Southern States Need to Divest From Coal and Invest in Renewable Energy
By Angela Garrone
Alabama relies heavily on coal-fired power, with 40 percent of the state’s energy in 2013 coming from coal. Despite many misconceptions, however, most of the coal burned in Alabama came from outside the state and cost a significant amount of money. In 2012, Alabama imported 18.5 million tons of coal from six U.S. states and Colombia, which accounted for 75 percent of the coal burned in Alabama coal plants. Due to this significant amount of imported coal, Alabama ranked eighth nationally for money spent on net coal imports and first in the nation for expenditures on international coal imports. The state’s largest power provider, Alabama Power, sent $710 million out of state to purchase coal and Alabama Power’s parent company, Southern Company, ranks first among all U.S. power providers for coal import dependency.
Energy efficiency is one of the quickest and most affordable ways to cut coal-fired power while boosting the local economy. Yet Alabama’s energy efficiency potential remains largely untapped. The state budgeted just $2.09 per person on ratepayer-funded electricity efficiency programs—101 times less than Alabama utilities spent on imported coal. Thanks to reductions in wind costs and recent advances in low-wind speed technology, several wind projects are underway in Alabama. Alabama Power purchased 404 megawatts (MW) of wind power from Kansas and Oklahoma in 2012. We are hopeful that Alabama Power will continue to increase investments in wind and solar power and decrease its reliance on dirty, coal-fired energy.
Although Tennessee has reduced its reliance on coal, it continued to rely on coal to provide almost half of its energy in 2013. More than 99 percent of the coal burned in Tennessee is imported from eight other states across the country. In 2012, the state spent a net total of $905 million to import 18.4 million tons of coal—making Tennessee the ninth highest state nationally in terms of coal import dependency. The Tennessee Valley Authority, which produces electricity for the vast majority Tennesseans, ranks third among U.S. power providers for coal import dependency, spending nearly $1.4 billion in 2012 on out-of-state coal across its holdings in Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky.
In a recent TVA Board meeting, CEO Bill Johnson laid out an aspirational goal of moving to a more balanced resource portfolio that would include only 20 percent reliance on coal-fired power. Tennessee’s energy efficiency resources are largely untapped—ranking thirty-first nationally for state achieved energy efficiency savings. As TVA continues its 2015 IRP planning process, we are hopeful that TVA will continue to reduce its reliance on coal-fired energy and increase its in-state renewable and energy efficiency resources.
Georgia relied on coal to provide around 39 percent of its energy in 2013. Power producers in Georgia paid nearly $1.7 billion to import 23.4 million tons of coal—primarily from Kentucky and Wyoming. Georgia ranks third highest in the nation for money spent on net coal imports. This high ranking is not surprising considering that Georgia Power, Georgia’s largest power provider, is also a subsidiary of the top-ranking importer, Southern Company.
Georgia is not in the top ranks, however, among states with significant energy efficiency savings—coming in forty-second in the nation with 0.11 percent savings in 2011. Although Georgia has a wealth of renewable energy resources like solar and wind, unfortunately only 2.3 percent of Georgia’s energy was generated by renewable resources in 2012. In its most recent Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), Georgia Power set out a plan to procure 735 MW of solar energy by 2016. We support Georgia Power’s recent commitments to retire coal plants as well as its investments in the clean energy economy; we look forward to the growth of renewable energy across the state.
Florida relied on coal-fired power for around 20 percent of its total energy in 2013. Like many Southern states, Florida has no in-state coal supplies. Although the tonnage of imported coal declined by 35 percent between 2008 and 2012, total coal expenditures only dropped 19 percent. This discrepancy is due to the fact that the average price paid for coal in Florida increased from $70.04 per ton to $88.16 per ton, which are among some of the highest prices in the U.S.
Power producers in Florida paid nearly $1.3 billion to import 14.5 million tons of coal from as far away as Colombia. Florida ranks fifth nationally for money spent on net coal imports and second for expenditures on international imports. Seminole Electric Cooperative sent $282 million out of Florida to purchase coal in 2012, more than any other electricity provider in the state. Four additional Florida utilities—JEA, TECO Energy, Gulf Power and Duke Energy—spent more than $100 million on out-of-state imports in 2012.
