April 30, 2009

Energy Efficiency, vol. 2: Saving Energy -> National Defense

From the LA Times an excellent article on how saving energy promotes national security. Read the full article here.
Military embraces green energy
A Mojave Desert Army base is full of plug-in cars, solar panels and new experiments. Liberal agenda? Nah, it's about saving money, even lives. But the Defense Department could cement a national trend.

By Alexandra Zavis

April 26, 2009


The Department of Defense is the single largest energy consumer in the United States. Last year it bought nearly 4 billion gallons of jet fuel, 220 million gallons of diesel and 73 million gallons of gasoline, said Brian Lally, deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment.

American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are using more fuel each day than in any other war in U.S. history. When oil prices spiked last summer, the Defense Department's energy tab shot up from about $13 billion per year in 2006 and 2007 to $20 billion in 2008. The Army alone had to make up a half- billion-dollar shortfall in its energy budget, said Keith Eastin, assistant secretary of the Army for installations and environment.

"That was, I think, a grand wake-up call that we somehow had to get a handle on what is loosely called energy security," Eastin said.

Defense officials now consider reducing consumption and embracing energy alternatives to be national security imperatives. At Ft. Irwin, commanders are experimenting with ways to power the desert training area -- which replicates austere combat conditions -- using wind, solar and organic waste-to-fuel technologies.

When Brig. Gen. Dana Pittard took command of Ft. Irwin in 2007, he was stunned by the cost of housing troops in tents powered by generators, as they often are in Iraq and Afghanistan. A brigade of about 4,000 to 5,000 troops was spending about $3 million to rent the tents and keep the air conditioners humming during a month-long rotation, Pittard said. By building tents covered with two to three inches of insulating foam and a solar- reflective coating, they reduced the generator requirements by 45% to 75%, a technique that is now being used at some larger bases in the war zones.

Estimates are that a $22-million investment to replace all the rented tents at Ft. Irwin with insulated, semi-permanent ones would pay for itself within nine months and could save the Army $100 million over five years, said Eric Gardner, a logistics management specialist at the base.

By reducing generator use, Ft. Irwin also expects to cut carbon emissions by 35 million poundseach year -- equivalent to taking 3,500 vehicles off the road, Gardner said. This year, for the first time, the facility did not need a waiver allowing it to exceed the state of California's emissions standards in the training area, Pittard said.


Read more.

April 29, 2009

EPA Pulls Permit for NV Coal Plant

An excerpt of a story reported by Reuters:
EPA withdraws permit for Navajo coal plant
Tue Apr 28, 2009 10:26pm EDT

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. environmental regulators said they have withdrawn a permit for a massive coal-fired power plant that had been scheduled to be built on the Navajo Nation to send electricity to populated areas to the West.

The Environmental Protection Agency late on Monday withdrew the air permit that was issued last summer for the proposed 1,500 megawatt Desert Rock power plant. Sithe Global Power, LLC had planned to build the plant in northwestern New Mexico and send its power to rapidly-growing cities in Arizona and Nevada.

The regulators found the permit was issued before complete analysis of its emissions and impact on endangered species.

The move was another example of President Barack Obama's administration cracking down on coal. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Monday his agency will try to overturn a Bush administration rule that made it easier for coal mining companies to dump debris from mountain-top coal mining into valley streams.
More background in the New York Times.

Santee Cooper Raises Rates to Pay for Coal

On the heels of a report released by the Coastal Conservation League that contends that Santee Cooper's misconceived coal plant proposal would lead to much higher rates for South Carolinians, Santee Cooper now joins every South Carolina utility in announcing its intentions to foist rate increases on their customers over the next year or so.

The reason for all of these rate increases are our utilities' over-reliance on coal. In this Santee Cooper is no different from the pack (although it is more dependent on coal than all the other utilities in the state by a fair margin).

What distinguishes Santee Cooper in this rush to raise our rates is the fact that it is the only South Carolina utility proposing to increase its dependence on coal by building a new coal plant.

That is the real reason for its rate increase, and it is the reason why its rates are at risk of rising higher than other utility's rates in the future.

The story was recently covered in the Post and Courier:
Santee Cooper, which last year said it needed to raise electricity prices to cover the expenses of providing power to 2 million South Carolinians, has disclosed how much it wants to increase rates.
Residential customers would see a 7.5 percent rate increase beginning Nov. 1 under a proposal approved Friday, and an additional 7.6 percent increase on top of that in November 2010.
If implemented, the average household power bill for Santee Cooper users will rise $14.47 annually after the two increases take effect.

Commercial, industrial and municipal customers also will have a two-phase rate increase, though those rates aren't as steep.

The rate increases aren't final. The Moncks Corner-based utility, the state's largest power producer, will hold a series of public meetings this summer before its board votes on the matter in August.

If finalized, the additional revenue will cover the cost of electricity production, which has grown since the last time Santee Cooper raised its base rate in 1996, said spokeswoman Mollie Gore. The utility said it has since invested nearly $3 billion to double its generating capacity to keep pace with its 60 percent customer growth rate.

Some of the money will be spent on new power plants, including a coal-fired power plant in the Pee Dee area, which has an estimated cost of $1.3 billion.
Read more at the Post and Courier's website.

You can read and comment on the utility's rate increase proposal here. They are also holding a series of public meetings on the rate increase. The schedule of meetings is here.

April 28, 2009

Report Shows S-C Failed to Prove Need for Plant

Last week the Coastal Conservation League released a report demonstrating that Santee Cooper has failed to justify its coal plant proposal from an economic perspective. The report contends that if the plant is built, it would expose ratepayers served by Santee Cooper to considerable financial risk (i.e. much higher rates). It also shows that Santee Cooper has not adequately considered alternatives (i.e. efficiency, renewables, natural gas, etc.) to the plant...

From The State:
Study: Utility overstated need for coal plant
But Santee Cooper says plan ‘meets or exceeds all standards,’ need is real

Santee Cooper underestimated the cost of building and operating a coal-fired power plant near Florence in justifying the need for the facility, a new study says.

The utility did not properly account for the looming expense of carbon dioxide pollution, which could cost rate payers up to $168 million by 2015, according to the report by a nationally known energy and environmental research firm.

