SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
1. TVA Announces Big Coal Retirements
Signals real move away from dirty energy sources for the Southeast
During the November 14th meeting of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Board of Directors, TVA staff made an exciting announcement to retire 3,308 MW of coal capacity at 3 coal plants. These retirements will decrease TVA’s fleet-wide carbon dioxide emissions by more than 15.6 million tons per year. TVA announced retirement of all 5 units at its Colbert plant and Unit 8 at its Widows Creek plant, both located in Alabama, as well as 2 out of 3 units at its Paradise plant in Kentucky. There are currently no retirement dates for these units, but TVA staff indicated they would present retirement timelines to the Board for approval in the near future.
Following the analysis done in the 2011 IRP, TVA entered into a Consent Decree with EPA and agreed to retire Units 1-6 at Widows Creek – leaving Unit 7 as the only remaining unit at the plant. Likewise, TVA had to either retire or retrofit Colbert Units 1-5 under the terms of the 2011 Consent Decree. Thankfully, TVA decided to retire all of the units rather than invest millions of dollars to upgrade them. Although TVA recently invested in pollution controls on the two units, it’s clear from these announcements that continued investments would not be a wise business decision. TVA will replace these units with a new natural gas plant sited near the Paradise plant.
These retirements were driven by myriad factors, both internal and external. TVA’s new CEO, Bill Johnson, is dedicated to moving TVA to a more balanced generation portfolio, including an increase renewable energy use to 20% of total generation capacity. While the details of this part of the plan have not yet been revealed, this is an encouraging step and SACE will continue to work on shining some light on this new development. Johnson also announced a new goal to reduce total coal reliance to only 20% of total generation capacity. Historically, TVA relied on coal-fired generation to produce upwards of 60% of its total electricity generated. Changes in the economics of coal plants are making them an increasingly bad investment for many utilities nationwide. The costs of significant investments in pollution controls needed to comply with future environmental regulations, more competitive renewable generation and energy efficiency options, as well as a significant decrease in the cost of natural gas are some of the reasons driving these financial viability changes.
SACE welcomes these announcements as a committed movement away from dirty, coal-fired energy that has polluted our air, water and climate for decades. Each facility has a significant coal ash waste problem as well and TVA will need to properly remediate these impoundments to ensure groundwater contamination is resolved and prevented. We applaud TVA for recognizing that investment in coal plants is no longer a smart business option. We are hopeful that TVA will increase its investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency during the upcoming Integrated Resource Planning process and we look forward to expansion of a clean energy economy in the Tennessee Valley.
2. Clemson Makes Big Strides for Offshore Wind
Opens new wind turbine testing facility in North Charleston
On November 21, SACE had the pleasure of attending and sponsoring the grand opening of the Clemson University Wind Turbine Drivetrain Testing Facility, the biggest and most advanced test center of its kind in the world.
The facility, located in North Charleston, South Carolina, will test advanced wind turbines by simulating field conditions to measure the turbines’ response and interaction with the grid. At the event, attendees were able to view both of the facility’s test beds, with capacities of 7.5 megawatts and 15 megawatts, respectively. For reference, this largest offshore wind turbine currently deployed is 6 megawatts. The eGRID grid simulator onsite will also allow for researching how other energy technologies such as solar power interact with the grid. This type of research is increasingly significant as the electric system becomes more decentralized and smart grid technology becomes more important. It is clear that Clemson has built its facility with an eye to the future.
The Southeast has a world-class offshore wind resource and this facility provides a world-class research center to develop the technology to capture this resource and turn it into clean affordable energy for our region. We are hopeful that this facility will help the Palmetto State become the epicenter for research and development of these advanced turbine designs.
Offshore wind energy isn’t a new concept. The first offshore wind farm was built off Denmark in 1991, but because of regulatory hurdles, offshore wind farms have not yet been built here in the United States. This is why Clemson’s efforts are so vitally important to help reduce the costs and increase the reliability of offshore wind turbines.
