Guess who gets to live and die downwind from pollution sources?


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❝ University of Washington researchers have found that air pollution from electricity generation emissions in 2014 led to about 16,000 premature deaths in the continental U.S. In many states, the majority of the health impacts came from emissions originating in other states. Interactive map of the U.S. where the states are colored according to the number of premature deaths per 100,000 people in that state. Darker colors represent more deaths.

No surprises here for me. Growing up downwind from 2 of the 3 largest factory complexes in my hometown – one of which even generated electricity from its own powerhouse – we would wake in the morning, throw open the windows, scrape the soot from the windowsill and close the windows back up till the following morning.

Fortunately, we moved upwind from the whole city by the time I was 12.

Ten dirtiest power companies in the USA


Duke Energy

Coal-fired power plants are the single biggest driver of global climate change in the United States. That’s why President Barack Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency is moving quickly to put the finishing touches on a new set of regulations, called the Clean Power Plan, that aim to reduce the nation’s overall carbon footprint 30 percent by 2030 by cracking down on emissions from the energy sector.

Unsurprisingly, many power companies — particularly those that rely on coal as their main source of fuel — are crying foul. Recently, one major coal company and a dozen coal-reliant states tried to block the new rules in federal court. (The court decided last month not to hear the challenge, since the rules haven’t yet been finalized.) And this week, executives from two of the country’s biggest power companies met with White House officials in an attempt to persuade them that the crackdown would be “too much too soon.”

As it turns out, those same two companies — Duke Energy and American Electric Power — emit more carbon pollution than any other power producers in the country. That’s according to a new report released from a coalition of environmental groups and power companies, which draws on public data from the EPA and the Energy Information Administration to reveal the carbon footprints of the 100 biggest power producers in the nation…

There’s some good news in the data, as well. In the last few years, nationwide coal use has dropped precipitously. That’s mostly a product of market forces, rather than environmental regulation: Natural gas, made cheaper by the fracking boom, has displaced coal in power plants across the country. At the same time, renewable energy sources have boomed.

This will continue as long as ordinary citizens keep up the pressure on the Congressional clown show. Rightwing creeps – like New Mexico’s own Steve Pearce – continue to do their worst in conjunction with the remaining Blue Dog Democrats who were’t knocked off their rusty-dustys in the last couple of congressional elections.

But, sufficient pressure on everyone from the occupant of the White House to individual bureaucrats in DC – to your friendly neighborhood politicians in whichever state legislature you’re saddled with – all helps. Let them know we’re all watching. We all remember who deserves to lose their precious job.

RTFA – and check the charts to see if your own electricity giant made the lists.

Rising anthropogenic nitrate levels in North Pacific Ocean

Human-induced changes to Earth’s carbon cycle — for example, rising atmospheric carbon dioxide and ocean acidification — have been observed for decades. However, a study published this week in Science showed human activities, in particular industrial and agricultural processes, have also had significant impacts on the upper ocean nitrogen cycle.

The rate of deposition of reactive nitrogen (i.e., nitrogen oxides from fossil fuel burning and ammonia compounds from fertilizer use) from the atmosphere to the open ocean has more than doubled globally over the last 100 years. This anthropogenic addition of nitrogen has reached a magnitude comparable to about half of global ocean nitrogen fixation (the natural process by which atmospheric nitrogen gas becomes a useful nutrient for organisms). David Karl…teamed up with researchers from Korea, Switzerland and…NOAA…to assess changes in nitrate concentration between the 1960s and 2000s across the open North Pacific Ocean.

Their analysis, which could discern human-derived nitrogen from natural nitrogen fixation, revealed that the oceanic nitrate concentration increased significantly over the last 30 years in surface waters of the North Pacific due largely to the enhanced deposition of nitrogen from the atmosphere.

“This is a sobering result, one that I would not have predicted,” said Karl. “The North Pacific is so vast it is hard to imagine that humans could impact the natural nitrogen cycle.”

…Their assessment revealed a consistent picture of increasing nitrate concentrations, the magnitude and pattern of which can only be explained by the observed increase in atmospheric nitrogen deposition.

Enhanced nitrogen deposition has several potential ecological ramifications. Because biological activity is limited by nitrate availability in the North Pacific Ocean, the input of new nitrogen from the atmosphere may increase photosysnthesis in the sunlit layers and export of carbon-rich organic material out of the surface ocean into the deep.