Synapse Energy, of Cambridge, Mass., prepared the study for the S.C. Coastal Conservation League, a vocal opponent of the coal plant. Synapse’s report is the first in-depth study by experts that examines state-owned Santee Cooper’s justification for the plant.

Santee Cooper officials say their research was thorough and the plant is needed.

The Synapse report says Santee Cooper’s plan to build two 600-megawatt coal-fired units is financially risky, unnecessary and results from “a flawed planning process.” It notes new coal-fired power plants are becoming potentially harder to finance.

“We have identified serious weaknesses and biases ... that call into question” Santee Cooper’s decision, the report says.

Read more at The State's website.
The full report is available for download at the CCL's website. The League summarizes the report as follows:
Santee Cooper is putting ratepayers at unnecessary risk for higher energy costs with its proposed 1320 MW coal-fired electric generation plant in southern Florence County, according to a report released April 22, 2009 by the Coastal Conservation League.

The analysis has identified serious weaknesses and biases in Santee Cooper’s planning that question the decision to build the proposed coal plant. Relying on documents provided by Santee Cooper and publicly available materials, the report concludes that the utility has failed to adequately account for a number of critical factors, including:

• reduced near-term power needs,
• high coal plant construction costs,
• the potential for energy saving programs to reduce demand, and
• reasonable estimates of carbon emissions under coming federal regulation.

“The Pee Dee Plant is too risky” said David Schlissel, lead author of the report, and Senior Consultant at Synapse Energy Economics, a nationally recognized energy research and consulting firm. The report documents trends that have changed the landscape for coal plant construction since Santee Cooper decided to move forward with the Pee Dee facility in 2006. The recent economic downturn has shown Santee Cooper's projections of future power needs to be too high. The reduced power gap could now be met with less risky alternatives. Schlissel went on to say, “Many proposed coal plants have been cancelled, delayed or rejected by state regulatory agencies and utilities as a result of economic uncertainties and risks.”

April 21, 2009

S-C Beginning to see the Light?

In a remarkable change in tone, Santee Cooper is now saying publicly that they don't want to build the Pee Dee plant. Sounds good, but the catch is that they still don't seem understand that there are cheaper, cleaner and faster-to-deploy alternatives out there (that would create more jobs). The shift is covered in a recent story in the Post and Courier (excerpted below; read the whole story here.)
Coal-fired plant not preference
Utility officials say nuclear facility would be best option

By Tony Bartelme
The Post and Courier
Friday, April 17, 2009

Top Santee Cooper officials said Wednesday they are reluctant to build a new coal-fired power plant near Florence but feel they have no choice given the region's future energy needs.

The comments marked a shift in the heated debate over the coal plant. In the past, Santee Cooper leaders have expressed few misgivings about the $1.25 billion project.

But in a wide-ranging discussion with The Post and Courier editorial board and reporters, Lonnie Carter, Santee Cooper president and chief executive officer, said he wasn't "excited about building a coal plant, but I don't have a better option."


Blan Holman, a lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center, a group suing to block the Pee Dee coal plant, said even if the nuclear plant isn't built for 10 years, Santee Cooper could meet its energy needs with "a robust efficiency program, renewable power and natural gas. Coal is a bridge to nowhere except higher electricity bills."

read more at www.charleston.net

April 20, 2009

EPA: CO2, Coal a Danger to our Health

A story in today's The State newspaper highlights the risk of proceeding with a new coal plant in South Carolina at a time when everyone else, including federal regulators, are saying "don't do it!"

Essentially, the EPA has said that carbon dioxide, which coal plants pump out like no other, is a danger to public health and welfare and a threat to national security, paving the way for tough new regulations on coal plants.

These new regulations will make coal, formerly everyone's favorite cheap 'n' dirty fuel, very expensive.
Ruling could affect planned coal plant

A federal declaration Friday that carbon dioxide endangers public health foreshadows potentially tougher regulation of coal-fired power plants across the country — including one proposed by Santee Cooper for Florence County.


Frank Rambo, a lawyer for the Southern Environmental Law Center, said the EPA’s declaration also will bolster his organization’s arguments against Santee Cooper’s plant. The law center announced earlier this week it was appealing the DHEC permit on behalf of conservation groups.

“It does add legal weight to our legal arguments,’’ he said.

read more at thestate.com

April 15, 2009

Energy Efficiency, vol. 1

An article from this weekend's Post and Courier which hints at just a small portion of the vast potential to meet our energy needs through energy efficiency. Read more about energy efficiency here, or here.
Pull the plug to save money on home electronic devices
Associated Press
Saturday, April 11, 2009

NEW YORK — For Ben Veligdan, a music teacher in Brooklyn's Coney Island neighborhood, opening the electric bill became a monthly surprise.

There's no way more than $100 a month for him, his wife and a cat could be normal, right?

So Veligdan, 26, looked around his modest one-bedroom apartment for the culprit and decided unplugging his computer when sleeping or working would be a start.

His electric bill fell almost immediately.

Many electronic items still draw power when they're turned off. It's a phenomenon called "phantom" load, and it sucks about 5 percent to 10 percent of the energy used in America's homes each year.

That's the same amount of power generated by 17 coal-fired plants annually, according to Brian Keane, president of the energy-efficiency think tank SmartPower.


read more.

