July 29, 2009

Comments to the board of directors

Here are the comments I made to the board of directors on Monday.

"I oppose any act upon South Carolina that jeopardizes our state's environmental condition. We have jeopardized our Pee Dee River to the point of no ingestion of the river's fish. Well,...bring us some good fish Santee Cooper. Build us a fresh river. Of course you can't, obviously, but certainly not with a new coal plant. You will only worsen our state's condition. And as we gather here today, we discuss paying more to pollute. We will pay more to pollute. That is what you're advocating Santee Cooper. You have an opportunity to invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency. The technology is developed, and our government will step in behind you with incentives and economic support. I am a South Carolinian and want the best for my state and I know you do too. I know you do. However, you want to build more coal, which is not in our heart's interest, and raise our rates, which is not in our pocket's interest. Thank you for your time."

A successful day

This last Monday, the league and others met in Myrtle Beach with Santee Cooper's board of directors. To all of you who showed, thank you for doing so; we had so many people! Nearly 30. We made a very big step in our battle for a greener South Carolina. People stood up for their state's economic interests and heart's interests. The board is now reevaluating their plans for the rates, which directly pertains to the coal plant. This is something the league asked the board to do in the spring -- they had said no, that they would not reevaluate their rates or future plans. Thank you for all your help, it is deeply appreciated, to the league and our beautiful state.

The SunNews
Groups take on energy rate rise by Santee Cooper
Adva Saldinger
July 28, 2009

Santee Cooper's plans to raise rates this year and build a coal-fired plant in Florence County were under fire Monday by a group of customers and environmental activists.

About 35 people spoke to the packed conference room at the Sheraton Conference Center and Hotel in Myrtle Beach.

The meeting was the eighth and final meeting before board members of the company vote on a proposed 10 percent rate increase in August.

The increase would be implemented over two years with a 4.5 percent increase Nov. 1 and a 5.5 percent increase on Nov. 1, 2010.

Grace Gifford, who was representing the Five River Friends Quakers Meeting, said the rate increases will put additional stress on people who are already struggling.

"Our current Santee Cooper board should provide leader ship by addressing our desperate need for jobs,'' she said. "Energy efficiency measures and home-based renewables such as solar hot-water heaters can generate jobs, lower the peak and lower costs to low income families.''

Laura Varn, a spokeswoman for Santee Cooper, said that the company has not increased the base rate in 13 years and that the cost of business has increased. Projections show that at current rates, costs will exceed revenues for Santee Cooper by the end of this year.

"The timing is bad, and we'll readily admit that,'' Varn said, adding that the company held off on the increases as long as possible.

Other speakers expressed their opposition to Santee Cooper's planned coal-fired power plant.

Nancy Cave, the Northcoast director of the Coastal Conser vation League, called on Santee Cooper to invest in energy- efficiency programs and alternative energy.

"We don't feel the coal plant is the right solution for this state,'' Cave said.

She said a coalition of groups has protested against the coal- powered plant at every step along the way, but that this meeting provided a unique opportunity to talk to the Santee Cooper board.

"I think there is a misconception that this rate increase is related to the Pee Dee facility, and that is not true,'' Varn said.

The costs of producing power have increased, and the rate increase will only pay for "minimal costs associated with the facility,'' she said.

Cave said her organization is calling on the company to intro duce energy-efficiency programs that save 1 percent of total elec tricity sales annually. Combined with falling demand, those savings would mean the plant was not necessary, she said.

"Our expertise from indepen dent analysts indicate that with the load now, we need that facility, plus energy efficiency, plus renew ables,'' Varn said.

Santee Cooper will launch $113 million in new energy efficiency programs this fall. The company has a goal of having 40 percent of electricity coming from nongreenhouse gas-emitting resources, biomass, energy efficiency and conservation by 2020, Varn said.

Peggy Brown, who was representing the League of Women Voters and the state Sierra Club, said the key is moving away from coal.

"I don't believe they provided a concrete, evidenced need for the plant,'' Brown said.

After public comments at the meeting, Santee Cooper Board Chairman O.L. Thompson asked the company's president to further evaluate the plans for the plant and come back to the board with an analysis or recommendation at the August meeting.

"This is a period of unprecedented challenges,'' Varn said. "We always evaluate and make sure we are where we need to be, and there are a lot of changes in the industry right now.''

Santee Cooper isn't the only Carolinas power company wanting to raise rates.

On Monday, Duke Energy Carolinas filed requests with the Public Service Commission of South

Carolina to make adjust ments to customer bills, including a general rate increase of 9.3 percent.

It would be the first general rate increase for the company since 1991.

To read this article, click here

July 23, 2009

Another Mini Bond Sale This Fall

Santee Cooper is having another mini bond sale this fall. Interest rates announced 9/23, orders taken 9/25-10/21.

Coal pollution can lower our IQs

Air pollution, from either cars, buses, trucks, or factories, such as coal plants, can reduce our IQs. The coal industry as a whole releases 97% of fine particle, or soot, and sulfur dioxide emissions, 92% of smog-forming nitrogen oxide emissions, 100% of mercury emissions, and 86% of carbon dioxide emissions. Like automobiles, how could the industry not be linked to lowering our IQs?
Associated Press
Kids lower IQ scores linked to prental pollution
Lindsey Tanner
July 20, 2009

Researchers for the first time have linked air pollution exposure before birth with lower IQ scores in childhood, bolstering evidence that smog may harm the developing brain.

The results are in a study of 249 children of New York City women who wore backpack air monitors for 48 hours during the last few months of pregnancy. They lived in mostly low-income neighborhoods in northern Manhattan and the South Bronx. They had varying levels of exposure to typical kinds of urban air pollution, mostly from car, bus and truck exhaust.

At age 5, before starting school, the children were given IQ tests. Those exposed to the most pollution before birth scored on average four to five points lower than children with less exposure.

That's a big enough difference that it could affect children's performance in school, said Frederica Perera, the study's lead author and director of the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health.

Dr. Michael Msall, a University of Chicago pediatrician not involved in the research, said the study doesn't mean that children living in congested cities "aren't going to learn to read and write and spell."

But it does suggest that you don't have to live right next door to a belching factory to face pollution health risks, and that there may be more dangers from typical urban air pollution than previously thought, he said.

"We are learning more and more about low-dose exposure and how things we take for granted may not be a free ride," he said.

While future research is needed to confirm the new results, the findings suggest exposure to air pollution before birth could have the same harmful effects on the developing brain as exposure to lead, said Patrick Breysse, an environmental health specialist at Johns Hopkins' school of public health.

And along with other environmental harms and disadvantages low-income children are exposed to, it could help explain why they often do worse academically than children from wealthier families, Breysse said.

"It's a profound observation," he said. "This paper is going to open a lot of eyes."

The study in the August edition of Pediatrics was released Monday.

