SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
1. Alabama Coal Takes Center Stage
All Aboard the Coal-Powered Roller Coaster
News about Alabama’s coal – its alleged origins, televised misinformation from elected officials, pleas to the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), closure and conversion of coal plants, and now, a multi-state lawsuit against EPA – has been flowing fast and furious in July. Here’s a quick play-by-play to get you caught up.
Monday, July 28: Public Service Commissioners claim God’s support for burning coal
Public Service Commission President Twinkle Cavanaugh and de-facto Commissioner-elect Chip Beeker hold a press conference to announce their opposition to EPA’s Clean Power Plan for reducing carbon pollution from power plants. It is held at the Alabama Coal Association headquarters. AL.com reports:
Beeker, a Republican who is running unopposed for a PSC seat, said coal was created in Alabama by God, and the federal government should not enact policy that runs counter to God’s plan. “Who has the right to take what God’s given a state?” he said.
Cavanaugh called on the people of the state to ask for God’s intervention. “I hope all the citizens of Alabama will be in prayer that the right thing will be done,” she said.
Tuesday, July 29: Hundreds testify, rally for Clean Power Plan
Activists from around the Southeast converge on Atlanta, headquarters of EPA’s Region 4, to comment on the rule proposing carbon pollution limits. You can read all about the day’s events, including hearing testimony, rally, and march here. Alabamians Joyce Lanning, on behalf of the national League of Women Voters, and Dr. David Reynolds, a Birmingham pediatrician (pictured at right), speak in favor of the limits. Not to be left out, Alabama’s PSC Commissioners and Attorney General testify against them.
Wednesday, July 30: God’s support for coal questioned
While a second day of EPA hearings proceed in Atlanta, the responses to Monday’s God-invoking press conference begin to roll in. Salon.com brings national attention. The Montgomery Advertiser writes a chastising editorial, a group of faith leaders respond questioning the mixture of Church and State (and pointing to scripture calling for creation care), the Dothan Eagle calls out “PSC Pandering,” and AL.com’s John Archibald calls satirically on behalf of God’s lawyers for the commissioners to cease and desist using their client’s name.
Thursday, July 31: PSC President says false things on television
Starting the day off bright and early, Twinkle Cavanaugh debates SACE’s Executive Director, Dr. Stephen Smith, over the Clean Power Plan on WBRC Fox (channel 6) 7:00am news.
Dr. Smith writes a blog about the experience, correcting her misinformation: the Clean Power Plan actually will, according to the EPA, save billions of dollars and thousands of lives. Furthermore, Alabamians are not, as Cavanaugh says, doing all they can to save energy. Alabama ranks 39th in the country on energy efficiency according to the ACEEE and in part due to the weak energy efficiency programs has some of highest electric bills in the country, second only to Hawaii. The Washington Post recently reported that Alabama is one of the most energy-expensive states.
Friday, August 1: Alabama Power announces reduction in coal fleet due to different, older federal regulations
In a move we applaud, Alabama Power announces that it will close old, rarely-used generating units #6 and #7 at Plant Gorgas, northwest of Birmingham; convert Plant Greene County in central Alabama to burn natural gas; and convert three units at Plant Barry near Mobile to natural gas, using two of them only in times of extreme need. The coal phase-out is part of Alabama Power’s plan to meet Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) finalized in 2012 (not the carbon rules that were in the news earlier in the week). Anniston Star quotes SACE in an accurate, objective story highlighting the health dangers of mercury and addressing the need for transparent planning to help the public understand the cost benefits of phasing out old coal plants.
Monday, August 4: Alabama sues EPA over Clean Power Plan
In the last of unfortunate developments, Alabama joins eleven other states in a lawsuit attempting to prevent EPA from finalizing the Clean Power Plan, which it expects to do in June, 2015 after receiving comments on the plan this year. This legal step is one that will waste taxpayer money, fighting against a rule that could actually save Alabamians money if the state proactively moved to comply by using more energy efficiency and renewable energy.
Meanwhile, news from Mississippi reveals that Friday’s announced conversion from coal to gas at Plant Greene County may be related to a settlement between Mississippi Power and the Sierra Club. Mississippi Power has an ownership stake in the plant, and agreed to several clean energy moves in exchange for Sierra Club dropping its opposition to a new coal plant in Kemper County, MS that would capture some of its carbon emissions.
Stay tuned as the saga continues….
2. Packed House at EPA’s Atlanta Hearing on Carbon Rules
Citizens from across the region come out to share their opinions on the Clean Power Plan
In July, the EPA held began two days of public hearings in Atlanta to gather public input on its proposed Clean Power Plan. Originally planned as a one-day hearing, EPA added an additional day to accommodate the overwhelming amount of requests from people wanting to weigh in on the first ever proposed carbon pollution limits for existing power plants. SACE staff and board members were in Atlanta to lend our support for the Clean Power Plan and offer suggestions on how to make the rule more effective in reducing carbon pollution and bolstering a clean energy economy in the Southeast.
