Progress should be commended for living up to its name and realizing that the old adage is true: "the customer is never wrong."

Among the findings:

  • "79% of our customers think climate change requires immediate and drastic action"
  • Expanding the utilization of renewable energy and energy efficiency is twice as important as ensuring a reliable supply of electricity and more important than avoiding rate increases.
  • Public opinion virtually eliminates coal plants as an option
Progress rightly sees this as a sea change in the way they will do business in the future. Instead of emphasizing cheap and reliable electricity at any cost to our health and the environment, its customers want energy services that allow them to save money while heading off the worst effects of climate change.

Progress customers also see their utility as playing a disproportionate role in making sure that happens.

Comparing Progress to Santee Cooper reveals a striking result. Progress surveyed its customers to find out how the company should respond to climate change using alternatives to coal. Santee Cooper surveyed its customers to find out how to sell more coal.

From the Charlottee News & Observer:
Published: Mar 01, 2008 12:30 AM
Modified: Mar 01, 2008 05:41 AM

Progress sees shift to renewables
Customer demand and carbon gas limits will force changes, the utility warns investors

John Murawski, Staff Writer

Half of Progress Energy's customers in North Carolina say the company isn't doing enough to develop renewable energy, and a whopping 79 percent say that global warming requires immediate and drastic action.

Those are some polling results that the Raleigh electric utility released Friday as a warning to investors that power companies could face major costs to comply with carbon dioxide limits that are expected to be imposed by Congress. Progress Energy said that the cost of compliance could add $3 billion a year to the cost of doing business in this state and 5 billion annually in Florida -- or as much as $20 a month for a typical residential customer.

About half the electricity generated by Progress Energy in the Carolinas comes from
coal-burning power plants, making officials jittery about the potential cost of meeting federal carbon-emissions limits. Coal plants are the leading sources of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas blamed for overheating the planet.

Progress Energy's customer surveys, presented at a conference for Wall Street analysts that the company hosted in Florida, show how far public opinion has swung in this state on combating climate change. Progress Energy, which has 3.1 million customers in the Carolinas and Florida, said public opinion virtually eliminated coal plants as an option.

The company regularly surveys its customers to assess its public image and to gauge customer sentiment about public policy. Progress added questions about renewable energy about two years ago.

"It's important to know where customers stand, because policymakers are going to be responding to public opinion," John McArthur, the company's general counsel and senior vice president, told the analysts.

The most recent survey polled 1,700 customers in the fall, including about 700 in North Carolina. In one of the more surprising responses, customers said they are more interested in developing renewable energy -- such as solar, wind or animal waste -- than they are in receiving reliable electricity.

Public opinion turns

Now Progress officials say they have a new challenge: The public may be overly
optimistic about the potential for renewable energy. Though environmental advocates have said alternative energy is cheaper than building power plants, Progress executives said renewables are costly and not as dependable as power plants.

"The public has unrealistic expectations about renewables," McArthur said. "They think it's twice as important as reliability."

But McArthur noted that the surveys show customers are willing to pay extra for green energy, after years of saying that, above all, they demanded cheap and reliable power. Knowing that customers will tolerate cost increases, Progress Energy supported a state law requiring that 12.5 percent of electricity in the state come from renewable energy sources and efficiency programs by 2021.

But the survey did find some in favor of more traditional power options.

In North Carolina, 56 percent of customers favor new nuclear plants. Progress Energy last week applied for a federal license to add two nuclear reactors at the Shearon Harris site in Wake County, and it will apply for two additional reactors in Florida this year. Utility officials tout nuclear energy as an answer to global warming, because, unlike coal-burning power plants, nuclear plants emit no greenhouse gases.

Though alternative energy is coming down in cost, estimates for nuclear plants have tripled in the past several years.

The Westinghouse AP1000 reactor that Progress Energy is considering for Florida and the Shearon Harris site has been estimated at as much as $9 billion. Progress Energy has not revealed its cost estimates, but the company will file preliminary estimates for the Florida plant with utility regulators in that state in coming weeks.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Coal Pushers: Oxymorons

Op-ed in Sunday's Washington Post:

'Clean' Coal? Don't Try to Shovel That.