In earlier research, involving some of the same children and others, Perera linked prenatal exposure to air pollution with genetic abnormalities at birth that could increase risks for cancer; smaller newborn head size and reduced birth weight. Her research team also has linked it with developmental delays at age 3 and with children's asthma.

The researchers studied pollutants that can cross the placenta and are known scientifically as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Main sources include vehicle exhaust and factory emissions. Tobacco smoke is another source, but mothers in the study were nonsmokers.

A total of 140 study children, 56 percent, were in the high exposure group. That means their mothers likely lived close to heavily congested streets, bus depots and other typical sources of city air pollution; the researchers are still examining data to confirm that, Perera said. The mothers were black or Dominican-American; the results likely apply to other groups, researchers said.

The researchers took into account other factors that could influence IQ, including secondhand smoke exposure, the home learning environment and air pollution exposure after birth, and still found a strong influence from prenatal exposure, Perera said.

The researchers said they plan to continuing monitoring and testing the children to learn whether school performance is affected and if there are any additional long-term effects.

To read this article, click here

July 21, 2009

What about an energy-efficiency survey?

Rate increase by 15%, little investments in renewable energy, and essentially no encouragement of energy-efficiency, that's where Santee Cooper tops the charts. Santee Cooper surveyed its customers covering small basic utility qualities: power quality and reliability, price, billing and payment, corporate citizenship, communications, and lastly, customer service. Note, none of these concern energy-efficiency. Of course Santee Cooper will receive positive ratings if it's energy is cheap. It's common sense.
Columbia Regional Business Report
Santee Cooper tops charts in customer satisfaction poll
Staff Report

July 16, 2009

Santee Cooper topped the charts in a customer satisfaction ranking released today by J.D. Power and Associates. The state-owned utility was No. 1 among midsized utilities in the South, and it also received the highest score in the nation among all utilities studied.

“Despite unprecedented economic and regulatory challenges in the electric power industry, Santee Cooper has steadfastly remained focused on providing excellent customer service,” said Santee Cooper President and CEO Lonnie Carter said in a statement.

Santee Cooper is currently celebrating its 75th anniversary.

This is the second year that J.D. Power and Associates has released rankings for mid-sized utilities. The study measured six key factors:

  • Power quality and reliability

  • Price

  • Billing and payment

  • Corporate citizenship

  • Communications

  • Customer service

Customers gave Santee Cooper the highest score in the South midsized segment on price and communications.

“These study results demonstrate the positive impressions our customers have of Santee Cooper,” said Zack Dusenbury, Santee Cooper vice president of retail operations.

“I am particularly gratified and proud of retail operations and the employees who do what it takes 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to maintain excellent customer satisfaction.”

According to J.D. Power and Associates, electric utility companies as a whole have improved power reliability and enhanced communications with their customers, especially when outages occur. This investment in communication technologies and processes is key to the industry’s overall improvement.

J.D. Power and Associates surveyed 79,552 customers online from July 2008 to May 2009, encompassing 121 utilities serving 92.4 million customers.

Click here to read this article

July 17, 2009

West Virginia's State Rock

This may be old news to some, but it's a somewhat comical and simultaneously sad. Imagine if South Carolina's state rock was Coal rather than Rose Quartz.

The New York Times
Green Inc.
West Virginia's New State Rock
Kate Galbraith

June 9, 2009

Coal has become the official rock of West Virginia.

Last week. Gov. Joe Manchin signed a resolution (text) giving the rock its new status, and declaring that the bituminous coal industry “remains essential to economic growth and progress in West Virginia and the United States.”

The resolution, which passed the state’s house of delegates 96-0 and was approved by the State Senate in a voice vote, also traces the noble history of the rock, from the time George Washington noted a “coal hill of fire” in what became West Virginia.

The Mountain State joins Kentucky and Utah, both of which have had coal as
their state mineral and state rock, respectively, for more than a decade.

The West Virginia movement was started, according to the West Virginia Coal Association, by a high school student who was a coal miner’s daughter.

“I realized the state didn’t have an official state rock,” the high school senior, Britnee Gibson, told the association, “and I thought, what better to be the state rock than coal?”

The resolution comes as the state’s coal industry encounters tough times, with some residents in West Virginia protesting the blasting of mountaintops to remove it.

The recession, too, has dampened demand for electricity, such that Consol Energy, a big coal company operating in the state, recently announced that it was idling two West Virginia mines.

To read this article, click here

July 15, 2009

Santee Cooper's demand down by 10%

Santee Cooper's demand is down 10 percent. Hm...So if demand is down, we don't actually need the coal plant? This great news for us. This is great news for energy-efficiency and renewable energy. We need to continue to emphasize energy-efficiency as our key fuel; we will convey that we do not need a new coal plant. We need a difference and perhaps if demand further drops, economic measures will drive our utilities to invest into something different - what we consumers are truly demanding -energy-efficiency and renewable energy.

The State
S.C. utilities say energy use down, despite the heat
Associated Press
July 13, 2009

South Carolinians are cutting their energy use this summer, despite the heat.

The State reported Monday the four major utilities serving South Carolina say energy use is either flat or down a bit, compared to last summer.

South Carolina Electric & Gas says residential use is down about 2percent. Spokesman Robert Yanity says the economy is affecting the utility's 650,000 customers in the Midlands and Lowcountry.

State-owned utility Santee Cooper says peak use has been down 10percent this year, compared to the hottest days last year.

Duke Energy's Paige Sheehan says the Charlotte utility expects sales to be flat. Duke has 600,000 customers in the Upstate.

Progress Energy says residential sales are growing, but industrial sales have dropped. Progress has about 200,000 customers in the Pee Dee.

Click here to read this article

SRS may become mercury repository

The Aiken Standard
SRS may become mercury repository
Mike Gellatly
July 7, 2009

The Savannah River Site is one of seven locations aiming to become the repository for thousands of tons of toxic mercury from commercial and governmental producers.

According to a listing in the Federal Register that announced the bids, 7,500 to 10,000 metric tons of mercury from private sources, in addition to large amounts of mercury already stored in government facilities, will be stored at the repository. The nongovernmental mercury would be brought in and housed over a period of 40 years.

The Mercury Export Ban Act of 2008 requires the Department of Energy to designate a facility or facilities for the long-term management and storage of elemental mercury generated within the United States.

"Therefore, DOE intends to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to consider the impacts of the required action," according to DOE. "The long-term management and storage of elemental mercury EIS (mercury storage EIS) will evaluate alternatives for a long-term mercury storage facility or facilities to open no later than Jan. 1, 2013, the statutory start date for storage operations."

The preparation for the environmental impact statement will be a series of public meetings to discuss and get stakeholder input.

Locally, a meeting will take place at the North Augusta Municipal Center on July 30. DOE will hold these public "scoping" meetings from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m., but the public participation period began July 1 and will continue through mid-August. Comments can be submitted online at a specific DOE website set up for the project - www.mercurystorageeis.com.