“The burgeoning human population needs energy and food — unfortunately, nitrogen pollution is an unintended consequence and not even the open ocean is immune from our daily industrial activities,” said Karl.

Given the likelihood that the magnitude of atmospheric nitrogen deposition will continue to increase in the future, the North Pacific Ocean could rapidly switch to having surplus nitrate. Thus, past and future increases in atmospheric nitrogen deposition have the potential to alter the base of the marine food web; and, in the long term, the structure of the ecosystem.

…If similar trends are confirmed in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, it would constitute another example of a global-scale alteration of Earth system. Further, the findings of this study of the North Pacific highlight the need for greater controls on the emission of nitrogen compounds during combustion and agricultural processes.

The short answer is – if we don’t succeed in wresting control of the politics and power of our nation from the Know-Nothings – we’re screwed. We will be no different from fishes swimming in a steadily heated cauldron until they are killed and cooked. And the Koch Bros, the John Boehners and Rand Pauls of our political world ain’t even dropping in some onions and garlic to make our end a savory one.

Solar and wind energy start to win on price


Click to enlarge — US Army base solar farm in White Sands, New Mexico

For the solar and wind industries in the United States, it has been a long-held dream: to produce energy at a cost equal to conventional sources like coal and natural gas.

That day appears to be dawning.

The cost of providing electricity from wind and solar power plants has plummeted over the last five years, so much so that in some markets renewable generation is now cheaper than coal or natural gas.

Utility executives say the trend has accelerated this year, with several companies signing contracts, known as power purchase agreements, for solar or wind at prices below that of natural gas, especially in the Great Plains and Southwest, where wind and sunlight are abundant.

Those prices were made possible by generous subsidies that could soon diminish or expire, but recent analyses show that even without those subsidies, alternative energies can often compete with traditional sources…

And there have never been conventional power plant build-outs that got off the ground without state or federal assistance of some kind.

…In Oklahoma, American Electric Power ended up tripling the amount of wind power it had originally sought after seeing how low the bids came in last year.

“Wind was on sale — it was a Blue Light Special,” said Jay Godfrey, managing director of renewable energy for the company. He noted that Oklahoma, unlike many states, did not require utilities to buy power from renewable sources.

“We were doing it because it made sense for our ratepayers,” he said.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the main trade group, the price of electricity sold to utilities under long-term contracts from large-scale solar projects has fallen by more than 70 percent since 2008, especially in the Southwest.,,

The price drop extends to homeowners and small businesses as well; last year, the prices for residential and commercial projects fell by roughly 12 to 15 percent from the year before.

The wind industry largely tells the same story, with prices dropping by more than half in recent years. Emily Williams, manager of industry data and analytics at the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group, said that in 2013 utilities signed “a record number of power purchase agreements and what ended up being historically low prices…”

“We’re finding that in certain regions with certain wind projects that these are competing or coming in below the cost of even existing generation sources,” she said.

…Solar executives are looking to extend a 30 percent federal tax credit that is set to fall to 10 percent at the end of 2016. Wind professionals are seeking renewal of a production tax credit that Congress has allowed to lapse and then reinstated several times over the last few decades…

Where that effort will go now is anybody’s guess, though, with Republicans in control of both houses starting in January.

Mail me a penny postcard when you find some Congressional Republicans interested in saving money, aiding the environment, contributing to sound ecological principles that make a better life for workingclass folks.

RTFA for details. There are answers for a few of the non-political questions.

China’s Xinjiang bursting with an excess of green energy


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Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, a major power supplier in China, has accelerated the development of green energy as it recorded higher installed capacity in 2013.

Statistics with the Xinjiang branch of the State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC) showed that by 2013, the combined installed capacity of wind power, hydropower and solar power stations exceeded 1,368 million KW, accounting for about one third of all installed capacity in Xinjiang….

A project to connect the Xinjiang power grid to the northwest China grid was launched in 2010 to transmit Xinjiang’s redundant electric power to other parts of the country. The money made from this is used for developing Xinjiang.

The SGCC Xinjiang branch has put an average annual investment of 500 million yuan towards green energy projects.

Total installed capacity is expected to reach 6,048 million KW by the end of 2014, and that of green power will exceed 2,200 million KW.

