The West’s coal giant is going away


Click to enlargeAlex/Creative Commons

❝ The smokestacks of the Navajo Generation Station rise 775 feet from the sere landscape of the Navajo Nation in northern Arizona, just three miles away from the serpentine, stagnant blue wound in sandstone known as Lake Powell. Red rock cliffs and the dark and heavy hump of Navajo Mountain loom in the background. Since construction began in 1969, the coal plant and its associated mine on Black Mesa have provided millions of dollars to the Navajo and Hopi tribes and hundreds of jobs to local communities, as well as electricity to keep the lights on and air conditioners humming in the metastasizing cities of Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Yet they’ve also stood as symbols of the exploitation of Native Americans, of the destruction of the land, and of the sullying of the air, all to provide cheap power to the Southwest.

But coal power is no longer the best energy bargain. And…the plant’s four private utility owners, led by the Salt River Project, voted to shut down the plant at the end of 2019, some 25 years ahead of schedule. When the giant turbines come to a halt and the towers topple in the coming years, the plant will become a new symbol, this one of a transforming energy economy and an evolving electrical grid that is slowly rendering these soot-stained, mechanical megaliths obsolete.

❝ Salt River Project officials have been very clear…They note that it’s now cheaper for them to buy power for their 1 million customers from other sources than it is to generate power at Navajo, thanks mostly to low natural gas prices. A November 2016 study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that the Central Arizona Project pays about 15 percent more for electricity from the power plant — of which it is part owner — than it would if it bought power wholesale from the Mead trading hub located near Las Vegas.

❝ None of this will change even if President Donald Trump rolls back the Clean Power Plan or other regulations put in place by the Obama administration. In fact, if a drill-heavy energy policy is put into place, it will increase natural gas supplies, thus increasing the spread between natural gas and coal.

It’s a sign of the times. We will continues to see pimps like Trump – owned body and soul by the US Chamber of Commerce – run their collective mouths, beat the drums of war and obedience, demand resurrection of backwards methods that will only serve to further slow our national economy.

Science and technology will continue to forge ahead.

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Milestone: In 2016, wind generated more power than coal in the UK

❝ During most years since the industrial revolution, the UK has relied on coal to produce the lion’s share of its energy (in the past 10, gas has been top some years, and coal others). But in just three years the dominance of the most polluting energy source has declined to such an extent that full-year figures for 2016 show it was overtaken by wind power for total power generation…

❝ The change is momentous, and by no means accidental. European policy has mandated for the closing or retrofitting of many coal plants, with the UK recently announcing all its plants would close by 2025. Some plants, like the UK’s Drax, the biggest coal power station in Europe, have responded by moving to the burning of wood — which has its own issues. The replacement of coal with cleaner ways of generating power is a key part of the global effort to fight climate change.

❝ In most countries with large populations, renewables still can’t provide enough constant “baseload” power to allow them to replace older technologies. Many countries, the UK included, are therefore moving heavily from coal to gas. Gas is still a fossil fuel, but it’s much less damaging to the environment than coal, so planners hoping to deploy more renewables can use it as a “bridge” to an even cleaner future. Other countries, like France, have invested heavily in nuclear as a means to move away from emissions-heavy power…

❝ And for its part, China is investing massively in renewable energy. It’s still heavily reliant on coal power, but it overtook all other countries to become the biggest spender on renewable technology in 2014, and recently pledged to spend $361 billion on the technologies by 2020.

Advancing such progress in the United States will come to a halt for the next four years – as far as federal projects and the Trumpublicans are concerned. That doesn’t mean a halt to progress. Cities, states and individuals will continue to demonstrate good sense – both in terms of environment and common $ense.

Some facts take a really long time to sink in. Some bought-and-paid-for politicians never get it!

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Our latest creepy Republican liar-for-president is appointing one of the sleaziest and most corrupt public officials in the United States to head the Environmental Protection Agency. This is like appointing B’rer Fox to oversee hen-house construction. Backdoor guaranteed.

Scott Pruitt is known to take press releases from his Oklahoma oil and gas buddies and reprint them on his official letterhead as state attorney general – as if they were the product of his own research. Scumbag politician of the worst sort.

