Goodbye Coal, Hello Renewables, Thanks to Advocates' Work Retiring Dirty Plant + Google's New Data Center
Google announced this week that it will be opening its newest data center—which will be 100 percent powered by renewable energy—at the site of a soon-to-be retired Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) coal plant in Alabama that is being phased out thanks to the advocacy of Sierra Club and many others. It's one of the most powerful, inspiring examples yet of the energy transformation that we're driving all across this nation, and if done right, it could also provide an economic boost for Widows Creek workers and the local community.
"It's exciting to see Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) working with the state and regional economic agencies to repurpose this old, polluting coal plant in a way that will jumpstart green industry growth, renewable power and job creation in Alabama," said Jonathan Levenshus, a senior Beyond Coal campaign representative in the region.
This is especially timely, as news is just breaking today that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Alabama Power have reached an agreement to phase out coal at several units and crack down on air pollution from the remaining units.
Sierra Club activists and allies were instrumental in securing retirement of the Widows Creek coal plant, pointing to its serious air, water, and climate pollution and urging the TVA to retire and it create a responsible transition program for its workers. After a decade of advocacy and litigation, the Sierra Club and others reached an agreement with TVA in 2011 that was one of the most sweeping clean air victories in Southeastern history. It required retirement of 18 TVA coal units, including phasing out Widows Creek units 1 - 6 between 2013 and 2015 (most coal plants contain multiple units, or boilers). Then, as part of TVA's energy planning process, we pushed hard for retirement of all the remaining units at Widows Creek, which TVA's board voted to do at a meeting this May.
The Sierra Club had started a conversation with TVA's board chair and the regional economic development agency in Jackson County earlier this year about a responsible transition. Now that this news has broken, it's important that Google and TVA ensure this transition provides good, union jobs to workers from Widows Creek and the local community, to ensure the economic benefits of this project go to those who most need them. That includes the many jobs this project promises to create in construction, renewable energy development, and energy efficiency projects.
The project provides a welcome example of redevelopment with clean energy. As a Google official noted:
"The idea of repurposing a former coal generating site and powering our new facility with renewable energy—especially reliable, affordable energy that we can count on 24/7 with the existing infrastructure in place—was attractive," said Gary Demasi, Director of Data Center Energy and Location Strategy for Google.
Google officials added that they will continue to work with the TVA to develop more clean energy as well. "Thanks to an arrangement with Tennessee Valley Authority, our electric utility, we'll be able to scout new renewable energy projects and work with TVA to bring the power onto their electrical grid," said Patrick Gammons, Google's Senior Manager for Data Center Energy and Location Strategy. "Ultimately, this contributes to our goal of being powered by 100 percent renewable energy."
Levenshus said TVA has a great track record of helping its employees when coal plants retire, and this decision is no different. "It's gratifying that TVA has chosen to work with Google to redevelop the site and bring new construction, renewable energy and high-tech jobs to this rural community, which has relied on the coal plant for the last 60 years. Building this new data center in Jackson County will strengthen the regional economy and will help move Alabama forward."
He added that this decision offers a model to other utilities nationwide when exploring how to redevelop coal plant sites. And Google's clean energy leadership continues to be an inspiration.
"Google's commitment to clean energy is good for the environment, business, and our economy," said Levenshus. "It demonstrates that using renewable power is not merely a goal for big tech companies, but an expectation going forward."
I look forward to seeing more economic and clean energy redevelopment at former coal sites across the U.S.—it's an excellent way to truly move beyond coal to clean energy, bring good jobs to communities, and ensure America remains an innovation leader in the twenty-first century.
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A stretch of coastline in the Philippine capital, Manila has received backlash from environmentalists. The heavily polluted Manila Bay area, which had been slated for cleanup, has become the site of a controversial 500-meter (1,600-foot) stretch of white sand beach.
