SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
February 28, 2012
1. Plant Washington Proposal
Two proposed coal plants in Ga. on the ropes
Southern Alliance for Clean Energy has been saying for years that the numbers don’t add up on new coal proposals. So it was a great victory on January 24, when the board of directors at Cobb EMC in Georgia made an unprecedented about-face, and voted to freeze the EMC’s funding to POWER4Georgians for two coal-fired power plants: Plant Washington and Plant Ben Hill. Without their biggest investor, these proposed coal plants are now on the ropes. POWER4Georgians (P4G), a consortium of utility co-ops (Electric Membership Corporations or EMCs), has been promoting the coal plant projects since 2008. With their bold decision, the newly elected directors at Cobb EMC acted to protect their members from further uncontrolled spending. Cobb EMC had already funneled more than $13 million into the Plant Washington project, and the members have yet to see those expenses justified. Four of the original nine partners retreated from the deal for the proposed plants in April of 2009, citing cost concerns and pending environmental regulations; similarly, in its press release, Cobb EMC said its future capacity needs didn’t justify further spending on a new power plant, and that new EPA regulations, which require limits on mercury emissions from coal plant operators made constructing new facilities financially risky. With this decision from Cobb EMC, P4G is down to four much smaller EMC members.
SACE and our partners continue to advocate that all the EMCs in P4G need to conduct a thorough analysis of their needs for new generation in light of reduced power demand trends. They also need to conduct comprehensive assessments of alternative energy options including energy efficiency, renewables like solar and sustainable biomass, and natural gas. SACE applauds the board of directors at Cobb EMC for being bold and decisive on this matter, and we look forward to working with all power providers in Georgia to build a clean energy future that protects citizen health and our precious environmental resources.
2. EPA’s Mercury Rule
EPA’s Mercury Rule Finalized and Southeast Coal Retirements GrowIn late December, after more than two decades of delay, EPA announced strong, life-saving emission limits for mercury from coal plants. This ruling represents a huge, long overdue win for public health: The new mercury limits, according to EPA, will prevent as many as 11,000 premature deaths, over 100,000 asthma attacks, over 4,000 heart attacks and nearly 6,000 hospital visits each year. This rule is the first-ever national limit on mercury pollution from coal plants and will likely drive many utilities to reevaluate their heavy reliance on coal. Coal has been the dominant source of power in the Southeast for generations but the economics of coal are changing. The price of coal is increasing, while the price of alternative fuels is decreasing and coal plants in our region, which on average are more than 40-years-old, are becoming less efficient and more expensive to operate. We are proud that EPA has finalized this rule in the face of tremendous opposition.As seen with Plant Washington and Plant Ben Hill, this ruling will impact utilities’ decisions about existing and proposed coal units. Plant Longleaf, a coal-fired power plant proposed near Blakely, GA, was cancelled in December 2011 after millions of dollars and more than ten years were spent attempting to acquire state permits. In January of this year Duke Energy announced that it would cut pollution by phasing out over 1,600 megawatts ofdirty, old coal-fired power in the Carolinas.TVA has also committed to coal retirements over the past year as part of a historic legal settlement over Clean Air Act violations at their coal plants. TVA agreed in April of 2011 to permanently retire 18 coal units, which represents around 15 percent of its coal capacity, in order to settle a lawsuit with the EPA over Clean Air Act violations. As part of the settlement, TVA agreed to retire all 10 units at the Johnsonville plant in New Johnsonville, Tenn.; six of the eight units at the Widows Creek plant in Northeast Ala.; and two units at the John Sevier Plant near Rogersville, Tenn. Currently TVA, has committed to retiring a total of 20 coal units and we may see that number added to as they consider whether to retire or clean-up other coal units in their fleet. We still have a long way to go, but the Southeast, after many years of reliance of coal, is finally beginning to wean itself from this risky, high polluting energy source.
3. Extreme Weather in 2011 2011 Sets Records for Extreme Weather
In 2011, we set many troubling records when it came to climate and weather disasters. Last year, the U.S. was battered by 12 separate natural disasters that each sported (at least) a $1 billion price tag. Put another way: there were as many billion-dollar climate/weather disasters in 2011 as in the entire decade of the 1980s. Few regions escaped 2011 unscathed, but the year was particularly damaging for the Southeast as our region suffered through (1) five tornado outbreaks in April and May, (2) flooding along the Mississippi River during the summer, (3) another tornado outbreak in June, (4) storm damage from Hurricane Irene in August and (5) extensive flooding damage in the Gulf states from Tropical Storm Lee in September. A skeptic might try to argue that this year’s onslaught of floods, droughts, wildfires, windstorms, blizzards, tornadoes and hurricanes was simply an aberration or an anomaly. The sobering truth is that these numbers confirm that 2011 might be a harbinger of things to come. Across the country we’re seeing record setting temperatures to start 2012. In Asheville, North Carolina the monthly average temperature for January was 4 degrees above the norm. Leading many locals to wonder if climate change will lead us to alter an old saying to fit our new realities: “December showers lead to February flowers?” Daffodils have been popping up all over Knoxville, Tennessee as they have been in many states.But above normal temperatures were not relegated to the Southeast, all regions of the U.S. faced near record-setting heat in January 2012. And in seven states – Delaware, New Jersey, North Carolina, Maryland, Rhode Island, Texas and Virginia – the last 12 months (2/11 to 1/12) were the warmest on record. Fruit growers across the Southeast worry about a cold snap doing severe damage to their crops, (it has been warm enough for peach trees in Georgia to start blossoming) another instance where the changing climate would inflict economic damage.
4. Efficiency Achieves Savings
CFL bulbs resulting in reduced energy use
Would you believe that something as simple as replacing the conventional light bulbs in your home with CFL bulbs could keep a polluting coal-fired power plant from being built? SACE’s analysis of the first full year of new energy efficiency programs offered by Progress Energy Carolinas and Duke Energy Carolinas clearly demonstrate that if utilities actively inform consumers about energy efficiency programs, consumers will in turn embrace energy saving measures. Thanks to our partnership with Duke Energy in designing their energy efficiency programs, the Carolinas will save enough energy to equal the annual output of an 845-megawatt power plant by the year 2020. That’s enough energy to power more than 120,000 homes. These efficiency gains primarily come from the simple act of customers installing energy efficient CFL bulbs in their homes. SACE partners with utilities across the Southeast, including Duke Energy, to implement energy efficiency programs that ultimately reduce demand for new coal plants, one at a time. Switching out the light bulbs in your house may seem like an insignificant task, but when millions of customers adopt simple energy saving practices like this, the combined result can be amazing. Progress Energy’s efficiency gains came in part from their commercial business program, which reduces businesses’ energy demand by offering them rebates, including a $6-8 incentive for replacing a T12 overhead fluorescent light fixture with a more efficient T8 fluorescent fixture. Progress also offered custom rebates for technologies that weren’t included in its standard program in the past, allowing businesses some flexibility to customize energy efficiency solutions best suited to their needs.
Energy efficiency programs in the Southeast have historically lagged behind other areas of the country, so it is especially encouraging to see utilities like Duke and Progress closing the gap by instituting new programs. The great news about both of these energy efficiency programs is that more energy is being saved than projected, at a cost that is lower than projected. Ultimately, it is SACE’s goal that the Southeast leads the nation in energy savings through energy efficiency programs.