Mercury Poisoning is Real

The Piven principle: You can eat too much fish

By MICHAEL HILL, Associated Press Writer Michael Hill, Associated Press Writer – Fri Apr 10, 2:04 pm ET
It might sound like Jeremy Piven is telling a fish story.
The actor known for playing uber-agent Ari on "Entourage" blamed mercury poisoning from eating too much fish for his sudden exit from the Broadway play "Speed-the-Plow" in December.
Now Piven is defending himself against a grievance complaint filed by the play's producers who — like some other observers — are dubious of the I-ate-too-much-fish claim.
Medical researchers say it's possible Piven's case — which heads to arbitration in June — could hold water. Mercury can indeed pose a serious health threat to people who eat too much fish and seafood.
But before you swear off sushi, consider the caveats.
Fish, on balance, is recommended by doctors because it is high in protein and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Mercury levels in fish are typically minute, and they vary among different types of fish. And unless you're eating catch from polluted waters, you usually have to eat an awful lot of fish for quite a while before showing signs of mercury poisoning.
"For the vast majority of people, it's not a real issue, because the vast majority of people don't eat fish more than once a week," says Dr. Michael Gochfeld, professor of environmental and occupational medicine at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. "It's for those people that we call the high-end consumers that we're most concerned with."
Piven, 43, has disputed reports that he was overeating sushi, but he also told The New York Times that he had been eating fish twice a day for 20 years. Medical experts say adults who eat that much seafood can indeed risk mercury poisoning.
Mercury occurs naturally in the atmosphere and humans pump even more of it into the air through pollution. When it lands on lakes, rivers and oceans, mercury can be transformed by microorganisms into a more toxic form called methylmercury. That's the danger for seafood eaters.
Trace amounts of methylmercury can build up in fish and shellfish. And it can build up in the animals that eat those fish, including humans, who then can experience neurological problems. Symptoms can include tingling sensations around fingertips, toes and lips, a lack of coordination, vision problems and trouble articulating words. In extreme cases, mercury poisoning can cripple, kill and cause birth defects.
Health officials are most concerned about the danger to developing brains and nervous systems and issue strict consumption recommendations for children, pregnant women and women of childbearing age. But all adults are advised to watch their seafood consumption.
The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies recommended several years ago that healthy adult men who consume more than two servings of seafood a week eat different varieties of fish to lessen risks of loading up on a single contaminant. The rule of thumb is the lower on the food chain, the lower the mercury level. Salmon and flounder will tend to have lower levels than larger predators, such as shark and swordfish.
Eating sushi can be a concern because bluefin and other sushi-grade tuna tend to be bigger fish. But again, it's a matter of how much you eat. A piece of sushi could have less than half an ounce of tuna, according to Gochfeld. Eat a few pieces a week, there is likely no issue. Eat 20 pieces of sushi per meal multiple times a week, there could be a problems.
While people will sometimes point to the sushi-loving Japanese as proof of the food's safety, Gochfeld says that people in Japan consume a wide variety of seafood, including fish lower on the food chain, such as herring and sprat.
"Sushi is a special treat. It's eaten once a month," he said. "It's not something that has become a staple as it has become for some people in this country."
Former New York Mayor Ed Koch says he learned the risks of eating high-on-the-seafood chain several years ago when he started eating swordfish belly three or four times a week.
Koch showed no symptoms but had his blood tested as a precaution after being told of the potential dangers of mercury. The results: blood levels more than seven times normal.
The lesson here is moderation. People tend to get mercury poisoning through chronic exposure to small doses over long periods, says Shawn Gerstenberger of the School of Public Health at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
"We, as human beings, tend to get a little excessive and too much of anything can be harmful to you," Gerstenberger says.
It's not clear if Piven was loading up on the swordfish, too. His spokeswoman, Samantha Mast, says Piven would not say more about the situation. Piven has said he started to feel sluggish and sleepy during rehearsals for the play last fall. The actor has said he eventually passed out at home and had to drop out from the play. He claims to have had six times the normal limit of mercury.
The story drew snickers. Even "Speed-the-Plow" playwright David Mamet joked that Piven planned to leave show business to pursue a career as a thermometer. Others suggested Piven's real indulgence was not seafood but nightlife.
The producers say they have requested information on Piven's "alleged illness," including medical records and documentation of Piven's activities during and after the run of the show.
Mast says Piven has been fish-free for months, which is the right move. It can take many months, but mercury levels in the body decrease over time. Koch, for instance, says it took about a year to get his levels down (he still eats swordfish, but only about once a month).
Piven is getting better, too, and is filming another season of "Entourage."
"He still isn't 100 percent," Mast says, "yet he's still on his way to recovery."

April 14, 2009

Proposed Pee Dee Plant Headed to Court

From today's The State. More coverage can be read in the Post and Courier, the Florence Morning News, and Environment News Service.

Groups appeal coal plant permit
Conservationists challenge approval of utility’s proposed energy facility
Tuesday, Apr 14, 2009

Conservation groups announced Monday they are appealing an air pollution permit for Santee Cooper’s proposed $2.2 billion coal-fired power plant in Florence County.

The legal challenge, filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center for environmentalists, is the latest in a series of hurdles the state-owned utility must clear before it can build the facility along the Great Pee Dee River.

Santee Cooper still needs a string of other environmental permits, including a major federal wetlands permit, state water quality approval and state permits to build a landfill and ash ponds at the site. A federal environmental impact statement, which DHEC chose not to wait on before issuing the permits, also is due out soon and is subject to legal challenge. Those permits and studies could take years to resolve.

Laura Varn, a spokeswoman for Santee Cooper, said the utility expected the legal challenge. But the company needs the plant to produce power, she said.

Santee Cooper, which serves about half the state’s residents, says the facility will be state-of-the-art in controlling pollution. The company hopes to have the plant up and running in 2014, but challenges could delay that.

“We are committed to moving forward as we focus on our balanced solution to meeting the state’s energy needs in an affordable and reliable way,” Varn said.

Conservationists said state regulators didn’t conduct proper studies to see how the plant would affect eastern South Carolina’s environment. The Department of Health and Environmental Control’s decision to approve the permit violates the federal Clean Air Act by authorizing large amounts of pollution, conservation groups claim.

Those appealing the DHEC board’s decision are the S.C. Coastal Conservation League, the Sierra Club, the S.C. Wildlife Federation, the Environmental Defense Fund and the League of Women Voters of South Carolina.

It was not known when a state administrative law judge will hear the appeal.

DHEC’s seven-member board approved the air permit Feb. 12 after saying the utility had met all legal requirements. Department spokesman Thom Berry said the agency doesn’t comment on ongoing legal matters.

In the past two years, criticism of Santee Cooper’s plant has intensified amid a chorus of national opposition to new coal-fired power plants. Gov. Mark Sanford announced in February he opposes the plant, saying there is not enough demand for the power in slow economic times.

Carbon dioxide from coal-burning power plants contributes to global warming. In this case, the plant would release about 10 million tons of carbon dioxide each year. But DHEC, saying it needed guidance from the federal government, did not require any controls on carbon dioxide in the permit it issued to Santee Cooper this year.

The facility also will release mercury and tiny soot particles, which can lodge in people’s lungs and make them sick. The DHEC board’s decision will allow 92 pounds of mercury annually to be released along a river full of fish that already have been polluted by the toxic metal, which is believed to be from industrial sources.

