SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
1.The Solar Uprising Begins
Floridians gather in the State Capital to rally for solar energy
Floridians stood up for solar on April 10th at the Solar Uprising Rally in Tallahassee, FL. With over 300 people loudly calling for the state to adopt policies that support solar power in the Sunshine State, we made quite an impression. It remains to be seen whether Florida’s elected leaders will heed the call for action.
Students and solar proponents from across the state gathered at the Capitol. In the crowd were students supporting solar as the cleaner energy source for their future, solar installers whose livelihood depends on an active solar market, and consumers who want the ability to install solar on their homes as they wish. Our fantastic speakers highlighted all of these perspectives and more in their comments.
Our speakers included:
Dr. Stephen A. Smith, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
Pastor Brant Copeland, First Presbyterian Church
Debbie Dooley, Green Tea Coalition
Justin Vandenbroeck, Chris Castro, IDEAS For Us
Susan Glickman, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
Charlie Crist, former Governor of Florida
Commissioner Scott Maddox, City of Tallahassee
Anthony Paz, FIU Student
Jabari Mickles & LaQuinta Alexander, Dream Defenders
In order to achieve the solar expansion our speakers outlined, Floridians need to see major changes in state policy. A range of options are available, such as implementing requirements like a Renewable Energy Standard, favorable tax policy, and removing barriers to allow market forces to naturally grow the state’s solar market. Under the current administration, Florida has been unwilling to explore any of these policies. In the current session, one such measure, the tangible personal property tax abatement, has been held back by utility influence and the leadership.
As a non-partisan non-profit organization [501(c)], SACE does not endorse candidates or elected officials; however we do call attention to leadership or lack thereof on clean energy issues consistent with our mission. To conclude the rally, students symbolically voted for solar and carried a ballot box into the Capitol.
This event was only the beginning of a much larger movement. SACE will continue hosting events such as this in states throughout the Southeast and growing the movement in support of solar power. Keep an eye on our Facebook and Twitter for news of the next event – the Solar Uprising may be coming to you soon!
Visit our Facebook gallery of photos from the Solar Uprising Rally for more great pictures and follow events at #SolarUprising!
2. Bringing Coal Ash Concerns to the EPA
SACE Staff, Citizen Spokespeople Meet with EPA Region 4 Officials in Atlanta
On April 23, 2014, a group of environmental, public health and community advocates met with EPA Region 4’s new Administrator Heather McTeer Toney and her staff to discuss concerns about ongoing coal ash pollution problems in every corner of our region. After the meeting, they held a tele-press conference echoing these concerns to the media. Also in attendance were citizens impacted by coal ash pollution who brought their personal stories of living with coal ash, sharing their heartfelt concerns about pollution impacts on every aspect of their lives.
Sarah McCoin lives one mile from TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant, and described the destruction and confusion that ripped her community apart in December 2008. For years before 1 billion gallons of coal ash decimated 300 acres and her neighbors’ homes, she watched the pile of coal ash grow higher and higher, never suspecting the danger lurking in her backyard. Ms. McCoin described her lingering fears about long-term health and environmental impacts of the Kingston disaster, which have been downplayed in TVA’s recovery efforts. At one point during the meeting she turned to Administrator McTeer Toney and asked “would you like to buy some property right down the road from me? I’d love to have you as a neighbor. They’ve cleaned up all the coal ash and it’s real pretty now.”
Charles Robbins makes his living as a guide on North Carolina’s Cape Fear River and says he tries to impart all his clients with an appreciation of the river as a great natural resource. He is extremely concerned about high amounts of selenium and other toxics leaking out of coal ash impoundments poisoning fish in Lake Sutton and the Cape Fear River. Mr. Robbins said the lack of any signs or fishing restrictions at Lake Sutton warning people not to eat fish from the lake is disturbing and irresponsible of state regulators. Because of economic hardship, many locals depend on fish they catch as a main protein source.
