SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
1. 3 Ways To Prevent Another Coal Ash Disaster
Dan river spill hits its first anniversary
One year ago this February, Duke Energy dumped nearly 39,000 tons of coal ash and 24 million gallons of wastewater into the Dan River near Eden, North Carolina. That’s a total of 140,000 tons of toxic waste and wastewater combined into the sensitive eco-system of the Dan River. By the end of two weeks, a dark grey plume of this toxic by-product of coal-fired power had traveled 70 miles downstream, where it settled on the riverbed. The spill and its aftermath made coal ash a national news story throughout 2014. The outrage of community members and advocates across the state, combined with the media attention to the environmental disaster eventually exposed cozy relationships between Duke and the state agencies that were supposed to be protecting the public and NC’s waterways. Today, communities across the state are left with the foreboding possibility that a similar disaster could unfold at one or all of Duke’s 14 leaking sites – or at another coal ash impoundment in the Southeast.
Last December, EPA finally released its long-awaited rules on coal ash. EPA was prompted by an even bigger coal ash disaster in Kingston, Tennessee that occurred six years ago. Despite the clear risks, the agency declined to regulate the toxic substance as “hazardous” and offered only a weak set of rules that leave accountability to the utilities themselves, state environmental agencies, and citizen suits. Already, Congress is trying to dismantle even this inadequate rule. In the absence of strong, federal safeguards, there are 3 important steps that NC communities, state agencies, the legislature, and Duke Energy can take to ensure that a coal ash disaster won’t happen in NC again.
1. Duke should prioritize removing coal ash to lined landfills away from waterways
Most of Duke’s coal ash is stored in unlined, wet-impoundments – toxic lagoons that are nearly impossible to safely operate. The Dan River disaster was a failure of Duke’s routine maintenance, not a natural disaster. The safest way to address coal ash is to remove the waste from old, leaking impoundments and to dry, lined storage away from waterways, and this needs to happen ASAP. We know that when utilities prioritize cleanup, it can happen fast. As the result of a lawsuit, in November 2013, one South Carolina’s utilities Santee Cooper agreed to move coal ash from its unlined impoundments by the end of 2023. The utility is currently ahead of schedule having already removed 164,000 tons from its Grainger facility on the Waccamaw River in Conway, South Carolina. At its current rate of removal, Santee Cooper will complete cleanup by 2019, four years ahead of schedule. Duke needs to step it up.
2. Duke needs to pay the cost of clean up
One year after the disaster, Duke has only removed 7.7% of the coal ash waste from the Dan River – about 3,000 tons (and it would have been impossible to remove any of the polluted wastewater). Duke hasn’t accounted for the other 92.3%, though it’s already claiming that “…the river is thriving.” In reality, it will likely take years for the Dan River to recover from this disaster, and thorough cleanup will be expensive as new layers of sediment are piling up on top of the ash waste. Research by Wake Forest University biologist Dennis Lemly indicated the costs could be up to $300 million for full clean-up.
3. We need to keep the pressure on!
Advocates are also bringing legal pressure to bear: SACE joined a lawsuit to compel Duke Energy to clean up its coal ash pollution from the Dan River site once and for all. And our allies across the state (Appalachian Voices, Cape Fear Riverwatch, Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, Dan River Basin Association, MountainTrue, Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation, Roanoke River Basin Association, Sierra Club, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Waterkeeper Alliance, Winyah Rivers Foundation, and Yadkin Riverkeeper) are ensuring that all the other locations are also cleaned up. We are all represented in these cases by the Southern Environmental Law Center.
As we reflect on the damage done to our environment and communities due to coal ash and Duke’s recklessness, it’s clear that we need our state agencies, our legislature, and Duke to pursue coal ash clean-up with urgency. Only continuous public pressure and scrutiny can ensure that they do.
2. Black History Month Energy Champion in Memphis
Jimmy Tucker Knows the Importance of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
As one of the founding principals of a successful architectural firm in Memphis, TN, Jimmie Tucker has made it his mission to improve the buildings and lives of Memphians. Self + Tucker Architects (STA) is celebrating twenty years in business this year and STA has created many well designed and energy efficient buildings throughout the Mid-South since 1995.
After spending his childhood in Memphis, Mr. Tucker left the city to pursue his architectural career, receiving a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture and Urban Planning from Princeton University and his Masters degree in Architecture from Washington University in St. Louis. After working for several years in St. Louis and New York, Mr. Tucker returned to Memphis in order to help revitalize the city, which until recently had the unfortunate habit of abandoning historical buildings and not engaging in smart building design planning. Over the years, his firm has completed numerous projects that have brought new life into old buildings – and cut energy costs at the same time!