“This plant would add mercury pollution to an already contaminated region ... but DHEC waived the maximum mercury controls required by law,” said Blan Holman, an attorney representing the five groups.

The plant will be along the banks of the Great Pee Dee River near the communities of Kingsburg and Pamplico in Florence County.

Furman Neuroscience Professor: Coal mercury is toxic

Yesterday, Dr. Judy Grisel, associate professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Furman University, joined a growing list of scientists, physicians and other healthcare professionals who have been speaking out about the dangers of mercury from coal plants. Even outside of the state's Mercury Traingle, where Santee Cooper wants to put a new significant source of mercury, professionals are making clear that more mercury is a bad idea.


April 13, 2009

State should reject new coal-fired plant

The state of South Carolina should not support Santee Cooper's plans to build a new coal plant on the Pee Dee River. While there are many dangerous pollutants released by coal plants, mercury is probably the worst. This chemical is highly neurotoxic and especially harmful to children, where brain damage is likely to be irreversible.

Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of toxic mercury pollution in the United States and emit 42 percent of the country's industrial mercury pollution. Cleaner sources of energy should be promoted and developed in South Carolina, in order to keep the state beautiful and the population healthy.

Judy Grisel

Associate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience Furman University


April 13, 2009

Colorado power companies seek alternatives to coal

Coal is being cancelled across the nation. For a while now, utilities coast to coast have been taking another look at their energy portfolios and scrapping plans for new coal plants. We've been suggesting that Santee Cooper should do the same, and now, according to Greenwire (a publication of E&E Publishing), it looks like a Colorado power group has also seen the writing on the wall.

COAL: Colo. power group reconsiders portfolio (04/13/2009)

A Colorado-based power association is reconsidering its long-term plans for coal-based electricity as it pursues innovations in energy efficiency, renewables and energy storage.

The Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, a cooperative of electric companies from Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico and Wyoming, was once looking to secure long-term purchases from the Sunflower Electric Power Corp.'s proposed coal plants in Kansas.

But with legislation in support of those plants facing a likely executive veto, the association is being forced to look to near-term alternatives like natural gas and renewable energy, said general manager Ken Anderson.

"We will still continue to make investments in research and development that preserves coal as an affordable, reliable and responsible resource option," he said. "We're also pursuing innovations in energy efficiency, renewables and energy storage that bring value to rural electric customers."

New energy solutions are needed for the association, which saw increased congestion on its power lines lead to more outages last year. Electric sales reached a record 14 million megawatt-hours last year, surpassing 2007's record by 4.2 percent.

The company is pursuing a project with Tempe, Ariz.-based First Solar Inc. to develop a 30-megawatt solar power plant in northeastern New Mexico, and is still engaged in coal-based carbon capture and storage pilot projects (Catherine Tsai, AP/Forbes.com, April 10). -- PT

(Full story reposted from http://www.eenews.net/Greenwire/2009/04/13/11/. Subscription required.)

April 10, 2009


(Kentucky) Environmentalists say costs are too high for new plant
Tue, Apr. 07, 2009
By Scott Sloan

A group of Kentucky environmentalists unveiled a new report on Tuesday disputing East Kentucky Power Cooperative's need for a new coal-fired power plant.

Members of the Kentucky Environmental Foundation, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and the Cumberland Chapter of the Sierra Club said the plan for a new facility in Clark County is bad both for the environment and the co-op's struggling finances.

The co-op, which has raised the price of its service each of the past three years, provides electricity to 16 member co-ops that power more than half a million homes, farms and businesses in Central and Eastern Kentucky.

The groups commissioned a study by a New York-based public policy and financial consulting firm that recommended the project be abandoned in favor of enhanced energy efficiency programs, renewable energy sources and natural gas.

"This case is a business and finance case," said Tom Sanzillo of TR Rose Associates prior to unveiling his findings.

He said East Kentucky Power produces about 97 percent of its electricity by burning coal in contrast to a general measure of around 50 percent for other utilities nationally.

Abandoning plans for another coal-fired power plant, which would be the first such generator at East Kentucky Power's Smith property in Clark County, would save around $500 million in long-term debt, he said.

East Kentucky Power spokesman Nick Comer could not be immediately reached on Tuesday.

The co-op has said it is dedicated to energy efficiency and renewable sources of energy, but those are not yet able to meet the demand from its customer base.
The report referenced in this article reached the following conclusions:
  • The Cooperative’s priority to build new coal-burning power plants is misaligned with the direction of capital markets and national energy policy.
  • EKPC’s current financial position is weak, and its decision to build Smith #1 is one of the main impediments to improving its credit status.
  • EKPC’s financial statements and accounting practices warrant review.
  • EKPC underestimates the cost of power from the Smith #1 plant.
  • The justification for the Smith Plant is weak, and EKPC has acknowledged a recent drop in demand for electricity.
  • Stopping the Smith #1 plant will avoid an additional price increase to ratepayers of at least 5% to recover the costs of building and operating the new plant.
  • The Cooperative has options to reduce losses and recover some of the money it has already spent on Smith #1.
Similar conclusions were reached in a financial report released last October on the proposed Santee Cooper coal plant. Read more about the Kentucky report here, or read the South Carolina report here.

April 9, 2009

Florence coverage of hair testing

Event tests hair for mercury
Florence Morning News
By Jamie Durant
Morning News Health/Environmental Reporter
Published: April 8, 2009

Local environmentalists have decided on their own to investigate the mercury content in the Great Pee Dee River to prove the proposed Santee Cooper coal-fired power plant to be a bad decision.

Pee Dee doctors, lawyers, business people and resident gathered Wednesday at Jay’s Barbershop in downtown Florence to have their hair cut to be tested for elevated mercury levels.

John Ramsburgh, chapter director of the Sierra Club of South Carolina, said S.C. Says No is working in partnership with the Sierra Club to make the tests happen.

“The Sierra Club is picking up the tab,” he said. “Every indication is that there is a serious problem in the Pee Dee area.”

The coalition is particularly concerned about such vulnerable populations as the elderly, children and pregnant women, Ramsburgh said.

Dr. Weave Whitehead, a pediatrician with McLeod Pediatric Associates, said several of those at-risk people fall in his patient base.

