SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
1. Good Carbon Reduction News from TVA
SACE Applauds Significant Carbon Reductions at TVA
A note from our Executive Director, Dr. Stephen A. Smith – OK, I admit it; in our watchdog/clean energy advocate role, we at SACE are often critical of our regional utilities. Yet we have and will continue to call out positive developments and give credit where credit is due for movement in the right direction. Here is a big shout out for the biggest public power entity in the United States, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).
I was recently selected to serve on a newly formed citizens’ advisory committee that provides advice to the TVA Board of Directors. The group, called the Regional Energy Resource Council, held its second meeting in Knoxville in January. At this meeting, TVA shared a few very interesting slides showing the good news we’re sharing.
TVA’s new findings confirm a downward trend in the Agency’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions since 1995. The data demonstrates that TVA has already exceeded the targeted 17% reduction below 2005 levels President Obama has set in the Administration’s Climate Action Plan as the Agency is currently at 23% below 2005 levels. The utility’s steady decline in past emissions, coupled with a lower projected future rate of emissions, demonstrate that TVA’s system-wide numbers appear to be well positioned ahead of new emission limits for existing sources of carbon pollution expected from EPA this summer.
The best news is that TVA is on target to hit 40% below 2005 levels by 2020. This is very significant. According to TVA, the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s base case projection has the utility sector as a whole as closer to only an 11% reduction from 2005 levels. These reductions have resulted from a variety of factors including lower natural gas prices, decreased energy use caused by slower economic activity, changes in weather patterns, and increased energy efficiency enabling the retirement of 5,580 MW of coal throughout the TVA system. This includes the units retired under the consent decree agreement with EPA, and the additional 3,308 MW of retirements announced at November’s Board of Directors Meeting. In addition, SACE believes there is a very strong likelihood that TVA will retire an additional 2,420 MW as part of the current iteration of TVA’s Integrated Resource Plan. This would bring the total to 8,000 MW of coal retirements at TVA alone!
In comparison, the numbers from other regional utilities are moving in the same direction, but not as steeply. Southern Company has committed to retire 16 coal units at 5 plants by 2016, representing 2981 MW. Southern Company has also announced retirements and/or natural gas conversions of 14 units at 6 plants, representing 3033 MW. Duke Energy has retired or committed to retire 18 units at 5 plants by 2018, representing 1667 MW. Progress Energy (before the merger with Duke) under Bill Johnson’s leadership committed to over 1600 MW of coal retirements. Duke has also announced, but not formally committed, to retire 2 units at its Crystal River plant, representing another 873 MW of former Progress Florida facilities.
Interestingly, these new numbers allow TVA to offer a potential service to current and future customers that would allow them to line up their corporate CO2 reduction goals with work that TVA is doing to reduce its CO2 emissions. The one pager on slide four discusses how TVA might be able to collaborate with a company in achieving their goals based on future reductions. This will help in industrial recruiting as more companies set carbon targets.
It’s important to remember TVA’s generation mix in this conversation, and while TVA has nuclear power in their system, the reductions since 2005 came with no new nuclear facilities coming on line. Yes, TVA did “recover/restart” the Brown Ferry unit 1 reactor in May 2007 and still struggles with getting Watts Bar 2 nuclear unit online, a plant which is significantly behind schedule and over budget and will potentially add a new “low carbon” base load plant to the TVA system. TVA CEO Bill Johnson spoke at the November TVA Board meeting in Oxford, Mississippi of a goal of 40% nuclear, 20% gas, 20% coal and 20% renewables (including hydro) and energy efficiency, calling this his vision of a “balanced portfolio.” While I welcome this vision, I believe it does not provide enough leadership for the renewable and energy efficiency target goals. In many years, TVA already gets more than 10% of its energy from hydro power alone. A goal in the near term of pushing the renewable and energy efficiency targets up to 30% would show real leadership in these areas and continue TVA along the low carbon path without the high risk of additional nuclear projects.