By Jeff Biggers
Sunday, March 2, 2008; B02

Every time I hear our political leaders talk about "clean coal," I think about Burl, an irascible old coal miner in West Virginia. After 35 years underground, he struggled to conjure enough breath to match his storytelling verve, as if the iron hoops of a whiskey barrel had been strapped around his lungs. In 1983, during my first visit to Appalachia as a young man, Burl rolled up his pants and showed me the leg that had been mangled in a mining accident. The scars snaked down to his ankles.

"My grandpa barely survived an accident in the mines in southern Illinois," I told him. "He had these blue marks and bits of coal buried in his face."

"Coal tattoo," Burl wheezed. "Don't let anyone ever tell you that coal is clean."

Clean coal: Never was there an oxymoron more insidious, or more dangerous to our public health. Invoked as often by the Democratic presidential candidates as by the Republicans and by liberals and conservatives alike, this slogan has blindsided any meaningful progress toward a sustainable energy policy.

Democrats excoriated President Bush last month when he released a budget calling or more -- billions more -- in funds to reduce carbon emissions from coal-burning power plants to create "clean coal." But hardly a hoot could be heard about his proposed cuts to more practical investments in solar energy, hydrogen fuel and
home energy efficiency.

Meanwhile, leading Democrats were up in arms over the Energy Department's recent decision to abandon the $1.8 billion FutureGen project in eastern Illinois, planned as the first coal-fired plant to capture and store harmful carbon dioxide emissions. Energy Department officials, unlike politicians, had to confront the spiraling costs of this fantasy.

Orwellian language has led to Orwellian politics. With the imaginary vocabulary of "clean coal," too many Democrats and Republicans, as well as a surprising number of environmentalists, have forgotten the dirty realities of extracting coal from the earth. Pummeled by warnings that global warming is triggering the apocalypse, Americans have fallen for the ruse of futuristic science that is clean coal. And in the meantime, swaths of the country are being destroyed before our eyes. Here's the hog-killing reality that a coal miner like Burl or my grandfather knew firsthand: No matter how "cap 'n trade" schemes pan out in the distant future for coal-fired plants, strip mining and underground coal mining remain the dirtiest and most destructive ways of making energy.

Coal ain't clean. Coal is deadly.

More than 104,000 miners in America have died in coal mines since 1900. Twice as many have died from black lung disease. Dangerous pollutants, including mercury, filter into our air and water. The injuries and deaths caused by overburdened coal trucks are innumerable. Yet even on the heels of a recent report revealing that in the last six years the Mine Safety and Health Administration decided not to assess fines for more than 4,000 violations, Bush administration officials have called for cutting mine-safety funds by 6.5 percent. Have they already forgotten the coal miners who were entombed underground in Utah last summer?

Above ground, millions of acres across 36 states have been dynamited, torn and churned into bits by strip mining in the last 150 years. More than 60 percent of all coal mined in the United States today, in fact, comes from strip mines.

In the "United States of Coal," Appalachia has become the poster child for strip mining's worst depravations, which come in the form of mountaintop removal. An estimated 750,000 to 1 million acres of hardwood forests, a thousand miles of waterways and more than 470 mountains and their surrounding communities -- an area the size of Delaware -- have been erased from the southeastern mountain range in the last two decades. Thousands of tons of explosives -- the equivalent of several Hiroshima atomic bombs -- are set off in Appalachian communities every year.

How can anyone call this clean?

When the Bush administration announced a plan last year to do away with a poorly enforced 1983 regulation that protected streams from being buried by strip-mining waste -- one of the last ramparts protecting some of the nation's oldest forests and communities -- tens of thousands of people wrote to the Office of Surface Mining in outrage. Citizens' groups also effectively halted the proposed construction of 59 coal-fired plants in the past year. Yet at last weekend's meeting of the National Governors Association, Democratic and Republican governors once again joined forces, ignored the disastrous reality of mining and championed the chimera of clean coal. Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell even declared that coal states will be "back in business big time."

How much more death and destruction will it take to strip coal of this bright, shining "clean" lie?As Burl might have said, if our country can rally to save Arctic polar bears from global warming, perhaps Congress can pass the Endangered Appalachians Act to save American miners, their children and their communities from ruin by a reckless industry.Or at least stop talking about "clean coal."