While this wee post may seem a bit foreign to many of my readers you have to understand I live in a part of the United States with many parallels to Xinjiang.

Aside from some historic political differences, the natural landscape is often similar. As is the potential. It’s been 20 or 30 years since the New Mexico state engineer’s office determined we had sufficient resources to be a net exporter of wind-generated electricity. We are equally capable of filling state needs and then exporting solar-generated electricity.

The technology for each of these alternatives has improved and become more cost effective over the decades – while the state, local power utilities and the federal government have accomplished little more than a sampling of what might be if they were as serious about non-polluting power generation as they all are about the crap coal mined and burned in the Four Corners.

Milestone: Nuclear plant closing because of low natgas prices

Dominion Resources plans to shut its Kewaunee plant in Wisconsin next year, the first U.S. nuclear plant to fall victim to the steep drop in power prices as rising natural gas production makes some plants uncompetitive.

After claiming hundreds of coal-fired plants, the boom in U.S. shale gas output is now starting to grind down the nuclear industry, with smaller older plants like the 566-megawatt Kewaunee plant first to be affected.

The surge in U.S. shale gas has upended the domestic power market, and this year combined with flagging demand due to the struggling economy to send prices to near 10-year lows. For the nuclear industry, it means the Dominion plant…will be the first U.S. reactor to shut since the late 1990s.

The closing, which did not catch many in the industry by surprise, highlights the struggle of the U.S. “nuclear renaissance…”

Natural gas’ share of total U.S. generation has increased to 30 percent this year from about 20 percent in 2006, while the percentage from nuclear has held steady at about 20 percent.

Power prices in the PJM grid, the nation’s biggest power grid, for the first nine months of 2012 were down almost 30 percent from the same period last year and the lowest since 2002.

While nuclear plants can still produce power more cheaply than natural gas, analysts say future capital investments, which could run into the hundreds of millions or more at existing reactors, might prompt operators to shut some units.

“A number of nuclear units won’t run their 60-year licensed lives if current gas price forecasts prove accurate,” said Peter Bradford, a former member of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission…

“The determining factor is likely to come at the point at which they need to decide on a major capital investment.”

Anyone who measures the construction cost of a modern nuclear power plant – built in the United States – in millions of dollars instead of billions, is smoking the seeds. Medical marijuana or otherwise.

Escalating costs – for all the reasons that come easily to mind – are the essential factor that turned my support for nuclear power generation in directions like solar power generation. A process which is gradually diminishing in cost.

That natural gas is booming in availability and prices continue to drop or stabilize at historically low levels – is a great reason to hasten conversion of existing coal-fired plants to NatGas and to concentrate on NatGas-based new construction.

CO2 levels from generating electricity fall to lowest in 20 years

Carbon dioxide emissions from energy use in the first quarter of this year fell to their lowest level in the U.S. in 20 years, as demand shifted to natural gas-fired generation from coal-fired electricity due to record low gas prices, the energy department said.

Energy-related carbon emissions fell 8 percent from the same period a year ago to 1.134 billion metric tons according to the latest monthly energy review by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) – the energy department’s statistics arm.

In the U.S., the first quarter usually represents the time of year when greenhouse gas emissions are at their highest because of strong demand for fossil-fuel generated power for home heating…

Emissions from coal use fell sharply by 18 percent to 387 million tonnes in the January-March 2012 period – the lowest-first quarter tally since 1983 and the lowest for any quarter since April-June 1986.

The contribution of coal in U.S. energy use is likely to continue its demise, with plant owners and operators reporting to the EIA last month that they plan to retire 27 gigawatts of capacity, or 8.5 percent, at 175 coal-fired facilities between 2012 and 2016.

Looming federal carbon and mercury regulations being developed by the Environmental Protection Agency are also likely to force the retirement of more coal plants.

Couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of greedy, polluting, extractive-industry, corporate barons.

As Robert Muller noted in his OP-Ed piece in the NY TIMES over the weekend, one of the simplest critical steps to take in reducing our political lemming march to the abyss of climate change – is to convert power generation from coal to natural gas. Up front, it reduces CO2 two-thirds from power plants.

World’s largest tidal turbine project will be in Sound of Islay

ScottishPower Renewables’ £40 million tidal array will harness the power of the Sound of Islay and generate enough electricity for more than 5,000 homes, more than double the number of homes on Islay.