As well as the storage option, DOE lists a no-action alternative, which would mean individual private concerns must store their own mercury as would public sites. This is set as a comparison to the seven sites selected for impact statements.

The notice in the Federal Register states that most of the private mercury comes from the production of chlorine, gold mining and is reclaimed as part of the recycling process.

The government mercury, approximately 5,600 tons, is stored in various facilities. Included in this are 1,200 tons at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

Other than SRS the following will be evaluated: Grand Junction Disposal Site in Grand Junction, Colo., Hanford Site in Richland, Wash., Hawthorne Army Depot in Hawthorne, Nev., Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls, Idaho, Kansas City Plant in Kansas City, Mo., and Waste Control Specialists in Andrews, Texas.

To read this article, click here

July 14, 2009

Avoid coal, create jobs, save money

The State
Holman: Avoid coal, create jobs, save money
Blan Holman

Guest Columnist

A recent editorial admitted that a coal plant should not be built along the Pee Dee River, but warned that avoiding one would require sacrifice (“Everyone must sacrifice on coal plant plan,” Wednesday). But across the nation, investments in healthier, cheaper, job-generating energy sources make it plain that coal is the sacrifice. And it is a sacrifice we plainly can avoid making.

Building a coal plant today makes about as much sense as coating a child’s room with lead paint. The Pee Dee plant would emit 14 times more mercury than other plants, in an area already suffering from mercury contamination. It would spew thousands of tons of lung-damaging air pollution every year. And every day, it would inhale a mile-long train carting coal mined from decapitated Appalachian mountains, then exhale a mile-long train loaded with our money headed out of state.

Santee Cooper wants to raise rates to help pay for the plant’s $2.5 billion to $4 billion construction costs. But the real price will be higher due to coming controls on carbon dioxide, a main greenhouse gas. This plant would emit more than 10 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. If carbon costs $20 per ton, as appears likely, ratepayers will be stuck with an annual $200 million balloon payment.

These pollution and economic costs are why other utilities have sworn off new coal in South Carolina. As the editorial pointed out, Santee Cooper is unique in not having to prove to the Public Service Commission that a new plant is needed and economical. It also happens to be the only utility not pushing a new class of muscular energy-efficiency programs.

That is important because initiatives such as Duke Energy’s modified Save-A-Watt program — negotiated by Duke, conservationists and regulators — could displace the need for this plant. Duke will push a wide array of initiatives, with appliance replacements, energy audits and insulation upgrades being just a few. Far beyond just replacing light bulbs, this campaign will capture energy savings as a source of power.

Duke says it will capture 2 percent of system-wide power upgrades in four years, or 30 percent more power than the proposed Pee Dee plant could generate. Were Santee Cooper to boost efficiency by a mere 1 percent per year, it could forget the Pee Dee plant and save ratepayers millions if not billions of dollars, while creating thousands of local jobs for contractors hit hardest by the recession.

Renewable energy also could help knock out the coal plant. Just a few months ago, Sonoco announced it was replacing coal units in Hartsville with a boiler that burns woody refuse. Experts project South Carolina could develop a coal plant’s worth of renewable power over the next few years, utilizing crops, waste and river currents. Solar power and our state’s single-biggest renewable asset, offshore wind, could produce even more power, with new studies estimating that our coastal winds could generate more energy than 100 coal plants.

You don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way this is headed. Just over the border, North Carolina is developing the largest solar farm in the United States; Georgia, Delaware and New Jersey are pursuing large-scale wind power projects on their coasts. These projects mean jobs. Energy cropping, solar panels and wind towers require construction and skilled maintenance workers. Just ask the employees of General Electric’s wind turbine facility in Greenville.

Efficiency programs and renewable power provide a mature, proven path to energy security. Other states and utilities have proven this. We can do it here, despite those who insultingly suggest our citizens aren’t “educated enough” to want the lower power bills offered by efficiency. Nothing inherent in our climate, our people or our economy prevents us from doing as well as our neighbors.

What happens if, after maximized efficiency and renewables, we still need more power? Coal still would be the wrong answer. Santee Cooper’s own internal documents show carbon prices making natural gas, a much cleaner fuel, economically on par with coal. And like efficiency and renewables, but unlike nuclear power, natural gas could economically generate energy in the short term period said to justify coal.

In the end, most South Carolinians understand that coal would set our economy back, when what we need is a jump-start forward. The only thing the Pee Dee plant seems to have going for it is bureaucratic inertia, but day by day, even this is eroding under the flow of facts revealing the high costs of coal and the superiority of proven alternatives.

These facts are why citizens and companies have recently abandoned 100 coal plants in the United States. And they are why the Pee Dee plant should be number 101.

We have better options that would save money, conserve resources and boost employment. The only thing we need sacrifice is business as usual.

Mr. Holman is an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center in Charleston.

Click here to read this article

July 10, 2009

Let's follow Georgia

Environmental News Service
Georgia Appeals Court Rules Against Coal-Fired Power Plant
July 7, 2009

July 7, 2009 (ENS) - The Georgia Court of Appeals today issued an order that will result in further delay of the Longleaf coal-fired power plant proposed for Early County, Georgia. Although the Court of Appeals reversed a lower court ruling invalidating the plant's air quality permit on several issues, it upheld the lower court decision on other issues. At this point, the draft air quality permit granted by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division in May 2007 remains invalid.

The plant would be a 1200 megawatt coal-burning power plant along the Chattahoochee River, south of Columbus near the Georgia-Alabama state line. If built, it would be the first new coal-fired power plant in Georgia in over 20 years, but today's decision is the second legal defeat for the proposed plant in just 13 months.

The Longleaf unit is one of four new coal plants LS Power Development proposes to build around the nation. Longleaf Energy Associates, a branch of LS Power, originally proposed the plant. In March 2007, LS Power merged with Dynegy to form the largest builder of coal plants in the country. Civil rights advocates, healthcare providers, and patient advocacy groups around the state have lined up against the Dynegy Longleaf plant. The Medical Association of Georgia issued a resolution opposing any new coal-fired plants in the state.

The air quality permit was granted by the state over the objections of GreenLaw, Sierra Club, and Friends of the Chattahoochee, who mounted a legal challenge to the permit.The groups informed the Environmental Protection Division that in their opinion the proposed plant was being built without safeguards sufficient to protect Georgia residents from an array of toxins such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter and sulfuric acid mist.

The permit was invalidated by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Thelma Wyatt Cummings Moore on June 30, 2008.The air quality permit was granted by the state over the objections of GreenLaw, Sierra Club, and Friends of the Chattahoochee, who mounted a legal challenge to the permit. The groups informed the Environmental Protection Division that in their opinion the proposed plant was being built without safeguards sufficient to protect Georgia residents from an array of toxins such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter and sulfuric acid mist. The permit was invalidated by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Thelma Wyatt Cummings Moore on June 30, 2008.