Monday, March 3, 2008

Million Dollar "Public Service Announcements"

Andy Brack, of the SC Statehouse Report provides more in depth coverage of Santee Cooper's squandering of public funds in its quest to saddle our state with another coal plant. According to Brack, the publicly owned utility is running more than a million dollar tab in an attempt to dupe folks into thinking another coal plant is a good thing for our state.

Santee Cooper plays scary media hardball
By ANDY BRACK, publisher

FEB. 29, 2008 -- Santee Cooper has spent about $150,000 this year on a slick media campaign that critics say used negative political-style messaging to build support for a new coal-fired power plant.

Judge for yourself. A recent newspaper ad featured a picture of a frowning electrical outlet with this headline: "A future without enough electricity is scary." The text of the ad outlined how the state would outgrow its electricity supply within five years and how Santee Cooper, a public utility, was planning to meet the need by building a new power plant.

Two billboards that were part of a January-February media campaign by Santee Cooper. Click here to view the "scary" newspaper ad. "That's the kind of thing we decry when there are two candidates who are tearing each other up and they do that without the benefit of public funding," said environmental leader Dana Beach of the SC Coastal Conservation League in Charleston. "Here is a publicly-funded agency using fear tactics to torque a very important and very complex policy decision in its favor."

Santee Cooper spokesperson Laura Varn said the advertising campaign also included messaging on how it planned to build a new coal-fired plant in the Pee Dee with the latest technology and how Santee Cooper had a long history of environmental leadership. "We're not trying to go over the line, but we're not trying to sugar-coat it either," Varn said. When asked whether the "scary" ad was good, she added, "We thought it was a way to effectively communicate the seriousness of the situation and our proactive solutions to it."

She noted the state, one of the fastest growing in the country, faced a looming shortage of electricity. A new coal-fired 600-megawatt plant recently opened as the third plant at the utility's Cross facility; a fourth is expected to open next January.

"That power is essentially spoken for when we turn it on," she said. By 2011, the utility will start facing capacity challenges with what it generates, which is why she said it needed another plant in Kingsburg. The proposed Pee Dee "campus" has raised the ire of environmentalists because it would, in part, add to mercury pollution in an area already with levels that are too high.

Concerns about opposition to the plant spurred the utility into overdrive last year when it signed an 18-month communications contract with Rawle Murdy, a Charleston advertising agency. A January Freedom of Information Act request by SC Statehouse Report about Santee Cooper's relationship with the agency revealed:

General invoices. The contract includes a $10,000 a month minimum retainer for the agency, but invoices show costs generally to be well over the retainer. In November, for example, Rawle Murdy sent a one-page bill for $251,005 to Santee Cooper that included three simple one-line explanations of work: Professional services ($54,849.02); creative development ($195,692.50); and expenses ($463.48).

Varn said the utility worked "hand in glove" with the agency, which did not return a call for comment, with daily phone calls and meetings two or three times a week. As such, it was acutely aware of what the agency was doing on its behalf and more detailed invoices weren't needed, she said. Work has included development and creation of two Web sites, messaging, a $57,000 poll and a January-February media campaign on the radio, billboards, newspapers and the Internet.

Million-dollar account. Invoices show the agency sent bills to Santee Cooper for $557,343.11 for work from July through December 2007. During the same time period, the utility paid $397,563.70. The difference was that an invoice for November work ($95,914.41) and postage costs for a brochure were not paid in 2007 due to payment cycles.

Varn said the communications agreement between the utility and agency likely would be the equivalent of a $1 million a year account for the agency. The costs of the January-February media buy, projected by Varn to be about $150,000, came this year and were not part of the FOIA response.

Expensive advice. According to the documents, the advertising agency's billing rates were $400 per hour for chairman David Rawle; $300 per hour for president Bruce Murdy; and $175 per hour for the client services director, creative director, public relations director and interactive services director. The lowest hourly rate was $80 for travel.

Bottom line: Santee Cooper hired an agency to develop messaging that, in part, intended to scare South Carolinians into supporting a new power plant. But in doing so, perhaps it showed another face: that it is, in fact, a little scared that public opposition might have been getting too strong.

Santee Cooper is a public utility. That means we own it. It shouldn't use our money to scare us into submission.

Andy Brack, publisher of Statehouse Report, can be reached at: