1. Duke and Progress Combine as Largest Utility
The New Year ushered many exciting changes, including the announcement of a major energy company merger by which Duke Energy and Progress Energy will effectively combine under Duke’s name, thus becoming the largest utility in the United States. The new, larger Duke Energy will serve over 7 million electric customers from Ohio to Florida. SACE sees the merger as potentially beneficial for all – we have a long history with both Progress and Duke, and believe that the merger presents chances to promote additional coal-fired power plant retirements and decrease our regional reliance on coal. In our experience, Duke Energy has a relatively strong track record implementing robust energy efficiency programs in their coverage area. SACE was highly involved in the development of Duke’s Save-A-Watt program, by which Duke has actually experienced double its energy savings target at about two-thirds the anticipated cost. Progress Energy, however, has a weaker record with respect to energy efficiency. SACE hopes that Duke’s more favorable position on energy efficiency and renewable energy is the direction that the new company will take, but this is yet to be determined. We remain hopeful that the new Duke Energy will take a proactive position on reducing environmental impacts, particularly carbon dioxide emissions. The overall effects of the merger will depend on how the new company commits itself to consumers and the environment. We look forward to seeing how the relationship develops, and which corporate cultural outlook takes hold. SACE is eager to work with the new company to find environmental solutions that are safe, clean, and economically beneficial for consumers and communities throughout the Southeast. For more details on the merger, read Duke Energy’s Press Release. To see SACE’s official Press Release on the merger, click here.
2. Is TVA the Biggest Loser?
The Tennessee Valley Authority has been giving themselves some serious pats on the back ever since the EPA released a study highlighting high levels of air pollutant reduction across the nation over the past few decades at the nation’s largest utility. Of course, any reduction in pollutant emissions is always good news.
The real story here, however, is significantly different than the one painted by TVA: Yes, TVA experienced a higher percentage-based emissions reduction level than any other utility over the study period, but this feat pales when considered in light of the fact that TVA had such a higher rate of emissions to begin with. Essentially, it’s not as much of an accomplishment to reduce more when you had more to begin with. Imagine all utilities are contestants on the television show the Biggest Loser. TVA’s baseline emissions rate, or starting weight, was much higher than other regional utilities’. Therefore, a higher percentage-based reduction does not necessarily mean that TVA is now actually emitting a lower overall level of pollutants than other utilities. Just because TVA lost a higher percentage of weight doesn’t mean that they now weigh less than other utilities. Just like on the television show, the contestant with the more unhealthy starting weight must actually lose a higher percentage of his body weight to end up as slim as his opponents. Despite TVA’s high percentage-based loss over the past 30 years, they remain at the top of the pack in pollution emissions. TVA was able to reduce pollution by such a large percentage because TVA had so much more room for improvement than their peers. While they deserve praise for the reductions, TVA and other utilities must continue to clean up their productions operations. TVA’s board of directors is contemplating retiring old, dirty and inefficient coal plants during their current Integrated Recourse Plan, and has already made modest commitments to partial retirements at the Shawnee, Widows Creek, and John Sevier plants. Neighboring utilities have also made retirement announcements, and although TVA’s current plans lag behind these neighbors, we believe that TVA will make further commitments in the near future. SACE expects TVA, our largest regional utility, to lead the Southeast toward a healthier future. We look forward to working together with TVA on future energy efficiency advancements and clean energy efforts. For more details on TVA’s pollution reductions, read our full blog.
3. Indictment Casts Shadow on Plant Washington
Dwight Brown, CEO of Cobb EMC, the electric utility co-op leading Power4Georgians’ consortium proposing to build the new coal-fired power plant in Washington County, Ga., was recently indicted on 31 counts of racketeering, theft, and false statement. Brown is listed as “organizer” on Power4Georgians’ incorporation document, and his indictment presents a major blow to Plant Washington. The charges stem from certain business ventures Brown allegedly initiated. Though many of these ventures operated at a loss, they managed to yield millions of dollars for Brown. News of the indictment has led to questions about whether Plant Washington is just another of Brown’s schemes, an effort to defraud ratepayers for his own financial benefit. This news reinforces SACE’s belief that Plant Washington and its twin Plant Ben Hill are financially risky ventures. 2008 estimates claimed that the proposed new plants would cost about $2.1 billion each. The daunting effects of this number are compounded when considered alongside the fact that similar plants around the country have doubled in cost in the past few years due to rising construction costs and uncertainty about federal environmental rules. Since 2007, plans for more than 100 similar-sized plants have been cancelled. Power4Georgians has failed to update its cost estimates, explain its plans to pay for the plant, or how customers’ electric bills will be affected. It has also failed to justify the need for the new plant in light of the fact that demand growth has stalled since 2007. Allegations that Brown made false statements to members of Cobb EMC to cover up his dealings ought to raise big questions for the other Plant Washington investors like Snapping Shoals EMC, Central Georgia EMC, and Washington EMC. We encourage the boards and members of these EMCs to re-examine their partnership with Cobb EMC, ask tough questions, and ensure full transparency. We also encourage them to meet their future electric needs by redoubling efforts on safer, cleaner, and more cost-effective energy options like energy efficiency and renewable energy. For more information, please see SACE’s blog on the indictment.
4. EPA Listens on Greenhouse Gas Regulations
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently in the process of holding a series of listening sessions to hear various stakeholders’ thoughts about new regulations on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from major sources like coal-fired power plants. On February 15, SACE Diversity and Community Outreach Coordinator Seandra Rawls was among the representatives from more than a dozen regional and national environmental and environmental justice (EJ) groups who spoke at EPA’s Atlanta Listening Session. Under the Clean Air Act (CAA), EPA is required to identify and regulate sources that emit substances considered dangerous air pollutants. A 2007 Supreme Court decision determined that GHGs are in fact air pollutants as defined by the CAA. This not only authorized, but in effect it obligated EPA to develop standards to regulate GHGs. The Atlanta listening session was centered on the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) that EPA must now pass for GHGs emitted by fossil-fueled power plants and refineries. EPA’s choice to hold the EJ-focused session in the Southeast is especially appropriate considering the fact that the 90+ coal plants in our region emit over 350 million tons of CO2 every year, and that communities in the Southeast are particularly vulnerable to global warming. Our over 2,000 miles of coastline and disproportionate number of impoverished communities make the Southeast especially susceptible to pollution and climate change resulting from GHG emissions; Atlanta was therefore the perfect location for this important session. Another session took place in Chicago on Thursday, February 17, and subsequent sessions will occur in Washington, D.C., on February 23 and March 4. If you would like to learn more or attend these sessions, click here. You can also read SACE’s Press Release and blog for more details on the Atlanta session.
5. New Online Quiz Tests Your Energy Knowledge
You may know that most of our energy comes from coal, but what you may not realize is that most of the coal Americans use is imported from other states or even overseas. The Southeast spends about $10 billion annually importing coal!!Despite the fact that Southeastern states are endowed with abundant renewable energy resources and efficiency opportunities, some states ship good, clean energy overseas while burning dirty coal they import from far away. This drains wealth from local economies and results in more pollution. The Union of Concerned Scientists released a report exploring these issues called “Burning Coal, Burning Cash” in the summer of 2010. SACE has now joined UCS to launch a fun, interactive way to learn about where our power comes from, and where our locally harvested energy resources end up. The quiz will help you learn more and Take Action to stop new coals plants. We highly recommend this new web feature, and hope that you’ll share it with all the folks you know via Facebook and Twitter!Click here or on the image to the right to take the quiz!
6. Upcoming events
February 2011: Regional Water Council Meetings.
Various locations across Ga.
The Georgia Regional Water Councils are holding additional meetings throughout February to discuss recent statewide water planning issues. For details on the meetings, click here, or call Sara Barczak at (912) 201-0354.
February 23: SACE Monthly Webinar Series
SACE’s February 2011 webinar, “Southeast Taking First Steps on Climate Change,” will feature a discussion of energy efficiency. Through this free webinar service, SACE members can directly engage with staff and discuss the important issues that SACE works on every day. Please join us online at 12:00 pm EST. Visit our website to learn more and register.
February 23: GCV’s Environmental Legislative Breakfast. Atlanta, Ga.
Join Georgia Conservation Voters and their partners, along with Georgia legislators, at the annual Environmental Legislative Breakfast on Wednesday, February 23 from 7:30 a.m. until 9:00 a.m. at the Georgia Railroad Freight Depot in the Blue Room. Contact Emily Thomas with GCV for more details at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit GCV’s website for more information.
February 24: Forest Bioenergy Conference. Forsyth, Ga.
Interest in forest biomass as a potential feedstock for renewable energy facilities has been especially keen for the past several years, especially in Georgia. While many issues are becoming clearer, much uncertainty remains with regard to government policy and market prices for fossil fuels. The third biennial conference, hosted by the Georgia Forestry Association and the University of Georgia Center for Forest Business, Warnell School of Forestry, will examine forest bioenergy development in Georgia. This is an excellent opportunity to hear from some of the players on the front lines of developing markets, influencing government policies, and conducting research on how these changes may impact our wood supply system.
The conference is from 7:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 24, at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center, 1000 Indian Springs Dr., Forsyth, GA 31029. Email email@example.com or call (478) 992-8110 for registration inquiries.
March 23: Brown Bag Green Book. Knoxville, Tenn.
SACE Executive Director Dr. Stephen A. Smith will present at Knoxville’s March 2011 Brown Bag Green Book event, presented by the Knox County Public Library and the City of Knoxville. Dr. Smith will discuss the book “The Climate War: True Believers, Power Brokers, and the Fight to Save the Earth,” by Eric Pooley. Reading the book before the event is encouraged but optional. Copies are available at the Knox County Public Library.
The event will take place at 12:00 noon on Wednesday, March 23, at the East Tennessee History Center, 601 S. Gay St., Knoxville, TN 37902. For more information, please call Reference Librarian Emily Ellis at the Knox County Public Library at (865) 215-8763.
March 27 – 31: National Creation Care Leader to Visit Tennessee.
Rev. Canon Sally Bingham, founder and leader of the Regeneration Project focused on the national Interfaith Power and Light Campaign, will bring her message, Shared Purpose: A Response to the Climate Crisis, to deepen the connections between faith and ecology. Her schedule includes presentations and meetings with religious and community leaders in middle and east Tennessee, which will occur from March 27 through 31.
Scheduled meetings and presentations are: Chattanooga, March 27-28; Nashville, March 28-29; Knoxville, March 29-30; and TriCities, March 30-31. Full biography for Rev. Bingham, local itineraries and contacts, and interview opportunities are available through Tennessee Interfaith Power & Light at 865-978-0289 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
April 1 – 4: Power Shift 2011. Washington, D.C.
Power Shift 2011 is our opportunity to come together and define the way forward. Together, participants will celebrate grassroots success stories, hear from movement leaders, and learn from and train each other to launch new campaigns. During the event, participants will take bold action to set the tone in Washington and demonstrate what true leadership looks like. If it’s anything like years past, Power Shift 2011 is bound to be historic.
Power Shift 2011 will take place at the RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. Find more information, register, or sign up to be a Power Shift Coordinator online.
May 13 – 17: Climate Ride East. New York City to Washington, D.C.
Join Team 1Sky for Climate Ride East. We’ll stop at campgrounds, hear great presentations, and see this part of the country in a way that few ever will. Joining the Climate Ride requires a $75 registration fee and raising $2,400 from your personal network, local businesses, coworkers, etc. During the ride, all food, campgrounds, bike maintenance, and fun are provided for you. It truly is one of the greatest adventures you will ever experience.
Click here to learn more about Climate Ride East and check out the route. Then, register for Team 1Sky.