When asked why he’s chosen to focus on “green” building, Tucker explains “we believe each building we design should enhance the quality of life for its occupants and enrich the architectural fabric in the community in which its located. Our focus on sustainable design is essential to achieving those aspirations.”
Since 2006, Mr. Tucker has been an Adjunct Instructor of Architecture at the University of Memphis. In his Design Studios he has used LEED, Enterprise Green Communities Criteria, EcoBUILD and other “real world” sustainable design planning criteria as the framework for his students to develop Master Plans and design specific new buildings and building renovations.
In 2007, Mr. Tucker and his wife, Cleora, completed their own home, which they designed to meet EcoBUILD requirements, Memphis Light, Gas and Water’s voluntary “green building” program. Tucker played a lead role in the Shelby County Green Building Task Force to develop a set of recommendations to improve local building codes. Mr. Tucker has long been an advocate for reducing energy costs for his projects as well as designing some of the first LEED certified projects in the city.
Currently, Mr. Tucker is working diligently on the revitalization of the historic Universal Life Building, which has been vacant for some time. For this project, he is serving as both architect and developer as he has owned the building since 2005 with his business partner, Juan Self. The new Universal Life Building will feature a green roof and solar power, which will increase the credits toward LEED Gold certification.
By including construction of a solar parking canopy, STA will show by example that embracing sustainable building practices is of the utmost importance. Our current heavy reliance on non-renewable energy resources is proving to be more and more detrimental to the environment and our health and is also becoming more difficult to maintain economically, making investment in renewable resources critical. The project will serve as a shining example that solar is a technology that is taking hold in Memphis and can be economically feasible.
Mr. Tucker is also committed to giving back to his community in other ways. In 2013, Self +Tucker Architects, in partnership with the Memphis based Knowledge Quest, received a Mid-South Regional Greenprint sub-planning award for the expansion of the Green Leaf Learning Farm. Already successful in its efforts around youth development, the Green Leaf Learning Farm will soon be expanding to offer a Community Supported Agriculture program that will allow it to be a more financially sustainable operation through coordinated purchasing by the community. This program will also help expand awareness of the importance of healthy eating in South Memphis, which is an economically disadvantaged community.
The Residences at Green Leaf, an existing ten-unit apartment building, is being designed for energy conservation and to incorporate an 8kW solar power system that will produce approximately 11kWh. Once completed, the project will accommodate “Agri-tourists”, who will live on the farm during short stays to participate in the hands-on learning projects related to urban agriculture, water conservation and family skills. The new solar panels will offset the energy costs associated with these operations.
Memphis is lucky to have a leader like Mr. Tucker who is working hard to implement sustainable design and grow a clean energy economy in Memphis. We are proud to have his support as a member of SACE and look forward to watching his firm continue to work to help change the Mid-south for the better!
It probably won’t surprise you to learn that Florida, often called the Sunshine State, has the best solar resource east of the Mississippi. What may surprise you is the fact that it ranks only 13th for installed solar capacity with a modest 229 megawatts of solar online, less than half a percent of Florida’s installed electric capacity. Although two utility-scale solar projects have recently been announced by Gulf Power and Florida Power & Light, Florida’s solar market remains constrained by unnecessary barriers that stifle innovation and cost the state jobs. In fact, Florida is one of only five states where laws expressly deny citizens and businesses the freedom to buy solar power directly from anyone other than a monopoly electric utility. This law limits customer choice and blocks the growth of an industry that harnesses a limitless, clean homegrown natural resource: the sun!
In order to open up Florida’s solar market, a broad coalition of businesses, conservative groups and environmental organizations has formed Floridians for Solar Choice (FSC) to place a constitutional amendment on the 2016 state ballot so that voters can decide whether to expand solar choice in the Sunshine State. The broad and diverse stakeholders that presently comprise FSC include the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Christian Coalition of America, Conservatives for Energy Freedom, Florida Alliance for Renewable Energy, Florida Retail Federation, Florida Solar Energy Industries Association, Libertarian Party of Florida, Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida and the Republican Liberty Caucus of Tampa Bay. These groups held a campaign kickoff press conference on January 14 in Tallahassee.
For Florida’s voters to have the opportunity to decide whether businesses and property owners should have the freedom to sell the solar power they generate directly to others, Floridians for Solar Choice will have to gather hundreds of thousands of petition signatures by December of 2015.
Providing solar choice would enable customers to contract with companies who can offer innovative financing plans to help customers enjoy the benefits of solar power on their homes and businesses with minimal to no up-front costs. These benefits include stable electric bills, cleaner power production and more control over our energy future.
This campaign — which is part of a fast-growing movement supported by conservative leaders and organizations, business groups and industry associations, energy-policy experts, and conservation organizations — promises to be a remarkable effort to bring awareness of the benefits of solar power and the importance of free market energy policies to Floridians and the Southeastern region.
