Tag Archives: Energy

Signs of the Times

I don’t know what to say about the fact that Kentucky’s Coal Museum is powered by solar panels but …. here it is, folks:

Tre’ Sexton said he was surprised when his company, Bluegrass Solar, was approached about the project. If there was one building in eastern Kentucky that wouldn’t have a solar-power system, you’d think it would be the coal museum, he said.

“Really the first time that I sat down and was talking about it with everybody, I was like…are you for real? They’re really going to go for this?” Sexton said. “I mean, that would be like showing up at a bank and they ask you if you’d mind taking some of this money out of the vault.”

But putting solar panels on top of the coal museum makes sense economically, Sexton said. Public attractions like this one can’t be profitable if they’re dealing with expensive electric bills every month. And people in eastern Kentucky are becoming more interested in alternative energy options.

There’s been a lot of discussion about coal and coal jobs lately, mostly because everyone always panders to coal states like West Virginia and Pennsylvania during election season. Both sides do it, and both sides are wrong. I mean, Republicans are the worst — Trump is famously making promises he can’t deliver, while Republicans are hanging sick retired miners out to dry. Democrats can be just as bad, though. Remember Alison Grimes, running for Kentucky Senate, criticizing President Obama on the loss of coal jobs? Her “concern” was such obvious bullshit, everyone knew it, and of course she got called on it.

Democrats and Republicans need to just stop this nonsense. These are not stupid people. They know their industry is dying. Stop promising to pull a Lazarus on a dying industry. It’s like it’s 1910 and politicians are promising to bring back wagons and farriers. I wonder how a politician of either party would fare if they came into coal country and said, “look, market forces have changed, coal has been replaced, let’s transition your economies to other industries with aggressive economic development and education programs.”

Would that get respect or a barrage of lying SuperPac ads? Probably the latter. That was basically Hillary Clinton’s message, and we all know how well that went over. Thing is, people just want to dream the impossible dream. Lie to me, please. Tell me that you can save my local coal mine, even if that one in Pennsylvania is shutting down. No, these people aren’t stupid, they’re desperate. Desperation is a hard emotion to address during a campaign.

But here we are. That the fucking Kentucky Coal Museum is being powered by solar panels because it’s more economical just says it all, doesn’t it? Coal has been dying for decades, and it’s not because of Obama or the EPA, it’s because of “market forces” and the damn numbers, folks. They don’t add up:

Coal mining jobs, meanwhile, have also fallen 70% since 1985, a loss of 120,000 jobs.

The coal industry has lost much of its customer base not because of regulations but because natural gas production has soared, pushing down the price of that cleaner source of electrical power.

In addition, falling costs for green energy, such as solar and wind power, have cut the demand for coal. So has a move by overseas markets, like China, to shift away from coal in an attempt to clean up badly polluted air.

Lots of people wonder why every election we pander to an industry that accounts for around the same number of employees as Whole Foods Markets:

It’s a good question. I have to say, this is an issue where both sides get it way wrong. I love the anti-fracking people on the left, you know, the ones who just couldn’t vote for Hillary Clinton because she’s “pro-fracking” and that’s a dealbreaker. Well then, are you in favor of climate change? Are you pro-mountaintop removal mining? Because those are the choices right now. Coal is dying — has been dying, for decades — because natural gas is ascending, and we get natural gas from fracking. So pick your poison.

And yes, solar and wind are good options but we do not have the infrastructure to transition our entire economy to these sources overnight. Our grid can’t accommodate it right now. We need that “Apollo program for energy” that we’ve been promised, but it’s not happening yet. So it has to happen in bits and pieces. Like the Kentucky Coal Museum putting solar panels on its roof, or this coal operation in eastern Kentucky planning a solar farm on a reclaimed strip mine.

We pander to an industry that supplies fewer than 100,000 jobs because there’s a lot of history attached to it and it’s a cultural touchstone. Much of “coal country” is in a culturally rich part of the nation which has supplied America with its most beloved artists, music and literature.

I’m shocked that as much as we pander to this region, we haven’t offered any realistic plan to bail it out this time around. You know, like we did in the 1930s with the creation of TVA, or Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. Maybe it’s a sign of our dysfunctional government that we just can’t do big things anymore.

Donald Trump can’t save the coal industry. Neither can Republicans. Nor can Democrats. Coal communities are going to have to find the answer within:

The old mind-set that the region needs a big jobs provider – like coal – is hard to break. Younger generations watch their parents endure unsteady employment and worry about their own prospects. Older generations can’t visualize a different way forward.