In reaching their decision, the three-judge panel agreed with the Superior Court on one key claim, that Administrative Law Judge Stephanie Howells was not independent in her evaluation of the Environmental Protection Division's decision to issue the permit. Judicial independence is a key component of ensuring that decisions that impact public health are properly scrutinized.

Because the Administrative Law Judge failed to make independent decisions in reviewing the permit, the permit remains invalid, further postponing construction of the plant. GreenLaw's challenge of the Longleaf air quality permit also challenged EPD's failure to include any limitations for the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and its failure to consider undisputed modeling that showed that the plant would exceed air quality standards. The Court of Appeals rejected the claim that the plant must limit its emmissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, CO2.

GreenLaw and the other plaintiffs argue that Longleaf must establish a limit for CO2 based on the best available control technology because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that CO2 is a pollutant in April 2007 in the case of Mass. v. EPA.

The plaintiff groups argue that federal law requires a limit on any pollutant subject to regulation and plan to appeal that portion of the appellate court's ruling to the Georgia Supreme Court."We are extremely pleased that the Court of Appeals has required independent review of the errors that were made in the permitting of this plant," said Justine Thompson, executive director of GreenLaw. "However, we are very disappointed that the court rejected other important claims that are critical to the protection of public health. We feel confident that the Georgia Supreme Court will reverse on appeal."

"We are glad to see the court demanding independent review of EPD's decision before any coal-fired power plant can be built in this state. Burning coal creates some of the worst pollution, endangering human health," said Mark Woodall, chair of the Executive Committee Sierra Club of Georgia. "However, we are committed to ensuring that Georgia follows the law with respect to carbon dioxide and other pollutants, and will take what legal steps are necessary to ensure that this happens."

The plaintiff groups argue that coal-fired power plants are a leading cause of smog, acid rain, and global warming and there is no need to build a new one in the state of Georgia.Bobby McLendon, president of Friends of the Chattahoochee, said, "Many people in Early County do not believe that this plant is needed to meet any short-term energy demand in our region, or even in our state, and we hope that the business and civic leaders of Georgia will begin to put more emphasis on energy efficiency and renewable energy in the future."

To read this article, click here

July 9, 2009

The State
There are alternatives to coal-fired plant
James Williamson
July 8, 2009

As Santee Cooper, our state-owned utility, hikes rates by 15 percent over the next two years, let us not forget why. Revenues from the rate hike will be used to build the utility’s new polluting coal plant at a cost of about $2 billion. This proposed coal plant poses not only a financial risk to ratepayers, but an environmental and health risk to people and communities in Appalachia.
The coal plant will use approximately 12,000 tons of coal every day, and much of this coal comes from the mountain tops of Kentucky and West Virginia. One million acres of mountain tops have been destroyed, and the debris that is dumped in the valleys impacts communities and pollutes water supplies.

Santee Cooper’s new coal-guzzling power plant will support this destructive mining, so it will threaten the health and welfare of people in South Carolina as well as Kentucky and West Virginia.

There are alternatives to another coal plant. Santee Cooper should focus spending on energy-efficiency programs that will reduce energy demand, while it invests in and brings on line energy alternatives such as biomass, offshore wind, solar and small natural gas plants.
We do not need this rate hike to support old technology that not only jeopardizes our health and welfare here in South Carolina but reaches farther north to the mountains of Appalachia and the communities and people living there. Say no to another coal plant.


To see this letter, click here

Energy Efficiency Workshop

Energy efficiency Workshop
Wednesday July 15
2 – 5 pm
Coastal Science Building*
Room 201
Coastal Carolina Univ.
  • The SC Says No coalition invites you to an energy efficiency workshop
  • Learn the facts of energy efficiency
  • Educate others and maybe even yourself on why efficiency is a cheap and easy way to reduce energy demand immediately so we don’t need a new coal plant
  • Hone your arguments on why we need energy efficiency first….not another coal plant
  • Does Santee Cooper promote energy efficiency...get the answer
  • Get ready for the July 27 Santee Cooper Board meeting. *
  • The Coastal Science Building is in the Atlantic Center on the north side of 501 across from the entrance to Coastal Carolina University’s main campus.

Who will regulate carbon?

The State
Couick, Timberlake: Who will regulate carbon?
Michael Couick and Ann Timberlake
July 8, 2009

Whatever you may think about the reality of global warming, the political climate in Washington has changed, bringing with it both challenges and opportunities for South Carolina. How we respond to any potential climate legislation coming out of Washington will play a determining role in our state’s future. And while media pundits and activists at both ends of the spectrum have attempted to polarize the debate, those of us in two important sectors — energy and conservation — know that what is required is a nuanced, strategic response.

Last month the U.S. House passed, along mostly party lines, the American Clean Energy and Security Act. The debate on the House floor revealed deep divisions over climate change and whether this legislation will help or harm our country at a time of deep economic recession. Lost in the debate, however, was another important issue: Two years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that carbon dioxide is a pollutant subject to regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency.

In other words, unless Congress acts, the EPA will begin implementing its own program to limit carbon emissions.

This point was not lost on Congressmen Jim Clyburn and John Spratt, who noted recently that the EPA lacks the ability and resources to regulate carbon emissions in a way that takes current economic conditions into account. Without prompt action from Congress, the EPA mandates might put our state and nation at even greater risk for economic disruption.

Congressmen Clyburn and Spratt also recognized that early drafts of the legislation put South Carolina at a competitive disadvantage by rewarding a disproportionate share of emission allowances to utilities and electric cooperatives in other states. Thanks to the efforts of both men, the final bill distributes these allowances more equitably and gives South Carolina greater flexibility as we seek to meet renewable energy benchmarks in the federal bill.

Meeting these benchmarks will be a challenge, but over time South Carolina has the potential to make significant progress in promoting a clean energy future. Offshore wind and solar energy have long-term potential as options for residential and business customers. Biomass — energy from wood chips and other waste materials — is already in use and, in many cases, is a cost-effective alternative to fossil fuel generation.

We can also make great strides in efficiency. South Carolina’s electric cooperatives have set an ambitious goal of weatherizing 25 percent of their members’ housing over the next decade. This initiative is not only good for the environment, it is good for consumer pocketbooks. After all, the cheapest and cleanest kilowatt-hour of electricity is the one we don’t have to generate.

Without question our state still faces significant challenges, particularly as ratepayers confront rising utility bills due to increases in the costs of the construction of new generation and the rising costs of the fossil fuels used to generate electricity. Businesses and consumers alike will have to become more conscious about the way we produce and use energy. Congressmen Clyburn and Spratt are committed to minimizing the impacts on consumers, and the public sector can play a supporting role. For example, by updating building codes and promoting energy efficiency, the General Assembly and local governments have set an example for the private sector while saving taxpayer dollars.