Despite what will certainly be vigorous challenges to this campaign by Florida’s monopoly utilities, SACE remains optimistic that this measure will be successful if it can secure a place on the 2016 ballot. A recent poll found that 74% of Florida voters said they would support a proposal to change Florida’s current law and allow Floridians to contract directly with solar companies to power their homes or businesses with solar energy.
Visit http://www.flsolarchoice.org to learn more about this initiative.
As duck hunting season comes to a close, flocks of hunters have enjoyed a potentially record-breaking season thanks in part to good weather and successful conservation efforts. Despite the seemingly high levels of duck hunting, duck populations seem to be quite stable. Ducks Unlimited, the world’s leader in wetlands and waterfowl conservation, announced in its 2014 Waterfowl Forecast that the number of breeding ducks was estimated at 49.2 million birds. The 2014 forecast was 8% higher than the year before, and the largest number since standardized surveys began in 1955, according to DU. Coincidentally, wind turbine capacity also grew by 8% last year, and wind power has become a substantial energy source over the past decade. As more wind turbines are installed throughout the country, researchers, communities and hunters are asking: how do wind turbines affect ducks?
Before wading into a discussion about wind turbines and ducks, it is important to evaluate current science on the topic. Most of the available data show wind turbines have a minimal impact on birds, and some research specific to ducks does exist. One paper shows that some ducks may reduce usage of wetlands near wind farms. This “avoidance” behavior may be a double-edged sword: avoiding areas with wind turbines may reduce habitat usage, but could also prevent interaction with a wind turbine that could lead to mortality. (Not to ruffle any feathers, but ducks also exhibit extreme avoidance to hunters in powerboats and hunters in general. Those interactions can also lead to mortality.) That same paper suggests that as ducks become more comfortable with wind turbines over time, they may habituate to the turbines and exhibit less avoidance behavior.
But avoidance alone does not provide a full picture of the complexity of duck interactions with wind turbines. Another study evaluates duck flight patterns to estimate collision risks. Based on this research, ducks generally see wind turbines well in advance and rarely venture into a wind farm. However, even if waterfowl venture into a wind farm, there’s no guarantee of a collision. Flight altitude, or height, also plays a role in collision risk. Wind turbine blades pose the biggest collision risk to birds. If ducks fly below the lowest blade tip height, or above the highest blade tip height, the overall risk of collision is relatively minor. Citing another study, the paper states, “In total, less than 1 % of the tracked birds passed close enough to the turbine to be at any risk of collision.”
Even though wind turbines can have an effect on ducks, the effect need not be all negative. Wind farm development can include conservation easements to protect high priority duck habitat. Protecting high quality habitat can be a better protector of ducks than banning wind farms. If it seems counterintuitive that wind energy can protect ducks, consider this: hunters are among the greatest forces for duck conservation. Hunters get their ducks in a row by supporting conservation through the purchase of federal duck stamps, joining conservation organizations and respecting bag limits – and fewer hunters could imperil duck conservation. If hunters can help ducks, it is not daffy to believe that wind turbines can as well.
In reality, hunting is a small portion of duck mortality. Some experts suggest hunting, with 13.7 million birds taken in 2013, only accounts for 7-8% of duck mortality. Other causes of duck mortality include predators, starvation, disease and even foul weather. In comparison, wind turbines have been estimated to kill 214,000 and 368,000 birds annually. That’s birds, not ducks. Since hunting kills approximately 37 to 64 times as many ducks as wind turbines kill birds, it seems unlikely that wind turbines will have population-level impacts on ducks anytime soon. Nevertheless, wind farm developers would be wise to take steps that benefit ducks and their habitats. And they don’t need to wing it: maintaining a high level of communication with conservation organizations can further protect the cultural (and economic) benefits of duck hunting.
In addition to easements, wind energy can help preserve ducks in other ways. Wind energy emits no greenhouse gas emissions and, as such, can help reduce the impacts of climate change. As Ducks Unlimited puts it, “Climate models indicate that warming temperatures will cause shifts in precipitation patterns, more extreme weather events, and significant changes in land use. Ducks could be hit hard by these changes.” Fossil fuels and the pollution they generate are much more dangerous for ducks (and birds as a whole) than wind turbines. Ducks frequently die, en masse, at oil ponds. One recent event saw 1,600 ducks die in a single pond. Chronic pollution from fossil fuel power plants can negatively impact duck reproduction, especially through mercury-contaminated waterways. For a pollution-free, clean energy resource, wind energy fits the bill.
The fact remains that wind turbine installations have substantially increased while, at the same time, duck populations have reached record levels. Perhaps the relationship between the mighty duck and wind energy may just continue along swimmingly.