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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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A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.
"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."
The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.
My god, White Island volcano in New Zealand erupted today for first time since 2001. My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable. #whiteisland pic.twitter.com/QJwWi12Tvt— Michael Schade (@sch) December 9, 2019
Michael Schade / Twitter
At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.
The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.
Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.
"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."
Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.
Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.
"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.
"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."
The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.
Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.
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