BTW, Snopes.com has already verified the article and searched deeper finding an article in Popular Mechanics that preceded newspaper coverage.

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Renewables capacity for energy passes coal in US, Europe

Click to enlargeSteve Braund

According to the International Energy Agency, 2015 was a banner year for renewable power, marking the first time that total installed renewable capacity passed coal. The agency just released its analysis of the medium-term prospects for renewables, which includes a look at the state of the global market in 2015. The report predicts that 2015 is only the beginning; by 2021, renewables will generae enough electricity to handle all of the demand in the US and Europe.

As of 2015, hydropower remained the largest global source of renewable electricity, accounting for just over 70 percent of it. But wind power is now 15 percent, and solar has grown from negligible to four percent. The new additions of capacity, however, indicate that these two power sources are just getting started.

…The addition of renewables will account for more than 60 percent of the new generating capacity and add up to 800GW over the coming five years, keeping them well ahead of any other power source. That’ll be driven in part by continued drops in the cost of renewables; while wind is expected to drop by low double digits, photovoltaics are expected to be 25 percent lower than they are already.

RTFA for regional differences, rates of change. The direction remains progressive and positive; but, economics demand independent patterns.

U.S. coal production down 26% – first half of 2016


Just showing how up-to-date coal-based energy really is

Coal production fell in the first half of 2016 dropped 26% from the same period of 2015 on widespread output curtailments especially in the massive Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana…

This output drop has been foreshadowed by the idling of dozens of coal mines across the U.S. in the first half of this year.

In terms of overall drop in production half year-over-half year, the Powder River Basin was the hardest hit, dropping about a third from 199.2 million tons produced in the first half of 2015 to only 134.2 million tons in the first half of this year. That 65 million ton drop represents more coal than that actually produced in the first half of 2016 in any of the three other major producing regions: Illinois Basin, Central Appalachia and Northern Appalachia.

Look elsewhere for jobs, folks. Learn to do better with your life.

Scientists have had it with the Federal Coal Program


AP/Matthew Brown

Enough, already.

That’s what 67 prominent scientists are telling Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, whose department is conducting a review of the U.S. program to lease federal lands for coal mining.

“The science is clear: to satisfy our commitment under the Paris Agreement to hold global temperature increase well below 2°C, the United States must keep the vast majority of its coal in the ground,” the scientists, including Ken Caldeira, a climate scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science, and James Hansen from Columbia University’s The Earth Institute, wrote in a letter delivered to Jewell on Tuesday. “We urge you to end federal coal leasing, extraction and burning in order to advance U.S. climate objectives and protect public health, welfare and biodiversity.”

More than 40 percent of coal produced in the United States comes from federal lands, under a leasing program that has not been reviewed in more than 30 years.

President Obama announced the review during his State of the Union address in January, and the White House issued a report last month detailing how the American taxpayer is being short-changed by the leasing program. While coal mined on federal lands brings in millions of dollars in revenue, it is far cheaper than coal mined on private land.

But even if the government increased the terms of the leasing program — at present, taxpayers are supposed to get 12.5 percent royalty on federal coal, but audits have shown the real rate is much lower — the price would likely still not account for the environmental and climate impacts of coal mining…

Once again, taxpayers are subsidizing the most reactionary sector of American capitalism. We’re paying these pigs a profit while they continue to destroy the world’s environment.

“If they do give a full and honest look at how the federal coal program is impacting our climate — and with associated harms to public health and biodiversity — then they would have no choice but to permanently end coal leasing on public lands,” Shaye Wolf, climate science director for the Center for Biological Diversity, told ThinkProgress…

By and large, scientists agree that the vast majority of the remaining fossil fuel resources in the world must be left unburned if humankind is going to avoid raising the global temperature and causing catastrophic climate disruption.

Coal mining is certainly incompatible with maintaining a livable climate,” Wolf said.

Coal producers know what their profits do to the environment, to peoples’ lives. Anyone see the Koch Bros living downwind from one of their coal storage yards or coal-powered power generation plants?

Not a chance.