The facility was initially supported by a $45 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy and matched by private sector, state and local government contributions totaling $55 million.
Speakers at the event included Clemson University President, James Barker; Clemson University Vice President of Economic Development, John Kelly; Duke Energy Chairman of the Board, Jim Rogers; Chairman and CEO of SCANA Corporation, Kevin Marsh; U.S. Congressman Jim Clyburn; GE Power and Wind Director, Mark Johnson; and U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman.
Over 1,000 people attended this standing-room-only event, including public officials, industry leaders, NGOs and Clemson alumni.
SACE has been a strong supporter of Clemson University’s efforts ever since this facility was announced four years prior to the opening and has written extensively on this project, wind energy in South Carolina and the importance of offshore wind in fueling the national clean energy economy. SACE blogs can be accessed here and background information on offshore wind energy in the Southeast can be accessed here.
For almost half a century, Santee Cooper dumped coal ash in unlined pits at its Grainger Power Station in Conway, South Carolina. Arsenic and other toxic heavy metals were found leaking from the toxic waste into the Waccamaw River, prompting SACE and other conservation groups to file suit against the utility for violating the federal Clean Water Act.
On November 19, Santee Cooper agreed to settle our suit and plans to remove all of the Grainger ash waste – equaling 1.3 million tons – as well as the contaminated soil underneath the lagoons, away from the river. In a surprise additional announcement, Santee Cooper also committed to remove all the wet-stored ash at its Winyah and Jefferies coal-fired power stations over the next 10 to 15 years. Much of the ash will be recycled at a new facility being built in Georgetown, SC, and the remainder will be moved to a new, capped and lined impoundment off-site. Santee Cooper calls the plan a “win, win, win” for the local environment, economy, and the utility.
We agree this is a huge step in the right direction and applaud Santee Cooper’s commitment to clean up the majority of their coal ash problems across South Carolina’s Low Country.
This is the second time a South Carolina utility committed recently to move away from the dirty, outdated, and dangerous practice of storing coal ash in wet lagoons. In August 2012, South Carolina Electric and Gas made a similar commitment to remove all of the ash at its coal-fired power plant on the Wateree River near Columbia, South Carolina. Both the Waccamaw and Wateree Rivers flow through North and South Carolina, however North Carolina’s utility giant, Duke Energy, has taken no action to stop wet storage of ash at any of its 14 coal-fired power plants despite growing and alarming evidence that they are polluting ground and surface water resources.
So, while South Carolina’s utilities are beginning to do the right thing to clean up their pollution waste and protect these beautiful rivers, upstream in North Carolina and across the Southeast region, other utilities continue to allow their coal ash waste to pollute nearby waters and communities with arsenic, selenium, mercury, boron and many other toxic heavy metals.
Five years after the Kingston disaster, we are still waiting for federal regulations to guide proper coal ash disposal. Until regulations are finalized, we continue to urge Southeastern utilities to take the same proactive steps to embrace protective management techniques and stop polluting the waters we all depend on.
Earlier this fall, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed rules to limit carbon dioxide (CO2) from new fossil fueled power plants. When fully implemented, these new rules will be one step in President Obama’s Climate Action Plan to combat climate change, improve public health and hold polluters accountable, as there is currently no limit on how much carbon can be emitted from power plants.
Under EPA’s proposal, new coal-fired units would need to meet a limit of 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour, and would have the option to meet a somewhat tighter limit if they choose to average emissions over multiple years, giving those units additional operational flexibility, according to the EPA. New natural gas-fired plants would also be required to meet limits on carbon emissions, as well.
Even more significant, the president also directed EPA begin developing rules to regulate carbon pollution from existing power plants, which emit more than two billion tons of CO2 emission annually. Power plants are the largest concentrated source of emissions in the U.S. accounting for roughly one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions.