So despite the challenges, we have reasons to be optimistic, and both South Carolina’s electric cooperatives and Conservation Voters of South Carolina thank Congressmen Jim Clyburn and John Spratt for their leadership in improving the American Clean Energy and Security Act so that more dollars stay home in South Carolina where they can be used to promote clean energy, efficiency and home-grown renewables. We look forward to working with Sens. Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint to build upon this legislation and to promote an energy-independent and secure South Carolina.

Mr. Couick is CEO of the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina; Ms. Timberlake is executive director of Conservation Voters of South Carolina.

To read this article, click here

July 8, 2009

Everyone must sacrifice on coal plant...

Check out this Op-ed put out from The State paper. Do you agree or disagree with several of the points listed? Do you think it's the best approach to Santee Cooper's coal?

The State
Everyone must sacrifice on coal plant
July 8, 2009

ENVIRONMENTALISTS rightly complain that a new coal-powered electricity-generating plant in the Pee Dee would spew too many poisons into the air and contribute to global climate change, and they make a strong case when they argue that a proposed federal law to regulate greenhouse emissions would significantly impact the financial assumptions behind the Santee Cooper proposal.

Clearly, we would be better off if we could avoid building yet another coal-powered electricity generating plant, in the Pee Dee or anywhere else.

But our overpowering addiction to power leaves us struggling to strike a balance between providing needed energy and protecting the environment. With power relatively cheap in South Carolina, there’s too little incentive to cut back. We love the comfort and convenience of air conditioning in the summer and heat in the winter. And perhaps in part because of Santee Cooper’s status as a largely unregulated state-owned utility, the company — and our state — is in a box:

We might be able to generate enough power — through a combination of recession-induced consumption cut-backs, increased energy efficiency and conservation measures, more aggressive alternative energy programs and perhaps even purchasing energy from other companies — to supply the needs of our still-growing state until a new nuclear plant that Santee Cooper and SCE&G hope to build can come online.

The problem is that “might” isn’t a responsible plan for something as crucial as energy, which our state has an outsized appetite for, or as dicey as building energy plants on schedule. The long lead time required to get any sort of large-scale energy-generation facility up and running means that work must go forward now to ensure that we don’t run short on power in a few years. So we simply cannot say “no” to the coal plant.

But that is not the end of the conversation. The fact is that while we have to have energy, and energy has to come from somewhere, we must find ways to reduce the environmental and health problems caused by our most reliable energy-production means. (We also have to come up with ways to reduce our dependence on foreign oil — which poses slightly different hurdles but can be addressed by similar types of responses.)

In the long term, whether this plant is ever built or not, we as a state must develop a multi-pronged approach to energy that includes conservation as well as traditional and new energy sources. And in the short term, we are convinced that the responsible way through the problem that Santee Cooper says our state is facing will require that all of us make — or at least be willing to make — some sacrifices:

1. Santee Cooper should continue work on its coal plant, but it should be prepared and willing to delay or even abandon its plans if the growth in energy demand slows enough that it can be met until a nuclear plant can come online — and state officials should find a way to ensure follow-through. This means the company could end up throwing money down a rat hole, but that cost would be insignificant compared to the cost ratepayers would face if indeed the financial legs are knocked out from under the plant — not to mention the health and environmental cost of a coal plant that could have been avoided.

2. Everybody who opposes the coal plant needs to throw their support behind the nuclear plant, in order to avoid delays and speed up approval and construction. That doesn’t mean simply giving up their opposition — which in itself would be a huge step forward for many environmental groups and individuals. It means actively and aggressively supporting the rapid approval and start-up of the plant before regulatory bodies and lawmakers. People who don’t like nuclear are going to have to come to terms with the fact that it’s the only option capable of significantly reducing our reliance on coal in the foreseeable future; you can’t say no to both.

3. Santee Cooper — and all of its competitors, for that matter — needs to work more aggressively to promote energy conservation, and the groups and individuals who oppose the coal plant need to do the same, leading by example. The same is true for the development and use of alternative energy. The reason we’re not seeing the growth we need in either conservation or alternative energy is that both come at a high price (at least initially), in terms of inconvenience and/or start-up costs. People who oppose the development of other big-ticket energy sources have an even greater obligation than we all have to put their money where their mouths are.

Meantime, state lawmakers need to consider whether we’d be in a better situation if Santee Cooper had to go through the same vetting process for its plans as SCE&G, Duke Energy and Progress Energy. The theory is that Santee Cooper doesn’t need to be regulated by the Public Service Commission because they both are part of the same state government. It’s a theory that might make sense in a normal government — one that works together as a whole, under the leadership of the governor. We do not have such a government. The PSC is independent. Santee Cooper is even more independent. And unlike municipal utilities that don’t have to answer to the PSC, Santee Cooper is not even indirectly accountable to the public, since the Legislature passed a law forbidding the governor to remove his own appointees to the board.

That examination — along with the larger discussion about creating an “all-of-the-above” energy plan for our state — is the only way to avoid a repeat of what is essentially an energy version of “too big to fail.”

To read this article, click here

Some exciting news!

The Letter To the Editor I spoke of earlier in June, previously published in the Florence Morning News (SCNow), has now been published in The State paper. Also to come are other op-eds and letters. We have received good media coverage!

Who really controls DHEC?

I want to preface Sammy Fretwell's article, "S.C. lawmakers not shy about contacting DHEC," with a timeline of Santee Cooper's involvement with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). Let's throw all the cards out on the table to get the best image possible. Here's the Santee Cooper's permit timeline thus far in 2009:
  • Department of Natural Resources sends letter to DHEC Board opposing the coal plant
  • Governor Sanford holds press conference announcing his opposition to the coal plant
  • DHEC Board reviews Santee Cooper air permit, votes 4-2 to uphold staff decision.
  • Majority of board members publicly state their opposition to the coal plant, but state they
    feel constrained by law to uphold permit
  • Ron Calcaterra, CEO of Central Electric Cooperative publishes proposal to avoid construction of the coal plant, highlighting: nuclear power, energy efficiency, and statewide resource planning.
  • Southern Environmental Law Center appeals DHEC air permit on behalf of League and four other organizations.
  • Coastal Conservation League releases An Assessment of Santee Cooper’s 2008 Resource Planning, a study done by Synapse Energy Economics. The study concludes: “Santee Cooper’s plan to build two large coal plants encompasses significant financial risks for ratepayers, emerges from a flawed planning process, and is not a necessary course of action.”
  • Santee Cooper issues $366,195,000 bond offering.
  • Santee Cooper announces rate hikes to meet revenue obligations stemming part from plans to build coal plant. Holds public hearings on new rates.
  • Santee Cooper Board meeting to consider public comments on rate increase.