Bottom-line, as a father and grandfather and a citizen of planet Earth, the numbers TVA shared were impressive. They gave me hope and showed real solid movement in addressing the challenge of our generation, and I thank all those at TVA past and present that have moved the agency in this direction. Of course, myself and my staff will continue to call it like we see it, and we look forward to calling out more good news in the future.
2. The Polar Vortex: Fueled by and a Threat to Our Energy Infrastructure
Energy demands hit their peak, and clean energy helps out
In case you somehow missed it, the majority of the United States kicked off 2014 with record cold temperatures. Parts of the Southeast have hovered at or below freezing for weeks and even Florida’s Panhandle was flirting with freezing temperatures. Some weather forecasters joked it was warmer on Mars than it was in parts of the Midwest during the first week of January. With record low temperatures across the nation, utilities and grid operators were scrambling to meet record energy demand amid record low temperatures.
This historic cold front has been partially blamed on a polar vortex – a prevailing wind pattern that circles the Arctic, flowing from west to east, which normally remains within the polar region. Experts note that warming temperatures are a cause of this ‘renegade’ polar vortex. As Scientific America explains, warming global temperatures have, in part, led to this extreme cold in the US. By comparison, Oslo, Norway has had something of a heat wave over the past thirty days, clocking in temperatures that are, on average, 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer.
As temperatures hover at historic lows, utilities in the Southeast are struggling to keep up with the heightened electric demand. Companies Duke Energy, Southern Company’s Georgia Power and Gulf Power, and the Tennessee Valley Authority have all met or passed their previous winter peak energy demands. Furthermore, Duke Energy and the Tennessee Valley Authority have been asking customers to voluntarily conserve electricity to ensure adequate power and lessen the likelihood that service will be interrupted in affected areas. Some utilities have been considering rolling blackouts – a dangerous situation where utilities turn off power to whole sections of their grid. South Carolina Electric & Gas already had to use rolling blackouts to prevent complete grid failure.
In the past, renewable energy was able to step in and help make up for these power plant failures. Wind farms helped fill the void when coal, gas or nuclear power plants fail. This month, it may have been demand response and energy conservation that saved the utilities. In response to these record high peak demands, Georgia Power said that this weather “reinforces the need for us to continue to invest in our infrastructure including multiple sources of generation and advanced ‘smart grid’ technologies”. Renewable energy and energy efficiency and conservation can not only help alleviate our infrastructure problems, but they can also help reduce the carbon pollution that ultimately ends up causing some of those same problems to our infrastructure, like the Polar Vortex.
Although coal dependency in the Southeast decreased in recent years, the cost of importing coal continues to be a drain on economies across the region, particularly those still relying heavily on coal-fired power. In a report released in mid-January, “Burning Coal, Burning Cash,” the Union of Concerned Scientists use updated market data to determine just how much money is leaving the region to pay for coal. SACE worked with UCS to release the report in the Southeast and develop state specific fact sheets. Collectively, Alabama, North Carolina, Tennessee, Florida and Georgia spent $6.4 billion to import 93.5 million tons of coal in 2012.
In 2012, Alabama imported 18.5 million tons of coal from six U.S. states and Colombia at a price tag of over $1 billion. Alabama ranked eighth nationally for money spent on net coal imports and first in the nation for expenditures on international coal imports. The state’s largest power provider, Alabama Power, was the biggest spender on those purchases and Alabama Power’s parent company, Southern Company, ranks first among all U.S. power providers for coal import dependency. Alabama’s neighbor, Georgia paid nearly $1.7 billion to import 23.4 million tons of coal in 2012 – ranking Georgia third highest nationally for money spent on coal imports.
Tennessee relied on coal to provide almost half of its energy in 2012, spending more than $905 million to import coal in 2012. More than 99% of coal burned in Tennessee is imported – ranking Tennessee 9th in the nation for coal import dependency. The Tennessee Valley Authority ranks third among U.S. power providers for coal import dependency, spending nearly $1.4 billion in 2012 to import coal across its holdings in Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky.
Like many Southern states, Florida also has no in-state coal supplies. Although Florida reduced total tonnage of coal imported by 35% between 2008 and 2012, total coal expenditures only dropped 19% as the average price paid for coal in Florida increased dramatically. Power producers in Florida spent nearly $1.3 billion to import 14.5 million tons of coal from as far away as Colombia – ranking fifth nationally for money spent on net coal imports and second for international imports.