“I support the testing primarily because of my concern for children in lower Florence County,” he said.

Whitehead said he thinks while a few people are aware of the potential for mercury contamination from the Great Pee Dee, not enough people have a true understanding of the dangers. He said he hopes the tests will help people realize the coal plant is not needed in the already contaminated region.

“I’m not going to be sad if we don’t find anything,” he said. “We certainly don’t want anyone to have mercury poisoning, but if it does not show high levels, at least it’s a baseline for future reference.”

The 600-megawatt coal-fired generation facility would be located on a 2,709-acre tract in Kingsburg, scheduled to become operational sometime after 2012 at a cost of about $1.25 billion to build.

In February, a majority of S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control Board members voted against remanding the original air permit for the proposed coal-fired Pee Dee Energy Campus to be built in Kingsburg. The board decided the permit was issued properly despite several misgivings.

The permit gave Santee Cooper permission to move forward with the process in an attempt to build two 600-megawatt boilers on the campus. The Army Corp of Engineer’s Environmental Impact Statement, which will determine if Santee Cooper can continue making progress in the permitting process, is expected this summer.

In recent months, the backlash against coal-fired power has been severe. Gov. Mark Sanford joined the opposition before the the DHEC board members’ decision. His announcement was followed by a series of press releases agreeing with his stance on the issue. The S.C. Department of Natural Resources also sent a strongly worded letter to DHEC officials to recommend a remand of the air permit.

Human Mercury Testing

Mercury in the Pee Dee: Activists hope to ‘inspire’ DHEC to test residents for deadly toxin
The State
Thursday, Apr 9, 2009
By JOHN MONKjmonk@thestate.com

FLORENCE — Snip! Snip! were the sounds of hair samples being taken Wednesday at a Florence barber shop to dramatize a plea from doctors, environmentalists and residents who want the state’s environmental agency to test locals for mercury poisoning.

To spotlight the inability or unwillingness of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control to do tests, the activists are paying the $25 each to test the hair of 20 Florence County residents, starting with five who got haircuts Wednesday.

“I’m hoping this exercise today will shed light on the truth that there is mercury out there, and we don’t want more,” said Dr. Weave Whitehead, 38, a lifelong Florence area resident, pediatrician and S.C. Wildlife Federation board member.

Whitehead is one of several local doctors speaking out against a proposed $2.2 billion power plant slated for a rural area laced with rivers in southern Florence County.

The plant, sought by utility Santee Cooper, will emit 93 pounds of mercury in gas form each year — mercury many fear will settle in area rivers and then in fish locals love to eat.

Already throughout the Pee Dee, many fish are off-limits due to high mercury concentrations. Even tiny amounts of mercury can cause brain damage and harm children and unborn babies.
“The hair samples will be sent to a nationally certified lab,” said John Ramsburgh, director of the Sierra Club of South Carolina. Results will be made public, but he could not say when.

The doctors first asked DHEC to do the testing in fall 2007 after tests done by The (Charleston) Post and Courier found people with high levels of mercury.

The Sierra Club is paying for these tests. The S.C. Wildlife Federation also backs the tests.
“DHEC has not adequately addressed this issue,” said Dr. Kenneth Kammer, 61, a Florence neurosurgeon for 29 years.

Within a half-hour at Jay’s Top Notch Cuts, five people had thick locks of hair cut from the back of their heads. Barber Jay Alexander, 35, normally charges $15 for haircuts, but he cut free of charge to help out, he said.

DHEC announced last summer it would conduct mercury testing in some parts of South Carolina. But Wednesday, a spokesman said plans for testing are on hold.

Drastic state budget cuts earlier this year — some $34 million has been slashed since last summer — forced DHEC to cancel plans to spend an initial $100,000 for tests, a spokesman said.
DHEC asked the Legislature for $800,000 for the testing next fiscal year, but the House of Representatives recently cut that money, Thom Berry said. Berry said DHEC is working to restore that funding.

Berry declined to comment on Wednesday’s event.

The folks in and near the barber chair shared their thoughts, however.

“I am worried about what the results will be,” said Terry Cook, 44, who lives next to the 2,700-acre proposed plant site near Pamplico on the Great Pee Dee River.

“The important thing is to get enough and go right down to the scalp,” said Emily Jackson, 28, who grabbed a lock of Cook’s hair as the barber cut it. Jackson took the lock, wrapped it in yellow paper and put it in a plastic sandwich-type bag.

Publicly taking hair samples to dramatize environmental pollution is a tactic used by the Sierra Club and activists elsewhere.

Asked whether the Sierra Club and the doctors are trying to embarrass DHEC, Ramsburgh smiled and said, “We are trying to inspire DHEC.”

Efforts to reach Santee Cooper officials were unsuccessful. They have stressed the new plant will filter far more mercury than any of their existing plants. Utility officials also say mercury in local rivers probably comes from many sources other than power plants alone.

Whitehead, the doctor, is especially concerned that two public schools with hundreds of children are within a mile or so of the proposed power plant site.

“Children are particularly susceptible to air toxins,” he said.

No date has been set to start building the power plant, which in addition to mercury will emit thousands of pounds of particulate matter and other noxious substances each year. DHEC has approved the major air emissions permit for the plant. Environmental groups say they will appeal that approval this month.

Ramsburgh acknowledged the activists’ effort is modest.

“We know what is needed is a robust and comprehensive testing program,” he said. “We asked DHEC for that for over a year.”

Santee Cooper Agrees to Test Ash - Why Not Mercury?

From the Charleston Post and Courier:
Wells near ash-topped road to be tested
By Tony Bartelme
Wednesday, April 8, 2009

ST. STEPHEN — Santee Cooper has hired a consultant to test drinking water wells along Tobacco Road, an unpaved lane that Santee Cooper used as a demonstration project in 2004 to determine whether coal ash should be used on dirt roads.

Santee Cooper supplied 425 tons of fly ash from its Jefferies Station coal plant for the 1.5-mile road project. A recent Watchdog report revealed that the Jefferies Station fly ash contained traces of arsenic, barium and other toxic chemicals.

In a community meeting March 30, residents said they felt like Santee Cooper used them as guinea pigs and demanded that the utility test their water and air.