Peabody, the largest US coal miner, joins Arch Coal in bankruptcy

Peabody Energy, the nation’s largest coal miner, has filed for bankruptcy protection as a crosscurrent of environmental, technological and economic changes wreak havoc across the industry.

Mines and offices at Peabody, a company founded in 1833 by 24-year-old Francis S. Peabody, will continue to operate as it moves through the bankruptcy process. However, Peabody’s planned sale of its New Mexico and Colorado assets were terminated after the buyer was unable to complete the deal.

The company’s bankruptcy filing comes less than three months after another from Arch Coal, the country’s second-largest miner, which followed bankruptcy filings from Alpha Natural Resources, Patriot Coal and Walter Energy.

New energy technology and tightening environmental regulations have throttled the industry and led to a wave of mine closures and job cuts. Peabody makes most of its money by selling its coal to major utilities that power the nation’s electric grid.

New drilling techniques allowed U.S. energy companies to free enormous amounts of natural gas, driving prices lower. The result of those plunging prices and changing environmental regulations has pushed major utilities to choose natural gas over coal to power electric grids…

The end is in sight.

2 cities and 2 ways of moving forward against smog


Click to enlargeAltaf Qadri, AP

Two cities. Two very polluted cities. And two very different ways of dealing with twin public health crises.

When Beijing’s air was forecast to reach hazardous levels for three straight days earlier in December, the government issued a smog red alert. The result: Half the city’s cars were off the roads within hours, schools were closed and construction sites shut down. Less than three days later, pollution levels had dropped by 30 percent.

When New Delhi’s winter air grew so bad that a high court warned that “it seems like we are living in a gas chamber,” the city’s top official declared that cars would be restricted starting Jan. 1, with odd and even license plates taking turns on the roads. But police officials quickly announced they hadn’t been consulted, and said they’d have trouble enforcing the rule. Plus, no one could fully explain how the already overstretched public transit system could absorb millions of additional commuters overnight.

So, well, maybe the whole plan will be scrapped…

Long famous for its toxic air, Beijing is struggling to lose that reputation, bowing to pressure from a growing middle class to keep pollution under control. Traffic is regularly restricted in the city, factories have been moved and the central government is anxious to ratchet down the country’s use of coal-burning power plants.

And New Delhi, which by many measures now has far more polluted air than Beijing? So far, the environmental court — which has only quasi-legal powers — has ordered that no diesel cars be registered in the city for the next few weeks, and has discouraged the government from buying diesels for government fleets. Officials, meanwhile, have suggested everything from car-free days to planting more trees to dedicated bus lanes.

It amounts to little more than vague promises, and is resulting in increasingly angry headlines…

❝”In China, whenever you talk about PM2.5 (one of the most dangerous forms of airborne particulate matter), everybody knows what that is, it’s pollution. But once you raise the same questions in Delhi, it seems like not many people care about that. And yet, the level of pollution in Delhi is more than five times” higher than in Beijing, said Yann Boquillod, a longtime Beijing resident who co-founded Air Visual, a startup that crunches pollution data and weather information to predict air quality…

In China, an authoritarian system makes policy changes much more straightforward than in India, where a chaotic and widely corrupt government makes it easier for polluters to avoid regulations.

China has made a very serious and concerted effort to fight air pollution in the past few years,” said Lauri Myllyvitra, Greenpeace’s global campaigner on coal. She said Beijing’s success came when it realized the problem had to be addressed regionally, not just in the city.

“Our greatest hope is that India will not waste a decade trying to address a regional problem locally … but will move much faster to put in place regional action plans for cleaner energy sources and fuels, as well as meaningful emission standards and enforcement,” she said…

Our politicians learned long ago to describe serious questions in political terms instead of economics. You can fuss with the former for decades without actually changing anything. So, India is described as a great democracy while that nation’s corruption has surpassed China – while China has moved in the other direction to begin to counter historically-accepted levels of corruption.

But, much of the difference remains economic. Though it may take Beijing as long as London or Los Angeles to overcome smog problems, China can afford to make the needed changes. India can’t. Not yet. They will need assistance whether their politicians care to admit it or not.