One mistake outsiders make, many here say, is thinking all this is actually about coal. It’s not. It’s more about the life coal provided. Where else could you earn $80,000 a year with a high school education or less?

“Embrace the change or be left behind,” says Jeff Combs of Hazard, Ky., standing outside a bed-and-breakfast on a hill overlooking the community’s nearly vacant downtown. “Be open-minded. Be open-minded to more.” Mr. Combs’s father, a former coal miner, implored him to avoid the mines. It was tough work, dangerous and unhealthy in the long term. Combs’s father was on disability in his 50s.

Is there a politician out there with the guts and fortitude to offer a little tough love? Who can say, point blank, times have changed and you have to change with them? Today’s jobs require education and skills, that’s just the reality. Gone are the days when you could drop out of high school and earn a good living in the mines. That’s over. Blaming treehuggers or liberals isn’t going to change that. But blaming others for things we feel powerless to change just feels so much better, doesn’t it?

24 Comments

Filed under energy conservation, energy future, environment, solar energy

Prison, Bitches

One year doesn’t seem like nearly enough time but it’s,

… the maximum allowed by law …

and is also,

… the first time such a high-ranking executive had been convicted of a workplace safety violation.

The conviction of Don Blankenship is actually quite a coup for workers:

But after the explosion at Upper Big Branch on April 5, 2010, the authorities turned to a novel approach to prosecute Mr. Blankenship, who possessed deep knowledge of his mines, recorded many telephone conversations with subordinates and received production reports every 30 minutes.

Throughout a lengthy, complex trial, government officials portrayed Mr. Blankenship as, in effect, the kingpin of a criminal enterprise, and one with a stubborn focus on Massey’s financial standing. His demands, prosecutors argued, contributed to an unspoken conspiracy that employees were to ignore safety standards and practices if they threatened profits.

“He knew that following the safety laws costs money,” Steven R. Ruby, an assistant United States attorney, said at Wednesday’s hearing. “What could be more serious than a crime that risks human life?”

Mr. Ruby, who urged Judge Berger to order a one-year sentence, argued that a lighter penalty “would signal that committing mine safety crimes might be a good gamble for a C.E.O.”

Indeed, that is how business tends to get done in America, and sending a CEO to prison for a year signals that those heady days of paying a fine as “the cost of doing business” are over.

BTW, back in 2011, it was reported that Blankenship had resurfaced as president of McCoy Coal Group. I would hope Don Blankenship would be seen as a liability to any energy company.

8 Comments

Filed under clean coal, corporations, energy production

Oil Is Over

From the wire services:

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) – Royal Dutch Shell will cease exploration in Arctic waters off Alaska’s coast following disappointing results from an exploratory well backed by billions in investment and years of work.

The announcement was a huge blow to Shell, which was counting on offshore drilling in Alaska to help it drive future revenue. Environmentalists, however, had tried repeatedly to block the project and welcomed the news.

Shell has spent upward of $7 billion on Arctic offshore exploration, including $2.1 billion in 2008 for leases in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s northwest coast, where an exploratory well about 80 miles off shore drilled to 6,800 feet but yielded disappointing results. Backed by a 28-vessel flotilla, drillers found indications of oil and gas but not in sufficient quantities to warrant more exploration at the site.

Activists in Seattle had been protesting Shell for months after the oil company announced plans to use the Port of Seattle as its base for the Arctic drilling operation. The protests severely hurt Shell’s attempts to craft a public image of an “environmentally friendly” oil company.

I’ve said all along that the economics of offshore oil drilling just aren’t there at this point — maybe not ever again. The easy oil is gone; the stuff that’s left is extraordinarily difficult (and expensive) to get at. With oil prices plummeting, it just doesn’t make economic sense.

Meanwhile, Shell is in the hole to the tune of $4.1 billion thanks to this bad business decision — and not only that, it’s been a public relations disaster, too:

Shell is expected to take a hit of around $4.1bn as a result of the decision.

The company has come under increasing pressure from shareholders worried about the plunging share price and the costs of what has so far been a futile search in the Chukchi Sea.

Shell has also privately made clear it is taken aback by the public protests against the drilling which are threatening to seriously damage its reputation.

Ben van Beurden, the chief executive, is also said to be worried that the Arctic is undermining his attempts to influence the debate around climate change.

His attempts to argue that a Shell strategy of building up gas as a “transitional” fuel to pave the way to a lower carbon future has met with scepticism, partly because of the Arctic operations.

A variety of consultants have also argued that Arctic oil is too expensive to find and develop in either a low oil price environment or in a future world with a higher price on carbon emissions.