Florida’s major utilities are required to implement cost effective efficiency programs, but the annual goals last set in 2009 are not being fully achieved. The Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) is currently working with utilities to set new efficiency goals for 2015 and beyond. It is important that the PSC establish meaningful efficiency goals and ensure utilities develop and carry out strong plans for achieving them. Florida is beginning to develop its solar resources, with more 200 MW already installed, including Florida Power and Light’s 25-MW solar photovoltaic facility in DeSoto County. Still, Florida lags behind other leading solar states and lacks sufficient state-wide policies to catch up.
North Carolina is another state without its own coal supplies, and yet it relied on coal for around 41 percent of its in-state electricity generation in 2013. Power producers paid nearly $1.8 billion to import 18.7 million tons of coal to burn in their coal plants, which ranks North Carolina second in the nation for net coal import expenditures. Duke Energy, North Carolina’s largest utility, sent $1.7 billion out of state to purchase coal in 2012 and ranks second among all U.S. power providers for coal import dependency, spending more than $2.2 billion on out-of-state coal across its holdings in six states. Although the total tonnage of imported coal declined by 36 percent since 2008, total coal expenditures dropped only 25 percent as the average price for coal in North Carolina increased from $79.85 per ton to $93.74 per ton.
In 2011, Duke Energy agreed to adopt an annual efficiency savings target of 1 percent starting in 2015. Savings from energy efficiency measures can also count toward a portion of the state’s renewable energy and efficiency resource standard. North Carolina has a wealth of renewable energy resources like sustainable bioenergy, solar and wind; yet these resources supplied just 2.1 percent of the state’s power in 2012. However, utilities are making progress toward meeting a requirement to produce 12.5 percent of the state’s power needs from renewable energy by 2021.
Not only does coal cost our Southeastern states a lot of money, burning coal for electricity also threatens our health on a daily basis. Most recently, a toxic chemical used to process coal leaked from a tank at a Charleston, WV coal plant into the Elk River—resulting in a water ban in nine counties that affects 300,000 residents and causing the governor to declare a state of emergency. This is just the most recent example of one of the myriad dangers communities are exposed to by reliance on coal-fired power. It is time for Southeastern utilities to divest from coal and invest in a clean energy economy.
Visit EcoWatch’s COAL page for more related news on this topic.
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Human actions have taken a steep toll on whales and dolphins. Some studies estimate that small whale abundance, which includes dolphins, has fallen 87% since 1980 and thousands of whales die from rope entanglement annually. But humans also cause less obvious harm. Researchers have found changes in the stress levels, reproductive health and respiratory health of these animals, but this valuable data is extremely hard to collect.
Researchers work with trained dolphins to learn more about their sensory abilities, seen here testing a dolphin's hearing. Jason Bruck / CC BY-ND
A Lot to Learn From Hormones<p>When sampling the blow, we are looking for hormones in mucus as these can be used to gauge psychological and physiological health. We are specifically interested in <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0114062" target="_blank">hormones like cortisol</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ygcen.2018.04.003" target="_blank">progesterone</a>, which indicate stress levels and reproductive ability respectively, but can also help determine overall health.</p><p>Additionally, blow samples can detect <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1128%2FmSystems.00119-17" target="_blank">respiratory pathogens</a> in the lungs or nasal passages - blowholes evolved from noses after all.</p><p>This health analysis is especially important in areas with oil spills as the chemicals can cause hormonal problems that harm <a href="https://www.carmmha.org/investigating-how-oil-spills-affect-dolphins-and-whales/" target="_blank">development, metabolism and reproduction</a> in dolphins.</p><p>Hormone samples can provide scientists with valuable data, but collecting them from intelligent and unpredictable animals is challenging.</p>
Cetacean Collaborators<p>To build a drone that can stealthily collect spray from moving dolphins, we needed more data on their eyesight and hearing, and this is data that couldn't be collected in the wild nor simulated in a lab.</p><p>We worked with dolphins at facilities like Dolphin Quest in Bermuda, which provides guests opportunities to learn about dolphins while allowing <a href="https://dolphinquest.com/about-us/our-story/" target="_blank">scientists access to animals for noninvasive research</a>. Here the dolphins can swim away if they choose not to work with us, so we had to design the study like a game; the way a kindergarten teacher entertains a class. If the dolphins aren't interested, we don't get to do the science.</p><p>Over the course of hundreds of sessions, we sought to answer two questions: What can dolphins hear and what can they see around their heads?</p><p>To test dolphin hearing, we set up microphones and cameras to record dolphin behavior as we played drone noise in the air. We analyzed the responses to each noise – such as how many dolphins looked at the speaker – and used these as a proxy for their ability to hear the sounds.