Esther Calhoun told what it’s like to live in Uniontown, Alabama since it became the final resting place of four million tons of coal ash removed from the Kingston spill site. The landfill there does not properly store the ash, so nearby neighbors (some as close as 100 feet) live with toxic runoff flowing onto their property and coal ash dust coating their homes and lungs. She echoed frustrations of other communities who feel ignored by the local and state officials tasked with protecting the public. She pleaded the EPA Administrator to “step in and get the Alabama Department of Environmental Management to do their job.”
The request for to EPA to ensure enforcement of current environmental protections where states are failing to do so was one of 12 formal requests the group made to the new Regional Administrator and her staff. Instead of waiting for a federal coal ash rule to come out this December, the group repeated requests for Region 4 to do what they can now under current laws to protect the Southeast’s communities, waterways and wildlife from toxic pollution and the threat of the next coal ash disaster. It is critical that Administrator McTeer Toney take these stories and requests to heart and swiftly act to make the Southeast a national leader in cleaning up coal ash dumpsites that have endangered communities, wildlife, and waterways for far too long.
With significant business incentives, the state of Georgia has long been an attractive location for manufacturing companies to set up shop. The wind energy industry is no exception. The Peach State is currently home to over 20 wind energy component manufacturing facilities serving the domestic and international wind industry markets.
On Monday, April 14, Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols hosted a Georgia Wind Industry Tour in Gainesville, Georgia. Sponsored by the Georgia Sierra Club, GreenLaw, and the American Wind Energy Association, attendees, including PSC Commission Chairman Chuck Eaton and Commissioner Bubba McDonald, had the opportunity to hear directly from three German-based manufacturing companies based in the region.
Hailo USA, one of the leading producers of safety equipment and mechanical tower components for the industry, discussed their company’s work in Elberton, Georgia. Bart Smith, Hailo’s Safety Manager, previously manufactured conveyor belt systems for coal-fired power plants. Yet, when employees were let go and he lost his job, he turned to the wind industry. Smith spoke on Monday about the benefits the facility has provided for local Georgians. With all Hailo employees living within five counties of Elbert County, Smith noted the facility has been a “huge boost to the economy in our area.” While starting with just 15 employees in 2011, Hailo currently has 64 on the floor, producing 15-25 towers (or system kit suppliers) a week.
The event also featured Carl Vanhoutte, General Manager of Goracon Windpower Access Systems, located in Lawrenceville, Georgia. Goracon manufactures climb, lift, and platform systems for wind turbines.
Next, attendees had the opportunity to see wind energy manufacturing in action, touring the ZF Wind Power facility, a global manufacturer of gearboxes for wind turbines. ZF Group opened a branch in Gainesville, GA in 2011 and currently employees over 100 people. Attendees were able to see the Atlas gearbox assembly system: 55 overhead cranes move the gearbox down the assembly line as workers continue to add components. The final product weighs a total of 16 tons! When completed, the gearboxes are shipped to Vestas in Colorado where they are placed inside a 2 megawatt turbine.
While the facility in Gainesville has the capacity to produce 1,000 gearboxes a year, the lack of consistent, stable policy incentives has impacted the facility and its workers. Shortly after the facility was built and began production, the federal production tax credit (PTC) lapsed due to congressional inaction. As a result, fewer than 100 gearboxes were assembled that year and many employees were forced to relocate. Luckily, the Gainesville facility has the potential for 103% growth. If the PTC is extended, ZF Wind Power, and many other wind facilities in the state, has the opportunity to put many Georgians back to work.
With the Southern region now ripe for large-scale wind energy development and Georgia’s manufacturing sector continuing to grow, we hope to see an increase in wind energy jobs in the state and throughout the Southeast. However, stable wind energy policies, such as the Production Tax Credit (PTC), are crucial to support the wind industry growth in Georgia.
Last month it was revealed that the credit subsidy fee for utility giant Southern Company and its utility partner, Oglethorpe Power, to secure billions of dollars in taxpayer-backed federal loan guarantees, is nothing, $0. This information was disclosed two months after the Department of Energy (DOE) finalized terms of $6.5 billion worth of loan guarantees that were offered as part of an $8.3 billion package to build two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle in Georgia. A third partner, MEAG, has yet to have their $1.8 billion loan guarantee finalized.