Oil is over. It’s yesterday, it’s finished. Give it up.

3 Comments

Filed under energy production, environment, oil industry

This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

Someone check the campaign donations to Marsha Blackburn and Lamar Alexander and see if there are any ceiling fan manufacturers on that list:

I can’t pass this up: Tennessee must have quite the ceiling fan lobby. As we mentioned earlier this week, Rep. Marsha Blackburn has introduced measures to defund DOE’s work to improve the efficiency of ceiling fans in recent years. So, it stood out to ME that one of the bills on the ENR agenda today is one from Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander to “remove the authority of the Secretary of Energy to amend or issue new energy efficiency standards for ceiling fans.”

Yes, we absolutely must have inefficient ceiling fans. Because freedom. And reasons.

BTW, wonder if Marsha was able to unload all those inefficient lightbulbs she was handing out for Christmas one year.

(h/t to Jamie in Comments)

[UPDATE]:

Ah, thanks to Joe in comments, I found this in the 2013 memory hole:

Ceiling fans: Big government, or just hot air?

While making homes more energy-efficient is a legitimate, even vital goal of federal policy, government agents aren’t about to pry inefficient fans from the ceilings of American homes. That didn’t stop Representative Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, from pushing a measure to block any new federal energy efficiency standards for ceiling fans — or from defending that measure in overheated terms. “We’ve already seen the federal government stretch their regulatory tentacles into our homes and determine what kind of light bulbs we have to use,” Blackburn said on the House floor. “Now they’re coming after our ceiling fans. It is a sad state of affairs when even our ceiling fans aren’t safe from this administration.”

Actually, it was President Bush and a Republican Congress who called for national efficiency standards in 2005 as a way of preempting state regulations; the Department of Energy began taking steps to implement national rules this year. As well it should have: Home appliances represent a huge opportunity to reduce energy consumption, and many ceiling fans use technology that is decades old.

And for all Blackburn’s zealfor liberty, it’s also noteworthy that one of the nation’s top ceiling fan companies, Hunter Fan, is in her home state. Roll Call reported that the company has already complained about the potential costs of new rules to the Energy Department and asked for a delay “until there are further advances in fan technology.”

None of which has stopped Hunter Fans from saying all the right “green” things on its website, such as:

It’s a promise—your Hunter ceiling fan can have a positive impact on your wallet and the world.

“It’s a promise”? Really? That promise is looking pretty damn empty.

9 Comments

Filed under Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee

How You Know Your Empire Has Died

[UPDATE]:

Here’s the audio clip:

————————-

This discussion between Ali Velshi and Stephen Leeb on Al Jazeera America yesterday was the smartest five minutes I’ve heard on TV news in a long time. The segment was about the new carbon pollution proposals the EPA just unveiled, the same proposals causing aneurisms in right-wing “Drill Here, Drill Now” land (sorry, bear with me guys: for some reason I can’t get the audio clip to post, so here’s the transcript. And you’re gonna have to take my word for this until I can figure out how to post audio, which I believe involves me making a purchase of some kind, possibly more storage) (Got the link posted, I was right, I needed to buy something. The things I do for you guys):

AV: Joining us to tell us more is Stephen Leeb, founder and research chairman of the Leeb Group. Now Stephen, you and I have talked for years about cleaner energy, you‘re an expert on the energy field and somebody who embraces a cleaner environment. My guess is that you would like this, but I’ve heard rumblings that you don’t think this is a good idea?

SL: Well Ali, it’s not that I don’t think it’s a good idea, I think it’s a day late, a dollar short, and maybe that’s an exaggeration. It’s way too little. What we need in this country is something nationwide, something like the interstate highway system. Something like a smart grid that runs across the country. I mean for me the key here in reading it was that it’s up to the individual states. That just doesn’t cut it. We have a grid in this country that in some.. there are cases in which our grid is more than a century old.

AV: This is our electrical grid.

SL: This is our electrical grid! I mean the only reason people can’t hack it is that one state doesn’t talk to another state! That’s the only advantage I can see to having a grid this old. We could create so many jobs by following China’s example. Build out a smart grid. Then you can have all these energy sources — gas, solar, wind, hydro, geothermal…

AV: Everything feeds in.

SL: Everything feeds in. Right now the Chinese are eating our lunch. I mean there was an item about a week ago in the Financial Times. EDF, a massive French utility, is building an electric plant that will supply 7% of British electricity. Massive! Except they didn’t have the skill sets. Who did they turn to? Not us! The Chinese. Who now has the fastest way of transmitting voltage from one part of the country to the other part of a country? The Chinese! We need to get our act together, Ali, if we’re really going to do something. Yes, I mean, I applaud any efforts to cut down emissions, to use new fuels and we may even get more solar and more wind because ….