The 10 megawatt facility will further develop emerging tidal energy technology, and provide economic and community benefits to Islay and Jura.

The Scottish Government said it will cement Scotland’s position as a global leader in marine energy.

Cabinet Secretary…John Swinney…’With around a quarter of Europe’s potential tidal energy resource and a tenth of the wave capacity, Scotland’s seas have unrivalled potential to generate green energy, create new, low carbon jobs, and bring billions of pounds of investment to Scotland.

”This development – the largest tidal array in the world – does just that and will be a milestone in the global development of tidal energy…”

”I am pleased that ScottishPower Renewables will work with the Islay Energy Trust to maximise social and economic opportunities, for instance using local marine contractors during installation or creating new local jobs in the onshore construction phase.

”And the wider Scottish supply chain is set to benefit, with Scottish businesses set to benefit from four million pounds worth of contracts in making the turbines to be used in the development, including manufacture of a test prototype at BiFab in Arnish.

There are any number of satisfactory locations along the United States coastline for similar installations. The problems to overcome aren’t technical but political.

The NIMBY cult is particularly strong in America. “Not-in-my-backyard” is accepted as holy writ by most state and local politicians. The Eleventh Commandment is “Thou shalt not string powerlines over our sainted coastline nor above valuable land dedicated to overpriced subdivisions.

Recession or not – tidal power continues to progress

cleancurrent

Ocean power has suffered some setbacks recently, such as Pelamis’ bellyflop in Portugal and the UK’s WaveHub losing a developer, but the industry isn’t slowing down — in fact, it’s been a busy month for tidal technology. While there are only a small number of wave or tidal power projects in oceans and rivers right now, and large-scale projects remain a few years away, the race is on for companies hoping to get a first-mover’s advantage.

Alstom jumped into the tidal game this week when it teamed up with Clean Current Power Systems, and Verdant Power said earlier this month that it has moved closer to expanding its New York project. And developers of the Bay of Fundy site in Canada, which will include a turbine from Clean Current, are busy setting the stage for the first turbine to go in the water this fall.

Vancouver, British Columbia-based Clean Current now has a big-name partner in its corner, which could give it a leg up over the competition. France’s Alstom, a major railroad and power infrastructure company is getting an exclusive worldwide license to Clean Current’s technology for ocean power applications, and plans to commercialize its first tidal power products by 2012. Financial terms weren’t disclosed, but Alstom is not taking an equity stake in Clean Current as part of the deal…

Ocean power is likely to face some more bumps on the road to commercialization — the more projects that are in the water, the more chances there will be for kinks to show up in the technology — but if this pace continues, there could be plenty of momentum to keep things going forward.

Overdue. Like so many alternatives within the fossil fuel-based economy, engineers and scientists have had these ideas for decades – and no financial backers. Not that various governments encouraged the work either. They stayed comfortably in the pockets of the old economy.

Glad to see tidal projects getting a boost. Anyone like me who grew up in a coastal environment – especially if you fished for sustenance – knows firsthand the power of tides. Transforming motion and mass into energy ain’t exactly rocket science. But, rocket scientists always had the budget.

25 years after – Hatfield has the last laugh on Margaret Thatcher

The morning shift comes up into the daylight… Mick Barnes and his mates, once again, are doing what they do best.

The miners are back. The tough, proud men of coal. A quarter of a century after the bitter strike that nearly finished it off, their industry is ready to stage a remarkable revival.

“None of us would ever have predicted this,” says Mick, 47, after he’s scrubbed away the dust and grime from eight hours underground.

Did the miners lose the strike? Yes, we did, to be honest. We took on Margaret Thatcher and the might of the Tory Government, and we lost. But look what’s happening now. In the end, we’re the ones having the last laugh, Maggie.”

Under plans announced by the Government this month, an updated Hatfield Main will provide the fuel for a new breed of carbon-friendly power stations – linked directly to one that will be built next door by 2014, at a cost of £1 billion.

Jobs should be assured for decades. The seam they are mining now could last for at least 50 years. Suddenly, Mick and the rest can glimpse the flicker of a bright future.

A delightful tale. A piece of writing [forgive me] I wouldn’t have expected inside the Mirror. And I like the Mirror.

RTFA. Reflect upon people ready and willing to re-examine what life and industry may now have to offer. They never gave up.