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5f31daf07a652b8d64a093b993ee4e96"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UjmQeH3vXHI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Robodolphin doesn't look like a real dolphin, but it doesn't need to in order to train our drone pilots. C.J. Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND<p>To build robodolphin, we worked with dolphins trained to "chuff" or sneeze on command to measure spray characteristics. We used high-speed photography to see the dolphins' breath as it moved through the air. Then we conducted high resolution CT scans of a dolphin head and 3D-printed a replica of a nasal passage.</p><p>Now, we have a complete robodolphin and are tweaking its sprays to be nearly identical to the real thing. This will allow us to determine how close we need to get to collect the samples, and therefore, how quiet our drone needs to be.</p>
The replica dolphin blowhole was designed from a scan of a real blowhole passage, and the spray it produces closely matches the real thing. Alvin Ngo, Mitch Ford and CJ Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND
A Bit of Practice, Then Into the Wild<p>In the next few months, we will test flights over robodolphin with existing drones to determine the timing and strategy for collection. From there, we will fabricate a low-noise drone that can fly fast enough and with sufficient maneuverability to capture samples from wild dolphins. Like a video game, we will use the visual field data to develop approach trajectories to stay in the visual blindspots.</p><p>We plan to test our drones on a truck-mounted robodolphin moving down a runway, then using a boat to simulate realistic conditions. The next steps will involve ocean testing with dolphins trained for open ocean swimming. These tests will determine if our devices can catch and hold the hormones as the drone flies back to a researcher's boat.</p><p>Finally, we will deploy the system to collect data on wild dolphins. Our first goal is to test resident dolphins – animals that live on the coasts and deal directly with boat and oil industry noise – which will allow us to learn more about stress resulting from human impacts.</p><p>Those samples are a way off, but if all goes well we will have a specially built drone capable of flying long distances and capturing samples undetected in a few years. The samples collected will allow researchers to do better science with impact on the animals they study.</p>
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Billions worth of valuable metals such as gold, silver and copper were dumped or burned last year as electronic waste produced globally jumped to a record 53.6 million tons (Mt), or 7.3 kilogram per person, a UN report showed on Thursday.
Environmental and Health Hazard<p>Experts say e-waste, which is now the world's fastest-growing domestic waste stream, poses serious environmental and health risks.</p><p>Simply throwing away electronic items without ensuring they get properly recycled leads to the loss of key materials such as iron, copper and gold, which can otherwise be recovered and used as primary raw materials to make new equipment, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions from extraction and refinement of raw materials.</p><p>Refrigerants found in electronic equipment such as fridge and air conditioners also contribute to global warming. A total of 98 Mt of CO2-equivalents, or about 0.3% of global energy-related emissions, were released into the atmosphere in 2019 from discarded refrigerators and ACs that were not recycled properly, the report said.</p><p>E-waste contains several toxic additives or hazardous substances, such as mercury and brominated flame retardants (BFR), and simply burning it or throwing it away could lead to serious health issues. Several studies have linked unregulated recycling of e-waste to adverse birth outcomes like stillbirth and premature birth, damages to the human brain or nervous system and in some cases hearing loss and heart troubles.</p><p>"Informal and improper e-waste recycling is a major emerging hazard silently affecting our health and that of future generations. One in four children are dying from avoidable environmental exposures," said Maria Neira, director of the Environment, Climate Change and Health Department at the World Health Organization. "One in four children could be saved, if we take action to protect their health and ensure a safe environment."</p>
Europe Leads the Way<p>While most of the e-waste was generated in Asia (24.9 Mt) in 2019, Europe led the charts on a per person basis with 16.2 kg per capita, the report said.</p><p>But the continent also recorded the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/the-eu-declares-war-on-e-waste/a-51108790" target="_blank">highest documented formal e-waste collection and recycling</a> rate at 42.5%, still below its target of 65%. Europe was well ahead of the others on this front. Asia ranked second with 11.7%.</p><p>The authors said while more that 70% of the world's population was covered by some form of e-waste policy or laws, not much was being done toward implementation and enforcement of the regulations to encourage the take-up of a collection and recycling infrastructure due to lack of investment and political motivation.</p><p>"You have to think about new economic systems," said Kühr.</p><p>One approach could be that consumers no longer buy the products, but only the service they offer. The device would remain the property of the maker, who would then have an interest in offering his customers the best service and the necessary equipment. The maker would also be interested in designing his products in such a way that they are easier to repair and easier to recycle, Kühr said.</p>
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