AL: And that’s starting to happen. But in Europe it was the cap.. I hear you on how this can be unwieldly with the states but the concept of a cap-and-trade system and an exchange has worked out for Europe.

SL: It can work out yes, but it’s not going to be the solution unless you have a grid that can accommodate it across the country. Eventually you run into trouble. And I’m not even talking about the troubles that you see when you write down the amount of shale oil in this country by 60%, which we did the other day. All of a sudden the Monterey has 4% of what we originally thought.

AV: Right, across the country we are finding in these wells where we thought there was more oil and in some cases natural gas, there’s less.

SL: And it could be much less or maybe there’s more, I mean, you can always hope. But right now we’re becoming more and more dependent on the Marcellus. And you’re starting to see very rapid decline rates there. We need something Ali, I mean we were able to do it 30-40 years ago, interstate highway system, man to the moon…

AV: We don’t have the will to do anything on a national level, particularly something that would cost billions and billions of dollars.

SL: But create billions and billions of jobs! I mean, we somehow equate investment with spending, and it doesn’t have to be that way. Investment in an electrical grid, is not spending, it’s not wasteful. It’s creating something that will benefit all of us, our children, etc.

AV: Give me a sense, because we’ve had some Republicans come out and say this will increase energy costs for the average family in this country where the middle class is struggling. What is the net result on electrical prices out of this?

SL: You know, my guess is the net result is electrical prices go up because the guts of our electrical system right now is still hydrocarbons, and they’re not getting more plentiful. They’re getting scarcer, despite the shale revolution. They are. We’re not going to ever become energy independent, at most maybe we’ll be able to produce 11 million barrels of oil. We may have a little gas to export but basically we’re still going to be relying on outside sources. So regardless, it’s going to up. We need cleaner, renewable, new sources of energy in order to counteract that and this legislation or these proposals — they’re not legislation, not by a long shot — they just don’t go anywhere near far enough to getting us to that goal. I mean I hate to say this but we should take a page out of what the Chinese are doing. I mean look…

AV: There’s no question, they are well ahead of us when it comes to electricity.

SL: And look at their economy? They’re spending all of this money but last I heard their economy is still growing at 7 and a half percent a year. One of the reasons is all the money they’re spending on infrastructure. Let’s do the same thing!

AV: From your lips to their ears, Stephen! Good to see you …

This is what makes me nuts. The idea that we’ve lost touch with what is an “investment” and what is “spending,” when the hell did we decide we can no longer “invest” in America? Now it’s all just “pork” or whatever. The Democrats can’t even get ahead of the damn meme.

You know that America is no longer a global superpower when we can no longer do The Big Things. The saddest thing is, we can’t do these Big Things not because we don’t have the money or the know-how or the military might, but simply because we don’t have the will. This is how empires die, people.

The last “big” thing we did was invade Iraq and Afghanistan. And we did it, not because we forged consensus and compromised and came together as a nation to do it, but because one faction bulldozed their way over anyone who so much as asked the question, why? They used every tool in the toolbox — fear, flag-waving, you name it — to get their way.

The fact that the Left is completely unable to muster the same amount of national will on something clearly more in the country’s interest than invading an oil-rich country in the Middle East is, to me, the single biggest threat to America’s future.

Damn depressing, folks.

12 Comments

Filed under Ali Velshi, carbon offsets, China, climate change, environment, EPA

Should We Nationalize The Grid?

This happened in Nashville yesterday:

bilde

A flotilla of kayakers paddled through downtown Nashville on the Cumberland River on Saturday, holding a banner reading: “Let’s move TVA beyond coal.”

It was a message from the Sierra Club, highlighting what it sees as a need for stronger federal standards to limit toxic water pollution from coal-fired power plants. Ultimately, the group is calling for the shuttering of Tennessee Valley Authority coal plants.

TVA’s coal plants have brought us tragedies like the Kingston coal ash spill, which as I observed at the time was merely an extreme example of a widespread problem. Tennessee is uniquely suited to solar and TVA could easily expand its popular Generation Partners program. Through this program, people like us who have solar panels on our residential rooftops sell our extra production to TVA at a slight premium. It’s small compared to other states — 12-cents a kWh, plus the retail rate (which fluctuates but right now is 9 cents a kWh) — but it helps to offset the enormous cost of installing these systems.