Sand Makeup Crucial for Ecosystems<p>While UNEP/GRID-Geneva generally supports finding <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/not-enough-sand-for-construction-industry-despite-abundance/a-49342942" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">alternative sources of sand</a> so as not to disrupt ecosystems in rivers and oceans when extracting them, Vander Velpen stressed it was vital to use sand which closely matches the makeup of the native sand to protect beach fauna.</p><p>"If you change the core characteristics of the native sand, the original sand, you need to do an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to find out how it's going to impact the ecosystem and nearby ecosystems," he told DW.</p><p>But according to Torres, such an assessment was not done in Manila.</p>
Beautification Stunt Instead of Proper Cleanup?<p>Manila Bay's waters are heavily polluted by oil and trash from nearby residential areas and ports. A huge "No swimming" sign warns visitors to stay away from the ocean.</p><p>Philippines' <a href="https://denr.gov.ph/index.php/priority-programs/manila-bay-clean-up/25-priority-programs/1825-frequently-ask-questions-faqs-on-the-dolomite-and-the-beach-nourishment-project" target="_blank">Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)</a> has denied dolomite sand poses any risk to human health and the ecosystem.</p><p>However, scientists of the University of the Philippines have come forward disputing the DENR's claims. A <a href="https://biology.science.upd.edu.ph/index.php/ib-statement-regarding-dolomite-in-manila-bay/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">statement by the Institute of Biology</a> said that using crushed dolomite did not address any of the rehabilitation phases and instead was "even more detrimental to the existing biodiversity as well as the communities in the area," pointing to the case of water birds. "The dumping of dolomite in Manila Bay has effectively covered part of the intertidal area used by the birds thereby reducing their habitat."</p><p>At peak migration season, Manila Bay is home to 90 aquatic bird species, including species of international conservation concern that are facing a very high extinction risk in the wild. </p><p>Authorities should focus on protecting and conserving biodiversity, the Institute of Biology added. "Rehabilitating mangroves is an example of a nature-based solution that is cheaper and more cost-effective than the dolomite dumping project," the scientists said.</p><p>Moreover, <a href="http://www.msi.upd.edu.ph/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the Marine Science Institute</a> has warned that prolonged inhalation of finer dust particles of dolomite could "cause chronic health effects," leading to discomfort in the chest, shortness of breath and coughing.</p><p>They also warned dolomite sand grains would erode during storms and be carried out to sea, essentially being washed away.</p>
Rehabilitation vs. Reclamation<p>Environmentalists say covering up the beach doesn't address the real issues of the bay. Torres and others believe the best way to clean up Manila Bay is not to add anything, but rather remove trash and pollution.</p><p>"There have been studies saying much of the waste comes from already collected waste — so these are open dump sites along the coast that get washed up because of the rain," Torres said.</p><p>She criticized the authorities for continuing to push reclamation projects she says are at odds with each other. These projects will affect large areas of mangrove forests, she said, and experts warn that this, in turn, exacerbates coastal erosion.</p><p>"If you've removed the areas that helped trap the sand, like mangrove forests, then the likelihood increases that you will have to nourish a beach. Same as building right up to the waterfront," said Vander Velpen of UNEP/GRID-Geneva.</p>
Plenty of Sand in the Sea?<p>The question of Manila's contentious white beach echoes larger questions about sand mining worldwide. <a href="https://unepgrid.ch/storage/app/media/documents/Sand_and_sustainability_UNEP_2019.pdf" target="_blank">Global sand consumption has tripled</a> over the past two decades, UNEP/GRID-Geneva has found. A huge chunk of it is now taken up by construction.</p><p>"Many operate on the assumption that natural sand is endless in its supply," said Vander Velpen.</p><p>Sand scarcity is a concern shared by Stefan Schimmels of <a href="https://www.fzk.uni-hannover.de/fzk_start.html?&L=1" target="_blank">Forschungszentrum Küste</a> who's done extensive research on shore nourishment to stop coastal erosion. And as climate change and rising sea levels are threatening coasts, demand for sand will grow even more.</p><p>A large study, the <a href="http://www.stencil-project.de/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/STENCIL_SWOT_Analyse_191026.pdf" target="_blank">Strategies and Tools for Environment-Friendly Shore Nourishments as Climate Change Impact Low-Regret Measures (STENCIL project)</a>, focused on the German island of Sylt, a popular vacation spot.</p><p>About 1 million cubic meter of sand per year is used to maintain the coastal area of Sylt, STENCIL project head Schimmels said. That's about 100 million 10-liter buckets of sand.</p><p>When sand was extracted off the coast of Sylt, underwater craters were formed. "You can still detect these craters even decades later," Schimmels told DW.</p><p>"Also when you add a couple of meters sand onto the beach — you essentially bury all things that do creep and fly," he said. "How quickly will they recover?" Schimmels said more research was needed as there was still too little known about long-term effects on the environment. </p>
Criticism Piling Up<p>As for Manila's artificial white sand, it looks like some might have already been blown away by a recent storm. DENR claims it wasn't washed away, but said that grayish sand, stones and other material had simply piled up over the dolomite sand. People in Manila have tweeted photos showing how the storm has ravaged the beach. </p>
<div id="adc0b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="98f9390db6bb81cb421aaf0bb9d9a6fb"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318816633280851969" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Exactly one month after giving excited netizen a glimpse of Manila Bay white sands, look what happened now after ju… https://t.co/X0Z9i0bPB0</div> — M*A*S*H (@M*A*S*H)<a href="https://twitter.com/Magtira_Matibay/statuses/1318816633280851969">1603265362.0</a></blockquote></div><p>Authorities have been called tone-deaf for spending around 389 million pesos ($8 million) on a beach nourishment project in the middle of a raging pandemic.</p><p>An image of cake iced with the words "It really hurts - that's [worth] 389 million pesos?" has since gone viral.</p>
<div class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4387aad52ea316e4db7330052318ca2f"><div class="fb-post" data-href="https://www.facebook.com/theweekendpatisserie/posts/144564207350008"></div></div><p>"It's just a waste of precious resources," Torres said. </p><p>The environmental activist now also worries that she might be labeled a terrorist for speaking out under the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/philippine-anti-terrorism-law-triggers-fear-of-massive-rights-abuses/a-53732140" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Philippines' controversial new anti-terrorism law</a>. She says she could be arrested for inciting fear when talking about environmental dangers.</p>
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