When EPA initially proposed similar carbon limits on new coal plants last summer, Americans submitted more than 3 million comments in support of limits on carbon pollution. Once these newly proposed rules are finally published in the federal register, the public will have an additional 60 days to submit comments, and SACE has developed an online forum for the public to express support.
In addition to accepting written comments, the EPA is reaching out and engaging with state, local and tribal governments as well as industry leaders, nonprofits and other organizations through listening sessions and public meetings in order to gain a range of perspectives on the proposed regulations. Because only one session was scheduled in the entire Southeast, SACE and allies hosted a series of citizens’ hearings in North Carolina to provide more citizens with opportunities to voice support for the carbon pollution rule. Hundreds of community leaders, parents, and even children attended events in Asheville, Charlotte and Durham to share their perspective on carbon pollution and urge EPA to finalize these rules and move towards regulating existing sources of climate pollution.
SACE strongly supports the proposed rules for new power plants and well as those in development for existing plants as important steps in addressing the challenges of climate change by ensuring that future power plants will not be allowed to dump unlimited carbon pollution into the air. These standards will provide critical public health safeguards and encourage a much-needed transition from dirty coal to cleaner energy resources. Dirty energy projects simply cannot compete in today’s diverse energy markets when solar, wind, bioenergy and efficiency are clean, cost-competitive and viable options.
Comments on the proposed rule for new power plants will be accepted for 60 days once published in the Federal Register and comments on the not-yet-proposed rule for existing power plants will be accepted starting next summer, so stay tuned for the opportunity to support such critical public health and environmental safeguards!
The Georgia Water Coalition, of which SACE is a member, recently announced the “Dirty Dozen” for 2013, highlighting 12 of the year’s worst offenses to Georgia’s waters. The annual report spotlights state policies and failures that harm Georgia property owners, taxpayers, downstream communities, recreational users and fish and wildlife. This year, several polluting and water-intensive existing and proposed nuclear and coal-fired power plants were chosen. The full report details each selection and suggests solutions.
A coal ash waste site made the list for the first time—Plant Scherer on the Ocmulgee River where over 5 billion gallons of potentially toxic coal ash waste is stored across the river from the Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge. In Georgia at least 17 billion gallons of coal ash waste are stored in huge lagoons that are mostly aging, unlined and close to waterways. Coal ash is full of toxic heavy metals, a hazardous waste by definition, though current Georgia and federal regulations fail to protect vital waterways and communities from pollution and the threat of another catastrophic dam failure as this region experienced in Kingston, Tennessee five years ago.
Proposed Plant Washington
Plant Washington, one of the last new coal plant proposals in the country with a possible price tag of close to $4 billion, made the list due to the threat it poses to the Ogeechee and Oconee rivers. If built, it would draw up to 16 million gallons of water a day, first from the Oconee River, and if there isn’t enough there, from groundwater that feeds the Ogeechee River. Plant Washington also poses extensive pollution threats: toxic mercury, piling on to a river system in which fish are already too contaminated to eat and increasing global warming pollution.
Proposed Vogtle Reactors and Plant McIntosh
The proposed two water-guzzling nuclear reactors under construction at Plant Vogtle along the imperiled Savannah River again made the list but were joined by the outdated coal-fired power plant downstream, Plant McIntosh, which is up for a renewal of its large surface water withdrawal permit.
If these permits are issued a serious problem will be made worse. To put the projected consumptive water loss from Vogtle in perspective, with average per capita daily water use in Georgia at 75 gallons from surface and ground water sources, the two existing and two proposed reactors alone could consume enough water to supply over one million Georgians with drinking water.
The Dirty Dozen report reflects the negative impacts that the electricity sector has and will continue to have on Georgia’s precious water resources unless wiser decisions are made about the state’s energy future. Less water intensive energy options, such as wind, solar and energy efficiency, exist and can protect our water resources all while reducing carbon emissions as highlighted in the recent report from the Energy and Water in a Warming World initiative. It’s past time for the crucial connection between energy and water to be at the forefront of decision-making in Georgia and across the region.