Instead of expanding its renewables, TVA has engaged in a bit of foot-dragging. This is not surprising to anyone with a brain; unless there’s some kind of cap-and-trade or carbon tax program put into play, utilities — even quasi-public ones like TVA — really don’t have an incentive to play nice with people like us, other than for the obvious PR value.

Sure, groups like the Sierra Club can remind everyone of the enormous costs of coal, and how alternatives like nuclear are not really economically viable, either. Last I checked, the Kingston mess cost TVA (and us ratepayers) $1 billion.

But while rooftop solar makes a lot of sense economically, it’s also the power industry’s biggest threat. There’s simply no reason why a power company would want to hand over power production to the people. We’re technically putting them out of business, one rooftop at a time. Instead of us buying power from them, we’re selling it to them. That kinda turns the power provider/customer relationship on its head.

And increasingly, the utilities are not happy about it.

Alarmed by what they say has become an existential threat to their business, utility companies are moving to roll back government incentives aimed at promoting solar energy and other renewable sources of power. At stake, the companies say, is nothing less than the future of the American electricity industry.

According to the Energy Information Administration, rooftop solar electricity — the economics of which often depend on government incentives and mandates — accounts for less than a quarter of 1 percent of the nation’s power generation.

And yet, to hear executives tell it, such power sources could ultimately threaten traditional utilities’ ability to maintain the nation’s grid.

This is the age-old conundrum that goes back to the ’70s when President Carter put solar panels on the White House roof. If individual households can generate their own power, then what do we need big utilities for? It’s the “hard path”/”soft path” debate we’ve always had. Big solar farms or individual rooftops? Right now it’s a mixture of both but off on the sidelines, behemoth utilities are trying to push out the little guys: yes, we can have a few mom and pop rooftop operations, for the photo op, but not too many. Too many and suddenly nobody needs Duke Energy anymore.

And of course the issue has become even more pressing as our transportation gets electrified, and as technological advances make storage less of an issue. If TVA wants to dick around with us solar folks, screw ’em. We’ll go off the grid.

Ah, the grid. So, the utilities say, we maintain this grid, and you use it when you leave your solar-powered home, so suck it up. They may have a point, but the solution is simple: nationalize the grid.

Seriously, why the hell not? The power grid is a mess, a hodgepodge cobbled together with spit and a prayer. I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the power grid in recent weeks and I’m definitely not an expert but it sure seems like we desperately need to make a big change, soon. And it seems like the country’s electrical grid, like things like highways and the armed forces, is something you want to be uniform and reliable and stable, without the fluctuations that come when you let “market forces” do the picking.

So far the only thing I’ve seen about nationalizing the power grid are on far-right tinfoil hat conspiracy websites. They seem to find the idea verrry scaaaary. But no one has told me why nationalizing the power grid is a bad idea, aside from a reflexive allergic reaction to the word “nationalize.” (For people who profess to love the nation so much, I don’t get that … but whatever!)

The energy sector is changing faster than anyone anticipated. I can foresee a day in, say, 15 years when individual homes and businesses are powered by rooftop solar, we all drive around on electric cars, and vehicle-to-building technology is as ordinary as apple pie. I know it’s hard for some folks to imagine that the authoritarian Big Daddy utility may be going the way of the dinosaur, but if their best argument against technological advancement is, “it will put us out of business,” well, my answer is: so what. Adapt or die.

It’s kinda like our health insurance industry. What purpose do they serve any more? They aren’t pooling risk to lower cost, which was their reason for existence in the first place. All they do is skim profit off the top to buy an insurance company CEO a gigantic house. Sorry, but that’s kind of a sign that your business model is now rrelevant. If that’s the best case you can make, well, sorry, Charlie.

We aren’t there yet for power companies, not even close … but it appears the mere threat of such a thing has utilities shitting their pants. To which I say: adapt or die. Why should we keep you around just for nostaligia’s sake? Good lord, if the Tea Party and Americans For Prosperity had been around 100 years ago, they’d have been fearmongering about automobiles and telling us how great the horse and wagon is.

I dunno. We need to start getting shit done in this country. Has everyone forgotten about the time the Northeastern power grid failed? That 10th anniversary is right around the corner. That might be a good time for us to start talking about this stuff.

6 Comments

Filed under energy future, energy production, solar energy, TVA

TVA, Killing Us Softly

We need to have a little chat about the Tennessee Valley Authority, aka, TVA (and by the way, on a “you didn’t build that” note? If you live in the seven-state Tennessee Valley region — almost all Red States, let me add — you are enjoying cheap power made possible by every taxpayer in the US of A. If you’ve got a factory or a business? You didn’t build that. Think VW or Nissan would open a factory here if we didn’t have a ready and reliable supply of cheap power? Yeah, seems the free market fairies didn’t have any incentive to wave their magic wands over this part of the country and bring flood control and electricity to the hicks and hayseeds here. It took that Commie Franklin D. Roosevelt and the U.S. Congress to do that. So suck on that one, why don’t you. But I digress).