The bullet points are some of this year's largest and most important decisions affecting the permits for Santee Cooper's coal plant. Certainly Santee Cooper has had its way with DHEC to an extent, for even evidence shows the permit DHEC issued in February, the air quality permit, essentially approves Santee Cooper's coal pollution, particularly mercury. On our 2009 summer stretch -- Santee Cooper has not made its Environmental Impact Statement, although the utility received an air quality permit, and the League's appeal of the air quality permit is now at the state Administrative Law Court.

In the following article, Sammy Fretwell conveys the pressures that our state's Representatives put upon DHEC. He does a job well done. The article includes both sides of the argument - one showing that legislators are in fact influencing DHEC's decisions and the other portraying the vice. So what do you think? The article, however, due to its length, has been cut to particular pieces. Please check out the article in full by clicking on the link at the bottom of this post.

The State
S.C. lawmakers not shy about contacting DHEC
Sammy Fretwell

July 6, 2009

[Some] think legislators are sure to influence DHEC decisions in a state where the General Assembly wields more power than legislatures in many other states.

"You get a powerful state senator ... and you are a bureaucrat at DHEC, you are going to be very reluctant to cross swords with that guy," said John Crangle, state director of the government watchdog group Common Cause. "He has a lot of ways he can make your life miserable and a lot of ways he can make your life easier."

Jimmy Chandler, an environmental attorney who has had a successful career challenging DHEC permit decisions, said the agency is particularly susceptible to political influence because it has been run by former agency lobbyists for two decades.

"When you are a lobbyist, you want to make legislators happy," Chandlersaid.

And, some say because of the size of DHEC, there is potentially a lot of constituent service for lawmakers to perform.

DHEC, South Carolina's fifth-largest agency, touches more lives than most other state agencies.

The department, with about 4,000 employees, is responsible for more than 150 health and environmental programs. That includes regulating tattoo parlors, issuing birth certificates, approving water and air pollution permits and overseeing hospital expansions.


When asked, lawmakers say they never pressure DHEC to issue permits or make other decisions.

More often than not, legislators say, they're getting information from DHEC to pass on to constituents or they're putting constituents in touch with the agency. It's no different than with other state agencies, they say.

"I sort of see that as our role, to be a liaison between our constituents and agencies," Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said.

Legislative influence on DHEC surfaced last year in a series of stories by The State newspaper over missteps at the agency. Legislators, for instance, like Hunter so much that in the 2007-08 state budget they included a proviso making it harder for the DHEC governing board to oust him, the newspaper found.

A federal lawsuit filed in November also raised questions about lawmakers' influence on agency decisions. Former agency investigator Chris Phillips claimed a state elected official interfered in a criminal probe of illegal dumping. Sen. Jake Knotts, R Lexington, denied interfering, but said he contacted DHEC to complain about the investigator's conduct.

Despite Gov. Mark Sanford's recent personal troubles and unpopularity with lawmakers, environmentalist Dana Beach said putting DHEC in agovernor's Cabinet would make the agency more accountable and less susceptible to lawmakers' influence. The agency is overseen by a part-time, seven-member board the governor appoints but has no power to control.

Concerns about DHEC's effectiveness prompted Sens. Phil Leventis,D-Sumter, and John Courson, R-Richland, to introduce a bill putting the governor in charge. Hearings are expected to be held this fall.


State law generally does not bar a legislator from calling agency staffers or the board about a pending permit. There are restrictions, however, on an elected official who is acting as an individual's personal representative or an elected official who stands to gain himself.

In Ford's case, the meeting he tried to arrange between Hunter and developer Bobby Ginn never materialized because of scheduling conflicts. Ginn never built the project, slated for the site of an old landfill in downtown Charleston. The State newspaper's attempts to reach Ginn were unsuccessful.

Although Hunter said he rarely feels pressure from lawmakers, the Ford request for a dinner meeting made the commissioner uncomfortable.

"He would just prefer to meet them either in his office or some where else, rather than combining it with some kind of social event," agency spokesman Thom Berry said.

DHEC officials insist they base decisions on the facts in a case, but an e-mail last year shows political connections aren't ignored.


It would be wrong to think that legislators in other states or the federal level don't contact agencies about similar matters, legal experts say.

But agencies in South Carolina are prone to feel more pressure to please lawmakers because the state has a weak governor and strong legislature, Crangle, many environmentalists and some legal scholars say.

State law, for instance, allows the Legislature to block from becoming law regulations DHEC says are important to protect health and the environment. Only 16 other states have that same kind of authority.

Kim Diana Connolly, a professor at the University of South Carolina law school, said South Carolina's system isn't practical.

"What on paper looks like a good system ends up hampering the ability of experts," she said.

Environmentalist Dana Beach said Hunter shouldn't be fielding lawmakers' calls on specific cases. Those calls could be routed through an agency spokesman who's not involved in the decision-making process but who could pass concerns along to employees, Beach said.

Even in South Carolina, some agencies have more protection from legislative influence, some say.

Unlike DHEC, agencies such as the Department of Corrections are run by a Cabinet secretary the governor appoints. DHEC is controlled by a board the governor chooses, but has no direct authority over once members are seated.

Jon Ozmint, director at the state Department of Corrections, said legislators sometimes tell him to interview constituents for jobs. Being a Cabinet agency head makes him better able to withstand those legislative pressures, he said.

If he weren't a Cabinet agency head, Ozmint said, "I do believe the pressure would be much greater to go along and get along."

To read the full article, click here

July 7, 2009

Become a renewable energy and energy-efficiency sensei

Mother Jones
The Green-Belt Movement
Gary Moskowitz May/June 2008 Issue

White belt: No-brainers: Switch to CFL bulbs. Turn off lights when you leave the room. Set the thermostat to 68° in winter, 78° in summer. Turn down the water heater to 120°. Wash clothes in cold water and air or line dry them. Use rechargeable batteries. Recycle. Compost. Take mass transit. Ride your bike. Carpool. Drive 55. Walk to the store. Set your fridge to 37°. Set your freezer to 5° and keep it full (use containers filled with water). Turn off the dry cycle on your dishwasher. If it's yellow, let it mellow. Unplug "energy vampires" like TVs, DVD players, and iPod chargers when not in use.

Yellow belt: (Some assembly required): Install motion-activated light switches. Use low-flow showerheads. Use a power-consumption meter to track down energy vampires. Choose a power supplier that uses renewable energy. Support renewable power by paying a premium on your electric bills ("green pricing"). Insulate your home. Eat local. Use a laptop. Learn to drive stick.

Green belt: Kill a watt: Convert your fridge to run on propane. Switch your home energy source from electric to gas. Use a solar oven. Buy only Energy Star-rated appliances. Get a front-loading washing machine. Install an on-demand water heater. Install double-glazed windows, or retrofit old ones. Apply for a "green mortgage" and get lower interest rates for your energy-efficient home.