Since the conditional offers were made over four years ago, SACE, represented by Emory’s Turner Environmental Law Clinic, has filed 10 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with DOE to unearth important details on the risks posed to U.S. taxpayers if the more-than $15 billion nuclear project should default — a frequent occurrence in the nuclear industry’s history. The most recent request, filed when DOE finalized the terms, demanded the terms and conditions of the loans, including the credit subsidy fees, be made public immediately. Once again, the agency failed to respond.
SACE went to court twice to force DOE to disclose the information requested and, in light of this successful litigation, received documents in 2012 revealing some of the loan guarantee terms, including the tentative credit subsidy fees. This fee represents the “price tag” a utility must pay to the federal government for the loan guarantee to ensure against default. Now, if the project defaults, taxpayers alone will be forced to pick up the bill. Even the originally-proposed fee ranges appeared to be too low to protect taxpayers: Georgia Power’s fee was 0.5-1.5% for a range of $17-52 million and Oglethorpe’s was 2.5-4.3% for a range of $70-132 million. Analysis is available in a report and memo that SACE commissioned along with an online library we developed to make all the FOIA documents we received publicly available.
Since the loan guarantees were first offered, the Vogtle project has fallen 21 months behind schedule, is over $1 billion over budget and there has an outstanding $930 million lawsuit between the utility and the lead contractor, Westinghouse. The deteriorating power market over the past few years and the ongoing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident in Japan are additional factors that were also not present when the loans were first offered back in 2010, making the Vogtle project more risky today, not less. It is clear that DOE failed to reflect these new realities when they adjusted the credit subsidy fees downward to $0.
SACE has called upon Congress to conduct an investigation of this loan guarantee process, including the lack of transparency that surrounded it, before DOE issues the final Vogtle guarantee to MEAG, which received an extension until the end of July, and before it issues any other loan guarantees to additional projects. In previously received documents, MEAG’s credit subsidy fee range was 5-11.1% for a range of $108-186 million.
To learn more about the federal nuclear loan guarantees and take action on calling for an investigation into the Vogtle loan guarantees, click here.
SACE had the opportunity to participate in the first-ever Carolinas Climate Resilience Conference, April 28-29 in Charlotte, NC. Hosted by the Carolinas Integrated Sciences & Assessments, the conference was a two-day gathering of academics, researchers, governmental agencies, and non-governmental organizations to discuss the topic of building resilience to climate change in North and South Carolina.
SACE put together a panel, titled “Clean Energy in the Carolinas: Policies and Opportunities for Climate Resilience and Mitigation,” which presented lay of the land in both states on opportunities and barriers to clean energy deployment.
The underlying theme of the panel was the importance of bridging the gap between considering clean energy to be merely climate mitigation (or rather, mitigating greenhouse gas emissions) and it being climate adaptation (improvements to help deal with the impacts of climate change). Traditionally, clean energy has been relegated in the silo of mitigation, however, its benefits for adaptation are becoming increasingly apparent. One of the biggest adaptive characteristics of renewable energy is how wind and solar power require no water to generate electricity, whereas traditional thermal power plants require vast amounts (commonly hundreds of millions of gallons per day per plant), which may not be available in a warmer, drought-prone climate. Moreover, as climate change brings more extreme weather, the distributed nature of renewable energy, allows for localized production of electricity in communities that may have their grid transmission disabled from a big storm. During the panel, SACE High Risk Energy Director Ulla Reeves showed pictures of the wind farm in Atlantic Beach, New Jersey that were back up and running one day after Hurricane Sandy, while much of the rest of the state remained without power for over a week.
The message from our panel was that clean energy affords vast potential for building our resilience to the impacts of climate change, while at the same time preventing the problem from getting worse, and that there are tremendous opportunities in both the Carolinas for bringing these benefits home.