First of all, TVA is ending its Generation Partners Program at the end of September and replacing it with something less attractive. They’re touting a 20-year contract, but they’re only buying energy at a premium (retail rate plus x-cents per KwH) for 10 years, and that amount is less than what those of us currently in the program receive. So they’re locking you in for a longer contract and paying you less. I’m still unclear as to what happens after 10 years, if they’ll just pay the base rate or if they expect you to give them the energy you generate for free. Surely … not?

With that in mind, let’s look at some other facts.

1- TVA really, really needs to improve its alternative energy investment. Like, really. On my latest “Green Power Switch” newsletter (that’s where customers voluntarily buy blocks of renewable energy at a cost of $4 per unit each month. It helps pay for stuff like the Generation Partners program), it broke down by actual percent which renewables comprise that program. Solar is a paltry 8%, which considering the investment in solar in this state — and the potential in the entire TVA region — is ridiculous. The bulk, actually, is biomass biogas. I don’t even consider that a renewable, frankly.

[UPDATE:]

It’s actually worse than that. I finally found a link to the 2011 & 2012 “product content”. It’s 8% solar, 44% wind, and 48% biogas for 2012; in 2011, it was 14% solar, 32% biomass (not biogas, don’t know the difference) and 54% wind. That’s a huge shift.

I called TVA’s Renewable Energy Information Call Center and didn’t get a satisfactory answer to my question regarding the difference between biomass and biogas (both seem to be from agricultural waste?), let alone any information as to why TVA’s is purchasing less wind and solar this year versus last. I had to be transferred to TVA (that’s not who I was calling?) to get my very logcial questions answered. After getting transferred to TVA, waiting on hold, confusing another poor sop in the customer service department, waiting on hold again, and getting transferred to another person I got … voicemail.

* sigh *

Customer service FAIL.

Y’know, way, way back in another lifetime I actually worked for TVA. One thing I can tell you is that managers are forced to waste spend just ooodles amount of time going to training seminars, customer service seminars, this workshop thing, that off-site training doo-hickey. It’s amazing anyone can get anything done. And yet, you call to get two little perfectly logical questions answered and it’s like I asked them to explain the physics of a fucking nuke plant.

If I get any answers, y’all will be the first to know.

2- Right now we’re still dealing with the toxic aftermath of TVA’s December 2008 Kingston Coal Ash Spill, which dumped 1.1 billion gallons of coal slurry into the Tennessee, Clinch and Emory Rivers. That’s right, we’re still cleaning this mess up nearly four years later, and now it looks like we — oh and I do mean we, because that’s who’s paying for this, the ratepayers — will be out another $10 million for — get this — not to clean up the rest, oh no! But to “monitor” the ash and surrounding environment for 30 years. Yes because it’s just too fucking expensive to finish cleaning it up. I’m serious: they could spend up to $179 million cleaning up the “residual ash” (that’s on top of the $1.2 billion TVA estimated it would cost to clean up the bulk of the toxic mess). The rest, of course, got trucked to a landfill in the poor, predominantly African American Perry County, Alabama, where the people are so desperate for jobs they’ll happily pay the price of TVA’s dirty sins. Losses are always, always socialized by our poorest and most vulnerable. Shameful.

This is an untenable situation, not just for the people in Tennessee but for people far away who never used one kilowatt of the Kingston Fossil Plant’s energy. Seems like there could be a better way of generating electricity, one that doesn’t come with all of these social and financial costs. Oh, wait! There is! The program TVA is in the midst of killing.

TVA Invested In Clean Coal & All I Got Was A Billion Gallons Of Coal Sludge In My Living Room

And don’t think you can breathe a sigh of relief if you don’t live near Kingston. TVA operates 11 coal-fired plants and in 2009, storage problems were found at every one of them.

3- The NRDC has ranked Tennessee the 11th-worst state in the nation for coal-based air pollution. And we’re not even the worst in the TVA region! (click on the image to enlarge):

Hey Kentucky! You’re Number One!

The breakdown of where TVA states rank in this list is as follows:

1- Kentucky
8- North Carolina
9- Georgia
11- Tennessee
12- Virginia
14- Alabama
15- Mississippi

Yay, Mississippi! You’re finally last on a list that you want to be last on! Of course, you really don’t want to be on this list at all! (We keed, Mississippi. We keed because we lurve.)