Earlier this week, a top Santee Cooper official began notifying residents that the company had hired a consultant, GEL Engineering of Charleston, to test residents' water. The consultant has analyzed numerous samples at Santee Cooper's facilities over the years.

Laura Varn, Santee Cooper vice president of corporate communications, described the costs of the testing as "nominal," with the final tally dependent on how many residents want their water tested. She said the testing will take about 10 days.

In addition to fly ash, Berkeley County crews have spread limestone on the road over the past few years, a common practice on dirt roads in South Carolina. Varn said Santee Cooper asked GEL Laboratories to test two samples of limestone from a nearby quarry and found they contained arsenic and selenium.

Residents were pleased with Santee Cooper's decision. "I think this water needs to be tested, and I think they need to get it moving," said the Rev. Julius Barnes, who lives on Tobacco Road. "I'm not sure how they're going to test the air, though. We'll see how it goes."
Why doesn't Santee Cooper cooperate with the state's other coal polluters and pay for DHEC's study of mercury poisoning in Palmetto State residents? The "nominal" costs of such an endeavor would surely be cheaper than all the millions of dollars of P.R. our state-owned utility has bought in support of its coal plant.

April 8, 2009

What's equal to 3,000 medium sized coal plants?

The East Coast's offshore wind potential. At least that's what Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar told an audience at a public forum on developing our nation's offshore energy resources.

The Washington Post reports, "Salazar said ocean winds along the East Coast can generate 1 million megawatts of power, roughly the equivalent of 3,000 medium-sized coal-fired power plants, or nearly five times the number of coal plants now operating in the United States, according to the Energy Department."

Earlier this month, Secretary Salazar told the 25 x '25 "America's Energy Future" conference: "More than three-fourths of the nation's electricity demand comes from coastal states and the wind potential off the coasts of the lower 48 states actually exceeds our entire U.S. electricity demand.

Instead of building another coal plant, we should focus on the opportunities to develop our renewable energy resources, like offshore wind, and prepare our energy infrastructure for the 21st Century.

Mercury Testing in Florence

Doctors to test Pee Dee residents for mercury
By Doug Pardue
The Post and Courier
Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A group of physicians in Florence plans to start testing Pee Dee residents today for mercury because state health officials have not launched a promised statewide effort to find out if the toxic pollutant in the state's rivers poses a health hazard.

The physicians called for statewide testing two years ago after The Post and Courier did its own tests and discovered that many people who eat fish from the state's mercury-contaminated rivers have elevated levels of the toxic heavy metal in their bodies.

For years, state health and environmental officials have tested for mercury and have discovered elevated levels in fish in 1,700 miles of the state's rivers and lakes. The State Department of Health and Environmental Control regularly issues warnings about eating fish caught in some areas, but has never systematically tested people to determine if their health is endangered.
Last year state health officials said they planned to launch a mercury study and human testing program.

The state's proposed testing program fell victim to the recession and state budget cuts. Thom Berry, a spokesman for DHEC, said the agency had performed preliminary work on the study with the University of South Carolina and had set aside upward of $100,000 "as our part to begin the project." However, he said, the money disappeared with the budget cuts.

Berry said the health department hopes to get money in this year's budget, and listed $800,000 for the study as part of its "critical needs." Still, he said, "We fear that funding may not be available and we may have to make even deeper reductions due to cuts in our state funds."
John Ramsburgh, chapter director with the Sierra Club of South Carolina which is working with the Florence physicians, said the group decided to do the testing because the state had shirked its "mission to protect the public health."

He said the doctors plan to test about 20 people in Florence, and possibly expand to Conway.
The area between Florence and Conway near the merger of the Great Pee Dee and Little Pee Dee rivers was identified by The Post and Courier as "the mercury triangle" because fish in rivers there contained the highest levels of mercury in the state.

Concern over mercury pollution in the Pee Dee has heightened as Santee Cooper, the state-owned power company, continues efforts to get clearance to build a new coal-fired power plant in Florence County. Coal-fired power plants are among the biggest contributors to mercury pollution.

Mercury is a powerful neurotoxin that, even in tiny amounts, can cause numerous health problems, including disrupted brain development in children.

Florence pediatrician Weave Whitehead, one of the doctors participating in the Florence testing, said in a statement, "We need to get a better sense of the potential health risks posed by this coal plant for the people of this region, particularly its impacts on vulnerable populations like children, pregnant women and the elderly."

PBS documentary on Appalachia

Spacek narrates PBS documentary on Appalachia

NEW YORK (AP) — Sissy Spacek has lived within the Appalachian mountain range since before the role in "Coal Miner's Daughter" that identified her with the region. But some of her neighbors won't let her forget she wasn't born there.

"I'm a transplant," said Spacek, 59, who was born in Texas. "My children are natives. I have clout now because I have children here. But I will always be a transplant. And I will always be aware of that."

She lives within the Great Smoky Mountains, moving there in the 1970s with her husband Jack Fisk, who is a Virginia native.

Spacek may get more respect from her neighbors with her work narrating "Appalachia: A History of Mountains and People," a four-part documentary that debuts on PBS stations on April 9.

She won an Academy Award for her role as singer Loretta Lynn in the 1980 film "Coal Miner's Daughter." It made her a natural choice for filmmaker Ross Spears when he was looking for someone to tell his story.

The film tells the human stories about people who made the Appalachians home, but also talks about the mountains themselves. They're the world's oldest geologically and are rich in growth. One acre of forest in the Great Smoky Mountains can support more species of trees than all of Europe, the film says. The coal so valuable to the region's economy was created by tropical jungles compacted over millions of years.

It was an educational experience for Spacek.

"I learned a lot and a lot of the things made me very sad," she said. "The most sobering thing for me was the monumental loss of mountains," leveled during the mining process. She said the most moving part of the narration was reading the names of 20 or 30 of the 470 mountains lost.
"It was like a funeral," she said.

For decades, images of Appalachian poor have been ingrained in the public consciousness. It can be a touchy point for people who live there; Diane Sawyer's ABC News special about poverty among young people in Kentucky struck some raw nerves.

Spacek found striking the extent to which people who lived within the Appalachians rarely benefited from the riches extracted from the mountains.

"They've been exploited," she said. "A lot of the poverty is because people have been exploited. I don't think there's any shame in being poor. The shame goes to the exploiters."