Environmental allies from across the Southeast gathered for a rally while the hearings were underway and participated in a march to show the groundswell of support for the Clean Power Plan. The lunchtime rally included speakers, like long-time civil rights activist and environmental justice advocate Rev. Dr. Gerald Durley, and various musical acts. Almost 1,000 activists marched through the streets of Atlanta with signs and banners voicing their support for EPA’s rule.
During the hearings, several SACE staff and board members presented comments to EPA on the Clean Power Plan. SACE Executive Director, Dr. Stephen Smith, shared his thoughts on how EPA can work with Southeastern states to ensure that the Clean Power Plan is finalized without unnecessary legal challenges and delay. Dr. Smith emphasized the importance of the proposed rule’s flexibility, which allows each state to craft its own unique compliance roadmap in order to meet carbon pollution limits without threatening the state’s ability to provide cost-effective power to its residents. You can view the testimony of Dr. Smith and other SACE staff and board members here
You can read a previous SACE blog for a more in-depth look at how the proposed Clean Power Plan will affect the Southeast. The official comment period for the Clean Power Plan ends October 16, 2014. You can submit your comments to EPA here and make sure your voice is heard! And for more pictures from the event, check out our Flickr page!.
With the help of Emory University Law Schools’ Turner Environmental Law Clinic, SACE continues a multi-year effort to uncover the truth about the $8.33 billion worth of federal loan guarantees offered by the Department of Energy (DOE) to Southern Company and its partners to support construction of two new nuclear reactors in Georgia at Plant Vogtle.
The battle to find out more information, especially risks posed to taxpayers, began in March 2010, through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Unfortunately that was only the first of ten FOIA requests submitted over several years to DOE, Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Treasury, which were met with resistance or ignored.
While SACE, representing public interests, was kept in the dark, DOE negotiated behind the scenes with the Southern Company over the credit subsidy cost. This is a fee paid by the entity receiving a loan guarantee in order to cover the estimated cost to the Government of supplying the guarantee. If the credit subsidy fee isn’t enough to cover the costs of default, taxpayers shoulder the risk.
Shockingly, DOE decided there was no risk and waived the fee, approving over $6.5 billion for Georgia Power and Oglethorpe Power. What a sweetheart deal! Despite years of negotiations and the fact that construction of the new reactors is already over budget and behind schedule, DOE simply dismissed this unbelievable change of heart as a calculation “based upon a standard methodology used across the federal government.”
But a third partner’s loan, Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG), was not approved and received yet another extension, to January 31, 2015. We wanted to know why. Apparently, MEAG organized its interest in the proposed Vogtle reactors into three separate projects and had to get approval from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to transfer control of each of the three projects into three limited liability companies or ‘LLCs.’ The purpose of the transfer was “to facilitate proposed additional, independent financing for one or more of these projects.”
This is very concerning: the reorganization of a nuclear power plant’s ownership, as outlined in a report by Synapse Energy Economics, could shift the risks of accidents and decommissioning from the plant owners to the general public. Taxpayers might shoulder these costs if any of MEAG’s LLCs default.
Already $6.5 billion in loan guarantees has been finalized. It’s time to stop the bleeding and prevent the allocation of the remaining $1.8 billion and for the public to obtain the information its entitled to. Congress must robustly investigate. Though a hearing on DOE’s oversight and the status of the loan guarantee program was held in May, far more questions need to asked and answered about the Vogtle debacle. The public has been left in the dark while billions of dollars are given away for a high-risk project to a company that says they don’t even need it, without charging a credit subsidy fee to cover any defaults, and it’s backed by all of us, without our knowledge or consent.
Last month we received some much needed good news about coal ash when Santee Cooper announced it is ahead of schedule with removing coal ash along the Waccamaw River at its Grainger Power Station near Conway, S.C. The removal is part of a settlement agreement between SACE, other conservation groups and the utility that requires Santee Cooper to clean out all of its dangerous and polluting dumpsites.
Just over the state line in North Carolina, Duke Energy has balked at making a similar commitment for its 14 ash dumpsites even despite the massive embarrassment of their Dan River spill, which is now 6 months old and only 6% cleaned up. If the clean up efforts at Grainger continue at their current pace, the job will be done in six years instead of the 10 years originally estimated. To reduce the cost associated with clean up, Santee Cooper is recycling much of the ash as an additive in concrete and other materials, instead of moving the ash to a new landfill. We are eager for Duke Energy to follow Santee Cooper’s leadership and act responsibly to clean up every last coal ash impoundment they manage.