So wrap your head around this one: every single TVA state is in the top of the “toxic 20” for electricity generation-related air pollution. TVA, you should be ashamed of yourselves. Really.

So let’s connect dots 1, 2 & 3 here: TVA’s anemic renewables program is getting less attractive to participants. But the way TVA currently generates electricity is toxic, costly and unsafe to both humans and the environment (and need I point out how redundant that is, because anything toxic to the environment is by default also toxic to humans. We cannot unhook ourselves from our planetary life support system).

Okay, anyone think this makes sense? No? Good.

The good news is that TVA is a quasi-public organization. The board is set by Congress. You can write your congress critters and tell them you want the board to reflect more sensitivity to renewables and environmental safety. Also, if you live in or near Knoxville, maybe you can sign up to speak at their August 16 board meeting. Maybe they need some Occupying to nudge them in the right direction.

Tell ’em Southern Beale sent ya.

11 Comments

Filed under alternative energy, ash spill, energy future, energy production, environment, Tennessee, TVA

Technically True But Still Utter BS

Ah, our glorious mainstream media. Here’s wishing they’d actually provide information, not, ya know, troll for clicks with sensational headlines:

Wind Farms Cause Global Warming!

That was the headline of an article in Forbes Magazine from April 30, 2012. And how about this one: “Wind farms can cause climate change, finds new study” from the Telegraph. Or this one from Fox News where they remove the word ‘can:’ “New Research Shows that Wind Farms Cause Global Warming.”

All of these articles have glommed onto a study published in Nature Climate Change on April 29, 2012. The title of that article? “Impacts of wInd farms on land surface temperature.”

It’s amazing how the media can distort the truth when it wants to. The observational study looked at west-central Texas where four of the world’s largest wind farms are located. From 2003-2011, recorded measurements of the local surface temperatures in the vicinity increased by 0.72 degrees Celsius, particularly at night compared with nearby non-wind farm locations. As the authors point out, “These changes, if spatially large enough, may have noticeable impacts on local to regional weather and climate.”

The proposed mechanism is attributed to a changing distribution of air, swapping warmer air above with cooler air below as a result of the rotating motion of the turbines. There’s no net increase in heat, just a change in where it’s located. But this may have the possibility have affecting the regional weather patterns and even regional climate, if the effect is substantial enough

Back in my day this is what we’d call “media bias.” Apparently these days that’s reserved for networks that hire Rachel Maddow. Go figure.

Dibble notes that Forbes actually did provide the accurate information … eventually. But most readers probably didn’t read that far down the article — if they did more than scan the headline, that is. And this is what makes me nuts about most science reporting geared for us uneducated masses: it’s little more than click-bait. That might be fine on a story like “sugar makes you stupid!” — hey, we all know sugar is bad for you. But on an issue like climate change, where manufactured “controversy” has been foisted on the public to the detriment of the health of the entire planet so some rich oil Daddies can get even richer, well, it’s downright irresponsible. People need real reporting on climate change, not sensationalism and click-bait. It’s a complete abrogation of journalistic duty.

Pfft.

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Filed under climate change, energy production, Media, media fairness

Living The Leaf Life, Update

In honor of Earth Day I thought I’d update folks on my Nissan Leaf experience. Short answer: yes I still love my car. No, I haven’t had any issues — not with range, nor with anything else.

The one question everyone always asks when I’m out and about is, “what kind of gas mileage do you get?” To which I always answer, “Zero.” Ha ha. People are still wrapping their heads around the idea of a non-internal combustion engine. And I get that; it’s a big change. The concept of a car without a tailpipe — which doesn’t require regular oil changes! — is a big effin’ deal, to paraphrase Joe Biden. You know what else the Leaf doesn’t do? Get hot. You come in from a long drive and the hood is pretty much cool to the touch.

The Leaf’s Carwings software tells me I average 7 miles per kWh. Based on that, we calculate I get the equivalent of 300 miles per gallon. That’s factoring in what NES charges for electricity on a $3.65/gallon gas price: since we have a solar array on our roof and are actually selling our power several months out of the year, it doesn’t quite work out that way for us. But you get the general idea.

And no, we haven’t seen any uptick in our electric bill; in fact, as I’ve mentioned before, because of home energy efficiency work we did last year like insulation and ductwork sealing, we’re actually using less electricity than last year, when we didn’t have an EV.

All of this has to be presented with a big caveat: I don’t drive a lot, mostly just in-town stuff. So, “your mileage may vary.”

