SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
1. What Does Earth Month Mean to You?
Celebrating clean energy this April
“Earth day is everyday.”
– Joann S.
And we agree! However, because SACE is constantly working towards a brighter, safer future, this month has always served as an active reminder of the importance of investing in and advocating for clean energy solutions. Here are some other thoughts from SACE members and supporters about the issues that we should all keep in mind this month.
Earth Month Means…
“Time for solar energy.” – Eveline D.
“Come on Florida, the Sunshine is Free. Tax breaks [and a] healthier environment!” – Daniel D.
“Clean Energy!” – Erika S.
“[…] to appreciate and share the great outdoors.” – Tom P.
“Celebrate the beauty of our blue and green planet all April!” – Anon.
“Happy earth happy life.” – Helen D.
“[…] a month about the things we need to concern ourselves with as a race.” – Chris S.
“Go green!” – Jackie M.
Want to add your thoughts to the list? Let us know at http://bit.ly/EarthMonth14 – we’d love to hear from you. Thank you to those who have already submitted their ideas! We’ll leave you with the one thought that is always on our minds when we think about Earth Month:
“What are you going to do to help save it?” – Dean T.
2. Electric Vehicle Update
Georgia Electric Vehicle Tax Credit Preserved, Leaders Meet in Nashville
As we shared last month, SACE is partnering with Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) to highlight clean fuel vehicle strategies to cut oil consumption. UCS’ Half the Oil plan aims to slash projected U.S. oil use over the next 20 years.
UCS has recently conducted analysis which shows that electric vehicles (EVs) are a viable oil-saving and global warming solution for our country. According to the plan, over 40% of new vehicles sold in 2035 could run on electricity instead of oil, which would save 1.5 million barrels of oil per day. Their State of Charge report found that nationwide, EVs charged from the electricity grid produce lower global warming emissions than the average compact gasoline-powered vehicle—even when the electricity is produced primarily from coal in regions with the “dirtiest” electricity grids. And EVs will only get cleaner as more renewable electricity comes online.
Georgia has been leading the way in electric vehicle (EV) sales in the US–we currently rank 4th in the U.S. for electric vehicle ownership and number one for Nissan LEAF sales! All Georgians are benefitting from fewer emissions, less dependence on oil and price fluctuations, and cleaner air. The sale of electric vehicles is also bringing economic benefits–the electric vehicle industry is creating jobs, bringing new businesses to the state, saving money on fuel costs, and helping drive innovation.
However, Georgia’s General Assembly recently attempted to squash the EV tax credit that is helping drive these benefits. HB 257 Substitute, introduced by Representative Chuck Martin, would have eliminated Georgia’s Alternative Fuel Vehicle Tax Credit, most notably for electric vehicles (EVs).
Ultimately, no agreement on the bill was reached between the Georgia House of Representatives and Senate and the vote failed to pass. Many options for revising the tax credit were offered during the debate of the bill including the complete elimination of the tax credit, changing the effective dates, adding a sunset date for phasing out the credit, lowering the credit to $2500 and making other vehicles eligible, such as plug in hybrid electric vehicles. While we are pleased that the tax credit will remain for the next year, we agree that modifications are worthwhile to consider and there are exciting opportunities to work on expanding electric vehicles in the coming year.
While EVs are steadily growing, they remain less than one percent of cars owned in Georgia. The tax credit is an important driver for the initial growth of this industry. We need more policies, not fewer, that incentivize driving on electricity. We thank all of you who took action to let your legislators know this policy is important to you.
As part of our new EV campaign, SACE and UCS also hosted a clean energy happy hour in Nashville on March 27 to engage our members on our clean fuels and vehicles work. You can check out pictures from the event here. We hope we can continue to work together with all members and supporters to promote electric vehicles and other responsible energy choices throughout Georgia and the Southeast. Please contact anne at cleanenergy.org to get involved.
In late February, the Tampa Bay Times broke a story about unprecedented damage occurring to replacement steam generators, a critical safety component, at Florida Power & Light’s St. Lucie Unit 2 reactor on Hutchinson Island, about 50 miles north of West Palm Beach, Florida. It has the most damaged steam generator tubes of any operating reactor in the country. SACE immediately retained nuclear engineering experts to assess the situation as a planned refueling outage was scheduled to begin in early March, which would include an inspection of the degraded steam generator tubes. This would be the first outage since FPL increased the power rating of the reactor in 2012, further stressing the already-damaged tubes.
What these experts unearthed was troubling. FPL essentially is running an experimental reactor in a weak regulatory environment. FPL made significant changes to the original steam generator design in 2007, without notifying the public. The U.S Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) technical staff went along with the design changes, despite the fact that the modifications may be responsible for the unprecedented degree of deterioration shown by the steam generators during inspections over the past five years.