For true authenticity, Spacek joked about doing the narration in her Loretta Lynn voice. The two women are still in contact.

"We're very dear, dear friends," she said. "We don't speak often enough, but we're in regular contact with each other. Now she would have really been authentic."

April 7, 2009

Waiting on the Clean Energy Future

Opinion from the Myrtle Beach Sun News:

Most powerful source of energy awaits use
By Angela Lee
Sun, Apr. 05, 2009

What is the solution to America's energy needs in the future? If you ask those who stand to profit from current practices, those in the industry and their buddies in Washington, the answer is drill, drill, drill and mine, mine, mine. It's time to take a smarter approach.

There is only a finite amount of oil and coal contained within our planet. Proposed offshore drilling would pose a serious threat to South Carolina's tourism industry, natural environments and the plant and animal life they contain, and would further contribute to greenhouse gases. The Appalachian area and its inhabitants are currently suffering from out of state companies that come in to mine coal via "mountaintop removal" methods. This action dramatically, and horrifically, scars the landscape, clogs mountain streams, disrupts tap water in homes, and weakens mountain side stability, which has led to landslides in some areas where homes have been affected.

Now is the time to make smart decisions concerning energy. One step in the right direction: The EPA is putting on hold hundreds of mountain top coal-mining permits until it can establish the projects' impacts on streams and wetland. This decision was announced by EPA administrator Lisa Jackson. Under the Clean Water Act, companies cannot release rock, dirt, or debris into streams unless they can prove it will not cause permanent damage to the waterway or any fish and other wildlife it may contain. The EPA also denied two permits to the Army Corps of Engineers that would have allowed companies to fill thousands of feet of streams with mining waste in West Virginia and Kentucky.

Eventually, oil and coal will run out. Meanwhile, we have the most powerful source of energy in our solar system, the sun, waiting for us to utilize it. This is a win-win solution folks. We already have the technology, we just need the foresight and the will to move forward on this initiative. What will solar energy give us? A clean, sustainable, earth friendly source of power and jobs, American jobs, right here at home! Now is the time to make the move to smarter, cleaner energy. Let's not drag our feet on this one. Let's not create a future where our children and grandchildren ask us, why didn't we do more?

April 6, 2009

Coal Plants on Hold Everywhere but S.C.

April 6, 2009 The State
Online Extra: Coal plants on hold everywhere but S.C.
By PEGGY BROWN - Guest Columnist
As coal plants are put on hold across America, Santee Cooper, our state’s public utility, edges on with plans to build a dirty and polluting coal plant in Florence County.
Just a few weeks ago, two more coal plants in other states have rescinded permits due to the cost of coal and cost to the environment. In 2008, 19 proposed coal plants were canceled, abandoned or put on hold nationally, as communities learn “cheap coal” is a myth. Only five new coal plants, totaling about 1,400 megawatts, came on line, while wind energy added a record 8,300 megawatts. Driven by the change in administration in Washington, the political will for coal is shifting. President Barack Obama, who once was a coal supporter, signed an economic stimulus package with $16.8 billion earmarked for renewable energy and efficiency programs and allowed $3.4 billion for the coal industry.
Santee Cooper is a powerful state-owned industry, rich in funding and determined to have its way. But a source of encouragement is the recent public opposition to the coal-fired plant in the Pee Dee by key state leaders. Gov. Mark Sanford, Department of Natural Resources Director John Frampton, Florence Mayor Stephen Wukela and DHEC Board members Edwin Cooper and Michael David Mitchell have publicly spoken, written and voted against the coal plant. More leaders and legislators throughout the state are needed to join in the opposition — while looking to the future for economic recovery, by investing in efficiency and renewable forms of energy, such as wind, solar and biofuels. Study after study shows that we can mend our local economies and put our people back to work with alternative power choices. Efficiency alone would boost our local economy by putting people to work retrofitting homes and businesses.
Coal is dirty and not cheap. Santee Cooper's environmental impact study for the proposed coal-fired plant in Florence County acknowledges that despite the utility's best efforts, toxic pollutants will end up in the local air and water and eventually in our lungs and bodies. The coal plant will generate an enormous amount of fly ash and a host of heavy metal emissions that will cause more children of the Pee Dee to suffer from asthma and other respiratory diseases. In Florence County, more than 3,000 children already suffer from this debilitating condition.
All of our local watercourses, rivers, creeks and ponds already contain such elevated levels of mercury that the state warns against eating the fish from them. The Centers for Disease Control has found that roughly 10 percent of American women carry mercury concentrations at levels considered to put a fetus at risk of neurological damage.
As NASA global warming scientist Jim Hansen, one of the coal industry's most ardent critics, says, "Coal is exceedingly dirty stuff. The best place for it is in the ground."
Ms. Brown is the co-director of natural resources for the League of Women Voters of South Carolina.

April 3, 2009

TVA doctored data about toxic coal ash?

After spilling more than a billion gallons of toxic coal ash into the Emory River and nearby communities a few days before Christmas, TVA dismissed the possibility of any public health or environmental consequences from the spill. Later, TVA's studies confirmed their initial assertions that the spilled material was safe. Now reports are surfacing that those tests were based on doctored data.

The Nation
Tennessee's Dirty Data
April 2, 2009

The Tennessee Valley Authority manipulated science methods to downplay water contamination caused by a massive coal ash disaster, according to independent technical experts and critics of the federally funded electrical company.

Read the full article here.

Louisiana Utility Says "NO" to Coal

Another coal plant bites the dust ... in LOUISIANA?! Yes, Louisiana -- one of the few states we South Carolinians often refer to on occasion -- as in "Well, at least we're not as bad as ________." This plant joins 131 other cancelled or otherwise stalled coal proposals. It's getting lonely for Santee Cooper (and shameful for the Palmetto State...).
Power plant refitting plan falls from favor
Politics, economics push Entergy to stay with natural gas for now
Friday, April 03, 2009
By Rebecca Mowbray
Business writer

Entergy Louisiana LLC is stepping back from plans to convert an aging natural gas plant in St. Charles Parish into a coal and petroleum coke plant.