Last week I saw this story in a local paper about the number of public charging stations which go unused. We see these stories a lot these days, and they annoy the hell out of me. Fer crying out loud, people: the Leaf has only been available in this state for, what, a year? Jesus. Give it a rest. This stuff takes time. Quit yer whining.

You know, I’m always hearing people say, “there’s an EV charger at such-and-such place and .. I never see anyone using it!” My response? So what! How many times do you see empty handicapped parking spaces? Or how about those parking spaces retailers reserve for expectant mothers? I see them at shopping malls and grocery stores all the time, and they’re always empty. No one bitches about those, do they?

These are things that retailers do to serve their customers (except for handicapped parking, which is required by law). If you’re going to be all “free hand of the market” about this stuff, then let a business owner do what they think serves their clientele. Don’t get your shorts in a knot because you think you know better. I’ve got a steaming cup of STFU with your name on it.

I mostly charge my car at home. Sometimes I charge when I’m out and about, but because I live in town, these public charging stations are not for me. They’re for Leaf owners I know who live out in Williamson County and come into town to do their business. These public chargers will be used as the number of EV owners increases.

And let me add, I’d use the ones down in Brentwood and Williamson County if I knew they were there. There really needs to be a better way of letting people know where these things are: some kind of standardized signage or something. Carwings is supposed to tell you where chargers are located but half the time they don’t show up on your console screen until you actually use one.

So far, the Leaf life is working out really well. Last time I crunched the numbers I calculated I spent $8 a month on transportation, versus the $100 or so I’d spend previously. The economics work, but also: it’s just a great little car.

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Filed under Earth Day, electric car, energy future, environment

In Republicanland, Some Taxes CAN Be Too Low!

Did you know there’s such a thing in Tennessee as an “unconstitutionally low” tax break? I didn’t either! But according to Tennessee Republicans, there is … if it has anything to do with Tennessee’s growing solar industry, that is.

Today the House and Senate are voting on a “fix” for what the state comptroller’s office is calling an “unconstitutionally low” tax break that was passed to help lure solar manufacturing companies Hemlock Semiconductor and Wacker Chemie AG to the state. Both companies are now opening major manufacturing facilities here, bringing hundreds of jobs to a state still struggling with 8% unemployment. But the tax break that helped bring them here has Democratic cooties on it, so it must go.

Former Republican House Majority Leader and current Executive Assistant to the Comptroller Jason Mumpower explains:

He says the bill is an attempt to fix a tax break that the Attorney General has said is unconstitutionally low, and he says the proposed increase would still give green businesses a tax break.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, “Two years ago the legislature passed something that was unconstitutional?

Mumpower answered, “Yes, looking back that is exactly what happened.”

The law passed in the hectic final days of the legislature in 2010.

It was part of the annual Technical Corrections Bill, which deals with changes to the tax laws.

That year, the bill had 66 provisions.

Mumpower was in the legislature at the time and says he and other lawmakers had no idea the bill cut the tax rate so low.

Wow. Mumpower wasn’t just in the legislature, he was House Majority Leader at the time. And he passed an unconstitutional tax break? What an astonishing admission! Apparently because some Bredesen Administration officials started a solar company a few months after the legislature passed this tax break — and even though that company has not benefited from the tax break — that’s still “unconstitutional” to Mumpower.

If you’re starting to smell the waft of bullshit over his story, well, read on:

But while the comptroller wants to eliminate that low tax rate for green businesses, it’s leaving the same low rate in place for other businesses.

Companies that install pollution control equipment have received the rate for years.

Many of them would not be classified as green or environmentally friendly.

They include gas producers, smelting companies and rock quarry owners.

Three guesses what might have happened if those ex-Bredesen officials had started a rock quarry instead of a solar company. And please, the whole constitutionality argument is unbelievably tortured. It pales in comparison to more obvious conflicts of interest coming out of Gov. Pilot Oil’s office (here’s one example just off the top of my head).

But putting aside the pretense given, let’s just cut to the chase: I’m sorry, but you’re Republicans and WTF? You’re going after a tax break? I thought Republicans hated taxes! Hated ’em! Taxes keep jobs away, isn’t that what you guys always say? And here we have a tax break that already brought two major manufacturing businesses to Tennessee and you want to gut it? Seriously? With unemployment the way it is?

Are you fucking kidding me, Tennessee Republicans?

If ever there were a more obvious example of Tennessee Republicans blinded by their partisanship, I’d love to see it. Even when their ideology smacks up against their partisanship, partisanship wins.

Honestly, you people have no principles at all. None.

6 Comments

Filed under solar energy, taxes, Tennessee, Tennessee politics