Brown belt: Technical knockouts: Install a gray-water system...or two-stage flush toilets...or composting toilets. Use "daylighting" products such as solar tubes, and a parabolic reflector. Install photovoltaic panels on your roof. Install a condensing boiler for central heat. Get motorized combustion air dampers. Replace your fireplace with a high-efficiency woodstove. Power your fridge with cold air from outside with a Freeaire system. Replace your furnace and AC with a geothermal heat pump—and
upgrade it to heat your water.

Black belt: You have the power: Convert your hybrid to a plug-in. Use your solar array to sell power back to the grid on sunny days. Produce your own energy from biogas. Get yourself a wind turbine.

To read this article, click here

July 6, 2009

Santee Cooper Needs to Catch-Up

So where is Santee Cooper in the renewable and sustainable energy arena? What's your status Santee Cooper? Duke Energy is boosting itself into the renewable market. The utility will have 7 wind-farm projects by next week while Santee Cooper intends to build another coal plant that will further suppress South Carolina's natural resources and extend our dependency on coal. Santee Cooper has the ability to build coal plants, but Santee Cooper cannot rebuild our rivers, creeks, sky, marshland, wildlife, and human lives. Can the utility rebuild your Pee Dee River? Currently, the only construction Santee Cooper has in mind is the coal plant and nothing else. The utility, yes has begun investing in alternatives...gradually. For instance, only testing our Carolina's winds, not using them as alternatives. Get this, with Santee Cooper's recent mini-bond sale, the utility projects to build at least 2 coal plants by 2017, which Santee Cooper stated in its "Resource Plan/Mini Bond Information" publication on October 8th 2008. Why can't Santee Cooper lead like Duke? The utility is misleading the public, claiming on its website, "Our company's mission is to be the state's leading resource for improving the quality of life for the people of South Carolina. One of the chief ways we do that is by protecting our environment. Our environmental efforts are core to our company's vision and beliefs" (Santee Cooper). Yet Santee Cooper is allocating its mini-bonds to at least two coal plants by 2017? Duke Energy is clearly ahead in the game and we have a lot of catch-up and I'm not talking about tomato sauce.
Next week, Duke Energy Generation Services will announce its seventh wind-farm construction project in less than two years.
By year end, the Duke Energy Corp. subsidiary will have gone from no wind assets in 2006 to being among the nation’s top 10 wind-power producers.
And next week’s announcement keeps DEGS on pace to add at least 250 megawatts of capacity in 2010, says President Wouter van Kempen.
“We will have 700 to 800 megawatts of capacity by the end of this year,” he says.
“We have about $1.25 billion by now in wind assets. We will easily have $5 billion within a few years.”
DEGS is the heart of Duke’s commercial line of business. The unregulated commercial unit sells power to large users and other utilities. It isn’t connected with
Duke Energy’s traditional utilities in the Carolinas and the Midwest. That means it can look nationally for opportunities, van Kempen says.
He says his preference is to build generation capacity rather than buy it. DEGS has bought two wind developers — Tierra Energy and Catamount Energy. Neither had completed construction of any facilities when DEGS bought them. But they had more than 5,000 megawatts of potential projects in the pipeline, and DEGS has been building those out.
By contrast, Duke has bought only one already-built project, the 70-megawatt North Allegheny project in Pennsylvania.
But to reach 800 megawatts, DEGS will likely have to make another acquisition.
Duke has 522 megawatts of wind capacity producing power on windmill farms in Texas and Wyoming. Lynn Good, Duke Energy’s new chief financial officer, says two projects in Wyoming and the Pennsylvania purchase will add 211 megawatts. That will total 733 megawatts. And no new construction project announced this late in the year could be finished by January.
Speaking to analysts in Boston last week, Good said changes in the industry favor large, well-capitalized companies over traditional wind developers in consolidating the industry.
“We are looking at various opportunities to capitalize on the current business environment,” she said. “We will also pursue joint-venture and partnership structures to accelerate growth and balance capital requirements as we go forward.”
Van Kempen says Duke’s ability to take advantage of either production tax credits or new investment tax credits — temporarily available from the Obama administration’s stimulus package — gives it an upper hand over undercapitalized developers.
But he says acquisitions will be opportunistic. The Pennsylvania purchase is a good example. The developer, Gamesa Energy USA, had built the project to sell to an Australian company. But that company went under, and Gamesa did not want to operate the wind facilities.
“We got that project at a very attractive price,” van Kempen says.
A key for DEGS was that the project already has long-term customers. Duke found itself burned in the 1990s when its Duke Energy North America built commercial gas-powered plants on speculation. The bottom fell out of that market and caused much of the company’s financial woes in the late 1990s and the start of this decade.
DEGS has contracts for the sale of the power from all its wind projects. It won’t proceed with a new venture until a long-term contract is in hand. Next week’s announcement — for a midsized development likely in the 30- to 50-megawatt range — will include such a contract.
Even having 800 megawatts of capacity would leave Duke well behind the industry leader, NextEra Energy Resources. That subsidiary of Florida’s FPL Group has 6,290 megawatts of wind capacity in operation.
But van Kempen says DEGS should easily be able to grow at a pace of at least 250 megawatts per year for the foreseeable future. And he is looking beyond wind for renewable energy. DEGS’ initiatives include the Adage partnership with Areva SA of France to produce commercial biomass energy. Van Kempen thinks he can build that into a $2 billion business within five years.
To read the article, click here

July 2, 2009

Interview with Michael Hendryx

On the radio show Living On Earth: "Calculating Coal's Toll," Steve Curwood interviews Michael Hendryx, professor and researcher from WVU, who recently published a study showing how coal's costs outweigh its benefits. Ken Ward Jr. reported Hendryx study in the Charleston Gazette, "Coal's costs outweigh benefits, WVU study finds," which I posted to the blog "Proven: Coal's costs exceeds its benefits" a week ago. The blog on Ken Ward Jr.'s article threads into a second blog, "Reassure 'em while they're young," which describes coal organizations preaching coal's "Reassuring Lie" to elementary students while coal's "Inconvenient Truth" sits in front of our faces. Hendryx's study of course brought about controversy within the coal community. The West Virginia Coal Association (WVCA) criticizes Hendryx and his data, saying "It would be admirable if...the researcher would present the facts, if they really have facts, as opposed to presenting personally motivated conclusions" (WVcoal). WVCA asserts that Hendryx's data is not conclusive and is personally driven. Wrong. Hendryx data does present the facts and whether or not it is personally motivated is irrelevant. Hendryx determines his data according to the value of a statistical life, or the cost of a human life within coal country, to a ratio of the coal economy's benefits. He finds that the cost of human life is almost 7 times more than the coal economy's benefits. In the interview below, Hendrix thoroughly explains his data and how coal mining is costing the Appalachia.
Living On Earth
Calculating Coal's Toll
Steve Curwood, Michael Hendryx
June 26, 2009

CURWOOD: Michael Hendryx, a researcher in community medicine at West Virginia University has just published a study finding that coal costs a lot more in human terms than it provides in jobs and income.