The project to repower a unit of the Little Gypsy plant in Montz was announced in 2007 as a strategy to reduce the state's dependence on natural gas. But in recent months, the cost has risen to $1.76 billion, a host of new environmental regulations have come into play with the Obama administration, obtaining financing has become more challenging, and most important, natural gas prices have crashed, perhaps for the long-term.

The economics no longer add up to a win for customers, Entergy said Wednesday in a filing with the Louisiana Public Service Commission. It wants regulators' permission to put the project on hold for at least three years to give those factors a chance to play out, and it wants to do so before it reaches a point where it is stuck with the project.

"Continuing with the Repowering Project at this time would result in an irreversible investment decision based on the significant capital requirements associated with this Project, yet the resolution of the various uncertainties could produce scenarios in which the outcome of a decision to proceed would not benefit the Company's customers," the filing reads.

Read more: Times-Picayune, April 3
Read more: Times-Picayune, April 2: Entergy to Put Little Gypsy Project on Hold for Three Years

Electric Rates Could Jump

From FoxBusiness.com...

Report: 50-100 Percent Jump in N.C. Electric Bills Possible if Duke, Progress Build 4 Unneeded Nuclear Plants and Duke Finishes Cliffside Coal-Fired Power Plant

DURHAM, N.C., March 31, 2009

North Carolina homeowners could see their utility bills climb between 50-100 percent if Duke Energy and Progress Energy are allowed to proceed with four nuclear plants and if Duke completes the new Cliffside coal plant. Any need for these plants could be replaced with modest increases in energy efficiency, cogeneration, and renewable power, according to a major new study produced by the former chair of the Duke University Economics Department for NC WARN (North Carolina Waste Awareness & Reduction Network).

The report is being issued against a national backdrop in which more than 60 of 150 planned coal-fired power plants already have been stopped and many more are likely to be halted. NC WARN issued the report today ahead of a filing this week in which the group is contesting the long-range utility demand forecasts and the supposed need for the new power plants.


April 2, 2009

"Our Dumb State"

From the Columbia Free Times, a series documenting "our dumb state." I have to admit a little chagrin here, as a Palmetto State native son; unfortunately, they seem to have a point...
Our Dumb State with a Vengeance

by : Free Times

Welcome to the third installment of “Our Dumb State,” an occasional series in which we celebrate the self-defeating insanity that all too often takes hold in our state and propels us into the national — or even international — media arena. From former Miss South Carolina’s well-publicized troubles with maps to Thomas Ravenel’s well-publicized troubles with cocaine, our state offers seemingly endless fodder for ridicule on YouTube or in the monologues of late-night talk-show hosts. And in two previous editions of Our Dumb State (as well as in our annual Year in Review issues), we’ve made it our mission to give a local spin to those stories that have catapulted our state to infamy.

Lately, we’ve been in the news for two big stories: Gov. Mark Sanford’s war on stimulus spending and Michael Phelps’ run-in with a bong. But wait, there’s more! Don’t forget last year’s dust-ups over the “I Believe” license plates and the “So Gay” ad campaign. And then there are some more recent bumbles, such as a state legislator’s proposals to — no joke — outlaw profanity and sagging pants.

Folks, we couldn’t make this stuff up if we tried. And frankly, we wish that South Carolina would be in the news for better reasons. But hey, these things happen — and we feel sure they’ll continue — so the best thing to do is just lighten up a bit and laugh at our state’s foibles.

And that’s what “Our Dumb State” is all about: It’s a completely opinionated but hopefully humorous look at South Carolina’s many media missteps. While there’s plenty to debate about just where the dumbness lies in all this — and you might well disagree with our view on it — there can be little debate that, deserved or not, South Carolina routinely ends up with far more than its fair share of negative publicity. So, at some point you just have to shrug your shoulders and laugh. Because if you don’t, you just might cry. — Dan Cook

Our Dumb Coal Plant
Santee Cooper vs. Common Sense

Now this is what we call dumb.

Listen, an element of contrarianism is cool, you know, and going against the grain has its merits at times.

But WTF? Build a coal-fired power plant when more or less the entire nation has abandoned such sources of electricity because of the toxic emissions and ash byproduct they generate? Even in the face of the facts that coal-fired power plants are the largest source of excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and that said CO2 is changing global climate patterns by warming the planet?

Yet, build one is precisely what state-owned utility Santee Cooper plans to do, in Florence County on the Pee Dee River.

Santee Cooper deserves big props for, on its own volition, setting a goal to obtain 40 percent of the energy it produces from green sources by 2020. And the utility’s board of directors is backing up that objective with money and other measures.

But Santee Cooper is off the reservation with this coal plant scheme.

The utility contends that it is necessary to meet projected growth in energy demand in South Carolina — so the lights come on when people flip the switch.

Might we suggest that the lights of common sense at Santee Cooper are what seem to be not coming on, at least in regard to this project. — Eric Ward

Read more about our dumb state here.

April 1, 2009


Today is a good day. Today is one day closer to the day we quit our addiction to coal and start powering our future in a sustainable way. Today is also 8 days away from a chance for South Carolina to stand up and say, NO MORE DIRTY COAL!

April 8, 2009 from 10-11:30am we will gather at the South Carolina statehouse in Columbia to say, NO MORE DIRTY COAL!

Students and residents from across South Carolina will join in solidarity to say, NO MORE DIRTY COAL! The time for our future is now. The time to protect our health, the lives of our children, and save our land is here. We must make our legislators, state regulatory agency and Santee-Cooper realize we will not stand for more pollution in our state; that our energy future lies in renewable energy, efficiency and conservation.

I ask you to attend this event. To show DHEC and Santee-Cooper and government officials that this plant is not okay! Our waters are already contaminated, our land is polluted and something different must be done. Everyone’s attendance is important to show it is not just a few of us who are opposed, but rather, the majority.

My story is simple. I love my home. I love not worrying about the things I eat, the water I swim in, the air I breathe. I don’t think it is right I should have to worry. There are clean alternatives available for South Carolina, offshore wind for example. Why should any of us have to worry? Well, we should not and that is why we need to say something. If we just sit back and watch this happen, that is exactly what will happen, the plant will be built, because we just let it happen.

I am twenty years old and I am asking you to please stand with me.

April 8, 2009


North Steps, South Carolina State House Columbia.

For additional information visit


or contact Kathryn Hilton hiltonkathryn@gmail.com