Given these findings, SACE promptly requested the NRC to not allow FPL to return the reactor to service until it conducted a complete investigation and held a public hearing regarding major changes made by FPL to the design of the steam generators, components that are critical for removal of heat from the reactor. Our stay motion and hearing request were supported by an expert witness declaration submitted by nuclear engineering expert Arnie Gundersen with Fairewinds Associates.
Despite what FPL and their supporters claim, our three key concerns remain:
- Safety is our first concern and why we filed the stay motion – so that the extent of the damage to the steam generators could be known and shared with the public before St. Lucie Unit 2 went back online.
- The lack of proper regulatory oversight was our motivation for filing the hearing request. We believe that FPL is operating outside of their license – that FPL and the NRC haven’t properly documented changes that took place at Unit 2 that are causing damage to the steam generators.
- FPL has not prudently managed or operated the St. Lucie Unit 2 steam generators, and used early nuclear cost recovery funds to ‘up-rate’ these reactor modifications. This is all causing the unprecedented damage that could lead to premature replacement, potentially costing customers hundreds of millions of dollars more. The Florida Public Service Commission must investigate.
Unfortunately the NRC Commissioners rejected our stay motion and we are disappointed but not surprised. But we remain hopeful that once the facts are fully reviewed by the Commission, they will grant our hearing request, which will allow them, and the public, to fully explore the evidence and information presented. We stand by our safety concerns.
SACE developed a new Learn About page so our members and supporters and the public can track the developments. Find it here.
Just over two months ago the Dan River disaster in Eden, NC opened the floodgates on coal ash problems in North Carolina, sparking significant public outcry, a federal investigation into Duke Energy and the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources and much more. A non-stop barrage of news stories continues to highlight the prevalence of problems at coal ash dumpsites around the state, revelations on the apparent coziness of NC environmental regulators and the Governor with Duke Energy, and the lack of federal coal ash regulations. The effects of the latest coal ash catastrophe go well beyond the 70 miles of the Dan River spoiled with 140,000 tons of coal ash and contaminated wastewater and may, at last, lead to some meaningful action and regulation.
While the coal ash disaster spoiled a large portion of the Dan River in a matter of days, it took weeks for the State of North Carolina and Governor McCrory to begin holding Duke Energy accountable for their pollution. On February 25, facing increasing public pressure, Governor McCrory finally agreed that old, leaky coal ash ponds should be moved away from waterways and demanded that Duke hand over plans for remediating all its NC coal ash dumps by March 15, 2014. In response, the utility submitted a vague four-page letter, which the State rejected, calling it inadequate. It took NC DENR even longer to issue environmental citations for the massive spill; at last saying on March 3 that Duke violated water regulations.
This unfortunate tragedy shines a spotlight on Duke’s poor management of its coal ash waste and outright disregard for public health and safety. After Waterkeeper Alliance spotted suspicious activity at Duke’s Cape Fear plant, NC DENR confirmed Duke had illegally pumped at least 61 million gallons of coal ash contaminated wastewater directly to the Cape Fear River. A large crack was then found in the Cape Fear plant’s impoundments, threatening another coal ash disaster. Duke said the pipes beneath the Dan River impoundments were the only stormwater pipes buried under coal ash lagoons, but after self-inspections at all of their NC coal ash dumpsites, Duke found eight similar pipes. Contaminated wastewater is also now known to be leaking from the Cliffside Steam Station in Rutherford County.
Now, our attention is turning to the legal front as action heats up in the courts. On March 18, a federal grand jury convened as part of the criminal investigation into Duke and NC DENR’s handing of coal ash at all of NC’s coal-fired power plants. On March 20, SACE and other environmental and community groups filed a motion to intervene in the state court enforcement against Duke Energy for the Dan River disaster, to make sure affected communities have a voice at the table. NC DENR finally officially withdrew themselves on March 21 from the controversial settlement of the lawsuits brought by environmental organizations in which the state originally over-filed to prevent further action and then settled with Duke for a paltry sum of $99,000. Meanwhile, a state judge refused to stay his order that Duke must take immediate action to clean up their coal ash impoundments and stop polluting groundwater.
This story is far from over, and we’re sure to see even more developments from the Dan River disaster (hopefully one will be cleaning up the Dan soon!). Remember that coal ash is a regional problem in all of our Southeast states and this situation in NC could unfortunately happen in any of our communities. So stay tuned to our dedicated news page, http://bit.ly/DanRiverNews and if you haven’t already, please visit our action page to call for meaningful protections for coal ash for all communities and our precious water resources.