HENDRYX: We did an analysis that showed that the areas in Appalachia where coal mining takes place actually have the weakest economic circumstances. They have the highest poverty levels, the highest unemployment levels, the lowest income levels. So we followed up that analysis by trying to come up with an estimate of both the cost and the benefits of mining for the Appalachian region and concluded that the costs outweigh the benefits by several factors.

CURWOOD: Professor Hendryx, now as I understand it to calculate this you didn't actually look at the costs they spent on health care or lost opportunities but rather you used something that's known as the value of a statistical life, this particular standard. Tell me about that.

HENDRYX: The way that the value of statistical life or VSL is estimated is through I think a pretty ingenious type of a study design where you ask people, "suppose there was an illness that had a one in 10,000 chance of killing you. How much would you be willing to spend yourself to eliminate that risk?" And let's say that people on average in a given study say $600, which a type of a reasonable or typical estimate that people will give. Then ten thousand people together will spend six million to save one life. So it's a way to estimate what society itself values. And we used a range of those estimates and then looked at the number of excess deaths that occur every year in coal mining areas of Appalachia versus non-mining area.

CURWOOD: 10,000 excess deaths.

HENDRYX: That's right. The years 1997 through 2005, translate to over 10,000 excess deaths every year, and we attribute that difference to higher poverty rates in mining area, and also to differences probably in environmental exposures and pollution from activities in the mining industry.

CURWOOD: And if you translate that into money, how much are you talking about?

HENDRYX: One of the estimates that I think is probably most reasonable to use translates into over $42 billion dollars as the human cost of coal mining in Appalachia. Some of the estimates are as high as over $80 billion dollars.

CURWOOD: And how much in the same period of time was the coal economy itself?

HENDRYX: The benefits of the coal economy measured by not only the direct jobs that it creates but the indirect jobs that ripple through the economy as well as the severance taxes that are paid by coal companies came to a little bit over $8 billion dollars a year, much lower than the estimated costs.

CURWOOD: Can you describe a couple of these communities? Paint a picture for us.

HENDRYX: Well, the first image that comes to mind maybe is a town called Whitesville in Boone County. If you drive through the downtown of Whitesville, you'll see that there will be coal dust on the buildings themselves, on the outdoor furniture, on the vehicles. You'll notice a lot of empty storefronts and empty streets and not a lot of business or economic activity taking place. I don't want to pick on one town, but that's the one that comes to mind. I don't want to pick on the people that live there because they're wonderful.

CURWOOD: Now, this isn't a comfortable question to ask, but some would say – look, these communities are very poor, those people might not pay $600 to avoid a one in 10,000 of dying. They don't have any money, they might not pay anything. And the bottom line being, well, human life is maybe worth a lot less in Appalachia in these poor areas.

HENDRYX: Well, I would disagree with that on ethical and moral grounds. But, some people who live there view that their lives are valued less than people who live somewhere else, and that in a way its hard to argue with that. It seems like coal-mining areas in Appalachia are—to us a phrase that's been used "America's Sacrifice Zone" That their lives are expendable so other people somewhere else can have cheap electricity. I find that appalling.

CURWOOD: The federal government's gonna put a lot of money into carbon capture and sequestration from coal fired power plants. How advisable do you think that program is in light of your research?

HENDRYX: I think its one of the dumbest things that they've ever attempted to do. I don't think the evidence is very good that we can implement a scalable carbon capture and storage system that can really be a serious way to deal with CO2 emissions. But even if we could, that addresses only how coal is burned. It doesn't say anything about how it's extracted, processed or transported prior to burning. And carbon capture and storage systems will do nothing to change the conditions in coal mining areas of Appalachia. We have to realize as well that the estimates that come out from the U.S. Geological Survey are that West Virginia will peak in a its coal production in probably less than twenty years. So we really don't have any choice. We can sit around and do nothing and wait for that to happen, or we can begin now to plan and implement serious economic diversification programs. I think that should be a top priority for the state and the nation and even the local community leaders.

CURWOOD: Michael Hendryx is Associate Professor in the Department of Community Medicine at West Virgina University. Thank you so much, Sir.

HENDRYX: Thank you.

To hear this interview or read it, click here

July 1, 2009

A reminder

Elizabeth Weems, chairwoman of the League of Women Voters of Horry County, wrote a great opinion editorial for The Sun News almost two weeks ago. Lately so many of the blog posts have concerned various coal issues from around the country, not that they aren't important, but we need to remember what we are standing against: Santee Cooper's efforts to construct a coal plant in the Pee Dee region. The new coal plant will bring higher rates. South Carolinians will essentially pay more to pollute. Why pay more? And why pay to pollute in the first place? Weems' op-ed explains why Santee Cooper will hike its rates and why doing so is not needed.

The Sun News
Santee Cooper rate hike isn't necessary
Elizabeth Weems
June 20, 2009

Santee Cooper has announced that it intends to raise residential electricity rates 15 percent over the next two years, with the increase in effect through 2012. Santee Cooper says the rate increase is needed because revenue requirements exceed revenue. After 13 years of no increases it is not surprising that they need to raise rates, or is it?

Santee Cooper plans to build a $2 billion coal plant that will use approximately 12,000 tons of coal daily. The cost of coal has increased significantly over the last several years, and coming federal legislation will put a price on carbon emissions produced from burning coal. All of this adds up to continuous rate increases for years to come.

Santee Cooper does have alternatives to a new coal plant. They can increase their investment in efficiency programs. They say they will invest $110 million through 2020 in efficiency. That's less than 1 percent of the cost of the coal plant.

Efficiency is the cheapest and fastest way to decrease energy demand. Broad-based efficiency programs, which include retrofitting substandard homes with increased insulation, better seals and energy efficient appliances, will decrease energy demand and increase local jobs.

Increased energy efficiency will give the state-owned utility time to bring on line alternative fuel sources like offshore wind, solar and small
natural gas plants.

Implementation of greater energy efficiency across Santee Cooper's entire customer base may not stop today's proposed rate increase, but it will decrease tomorrow's risks by decreasing the utility's dependence on coal and its short and long-term costs. A decision against coal is a decision in favor of Santee Cooper's customers, the health of the state's citizens and the environment. It's time for ratepayers to say no to coal.

I live in Horry County and pay for my electricity from Horry Electric Company. The League of Women Voters has called for a moratorium on coal-fired power plants because, currently, there is no technology to prevent mercury and carbon emissions into the air. These toxic emissions contribute to global warming and public health safety.

To read the article, click here