North Carolina relied on coal for around 41% of its in-state electricity generation in 2013. Duke Energy, North Carolina’s largest utility, paid nearly $1.8 billion to import 18.7 million tons of coal to burn in their power plants – ranking North Carolina and the utility itself second in the nation for net coal import expenditures and import dependency respectively.
Dollars that leave our states to buy coal are dollars that are no longer part of our local economy and are fueling a heavily polluting industry from cradle to grave.
Instead, it is time for Southeastern utilities to divest from coal and invest in a clean energy economy. Doing so could further cut coal imports, reduce the state’s growing reliance on natural gas, and deliver important economic and environmental benefits.
Earlier this year SACE purchased a building to serve as our new Asheville office and committed to giving this old house a green makeover. Built in the 1920’s as a residential home with few efficiency upgrades since then, this building presented many opportunities to save energy and improve the health of the building and its staff.
Our new three-part blog series details the energy upgrades start to finish, from getting a comprehensive energy audit to implementing basic energy efficiency upgrades and beyond. It was a no-brainer to completely air seal and insulate the building, air handling equipment and ductwork, as these measures can easily reduce heating and cooling needs by 20% or more. We also took the opportunity to install a complete basement encapsulation to protect the building’s longevity and air quality, replace all existing single pane windows with new Energy Star rated models, and more—for the details (and pictures) check out the blog series and stay tuned for more exciting updates on new solar panels to be installed this spring!
Why did we make all of these renovations? As this winter’s record-breaking cold weather may be making you painfully aware, most buildings are drafty and have insufficient insulation, especially older ones like our “new” office building. It turns out that buildings provide huge opportunities to reduce our dependence on dirty, unsafe energy sources like coal and nuclear, because forty percent of energy produced nationwide goes to power our buildings – more than any other sector – and that is mostly for space heating and cooling. With simple, low cost techniques like air sealing and insulation, we can all lower our carbon footprints and make our buildings more comfortable, healthier places to live and work. Efficiency upgrades to existing buildings also support the green economy by employing local workers and utilizing materials made right here in the US.
A post-renovation energy audit reveals upgrades reduced air leakage by 51% and have already made a difference in our utility bills. Next we plan to offset some of our energy use from solar energy – stay tuned!
SACE is one of the newest partners supporting the Union of Concerned Scientist’s Half the Oil Plan. This practical plan aims to cut projected U.S. oil use in half over the next 20 years, which is an essential goal for our protecting our climate, communities, health, national security and economy. The plan relies on realistic solutions for reducing oil use, including vehicle fuel efficiency, advanced vehicle, clean fuel innovation and smart growth strategies. To highlight the plan and opportunities, UCS has developed the Oil Solutions at Work web feature, which profiles a growing group of Americans who are working to make these clean transportation solutions a reality. From entrepreneurs deploying fuel efficiency technology, to those selling electric vehicles, to scientists developing new, clean biofuels—the stories show that cleaning up our transportation system is not only possible, it’s already happening. Read their stories, including the story of SACE’s clean fuels director, Anne Blair, who manages our retail biodiesel fueling station in Atlanta with Clean Energy Biofuels.
In addition, SACE will also be expanding our outreach on electric vehicles (EVs) this year, in partnership with Union of Concerned Scientists. Widespread deployment of cars that run on electricity is a key part of cutting oil use and will directly benefit individual drivers and fleet managers and communities through fuel cost savings, cleaner air and economic development. According to a recent survey by UCS and Consumers Union, EVs could work for 42% of U.S. households with cars. While Atlanta, GA is a leader in EV sales in the country, considerable debate continues in the media and amongst policy makers about the feasibility, costs and benefits of EVs.
SACE will work directly with UCS to demonstrate the potential of EVs, rebut misinformation and amplify the stories of the real people who are building, driving and benefitting from electric vehicle technology. Please join this effort: If you drive an EV and want to share your story with us, please contact Anne at firstname.lastname@example.org.