Packed House at EPA’s Atlanta Hearing on Carbon Rules

 Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency began two days of public hearings in Atlanta to gather public input on its proposed Clean Power Plan.  Originally planned as a one-day hearing, EPA added an additional day to accommodate the overwhelming amount of requests from people wanting to weigh in on the first ever proposed carbon pollution limits for existing power plants.  SACE staff and board members were in Atlanta to lend our support for the Clean Power Plan and offer suggestions on how to make the rule more effective in reducing carbon pollution and bolstering a clean energy economy in the Southeast. Read more…

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The Heat is On: SACE and other advocates to support carbon limits at EPA’s hearings next week

Next week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will begin holding public hearings to collect comments on their proposed rule, the Clean Power Plan, which calls for reductions in carbon pollution from the power sector by 30 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2030, as well as reductions in soot and smog-forming pollutants.  The rule has been proposed with maximum flexibility to enable each state to craft its own plan to meet a state-specific reduction target. We’ve written extensively on the Clean Power plan on our website and in recent blogs.

Staff and board members for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy will be in Atlanta next Tuesday to lend our support for this proposal and offer comments on strengthening the standard because, for decades, dirty power plants have been allowed to dump unlimited amounts of carbon into our air. Power plants are the largest sources of carbon pollution, and the Southeast disproportionately contributes to national carbon pollution levels due to its abundance of coal-fired power plants.  The Southeast is home to almost 270 coal units that collectively emit over 366 million tons of carbon dioxide into the air annually. Read more…

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Florida Utilities’ Energy Efficiency Goals are Weak

Update: Click here to listen to an in-depth interview with SACE’s Florida Director, Susan Glickman, about how Florida’s giant private utility companies are pushing to cut back on their energy conservation programs this week at the Florida Public Service Commission hearings.

Today is day three of the energy efficiency goal-setting proceeding in Florida. If you have not already seen our press release about the hearing, or one of the many articles published in the news, I can summarize it for you in a single sentence: SACE is advocating for increased energy efficiency as the electric utilities in Florida are proposing to eliminate energy efficiency goals and all of the benefits they generate for customers in Florida.

Yesterday, I testified on behalf of SACE regarding why the energy efficiency goals should be increased. As I outlined in my testimony, Florida’s largest utilities proposed goals that, if approved, would dramatically roll back energy efficiency efforts in Florida by 87-99% at precisely the time when we should be ramping them up.  Secondly, the basis for the utilities’ proposed goals is flawed on numerous grounds. Finally, SACE’s proposed goals represent an achievable level of efficiency that is in alignment with the savings reported in many states across the country, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) proposed targets in the Clean Power Plan, and the NAACP’s 2014 “Just Energy Policies” report for Florida.

The utilities’ proposed goals effectively eliminate efficiency offerings to Florida customers, including for lower income customers who have the greatest need for access to the cheapest energy resource we have – energy efficiency. The utilities claim that they are hindered from capturing more efficiency due to their implementation of energy efficiency for over 30 years, increases in energy efficiency building codes and appliance standards, and low natural gas prices. Read more…

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Southeast Summer Coal Ash Roundup

Would you let your kids play here? At a glance, there's no way to know of the massive, unlined coal ash pits lurking near a soccer field and polluting a popular fishing lake at the Sutton Power Station near Wilmington, NC.

Since the Dan River disaster hit almost 6 months ago, North Carolina has been front and center in coal ash news. So much so that it might seem that NC is the only Southeastern state with coal ash troubles. Unfortunately, North Carolina’s dangerous coal ash sites are not unique in the region, which is home to at least 450 ash dumps. The sad fact is that most major rivers in the Southeast have coal ash along their banks, and states are failing to protect public health, the environment and our drinking water supplies from this toxic threat. Even when coal ash impoundments don’t fail and cause a massive spill, they can silently seep toxics into groundwater, rivers, lakes and streams.

Here’s our roundup of current coal ash threats throughout the region. Read on to find out if there’s a coal ash site threatening your back yard or your favorite summer getaway, and if there is, make sure to speak out before the next coal ash spill happens in your community or watershed. You can also check out our state pages on www.SoutheastCoalAsh.org to learn more. 

Read more…

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Breakfast of Efficiency Champions: A Panel Discussion on Energy Efficiency in the Southeast and the Impact of the Clean Power Plan

On a near-perfect day for a summertime conference in Atlanta, with cooler-than-usual temperatures and not a drop of rain, I had the pleasure of attending the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance‘s (SEEA’s) recent quarterly breakfast meeting. The July 16 event featured a panel discussion covering topics ranging from state building-code adoption and compliance, to the politics surrounding the Environmental Protection Agency‘s (EPA’s) draft Clean Power Plan.

Energy efficiency is increasingly a big business in the Southeast, and the numbers speak for themselves. A report published by Southface, and co-authored by breakfast attendee Shan Arora, indicates that the energy efficiency and building sciences sector employed 4,112 Georgians full-time in 2013 and generated $1.3 billion in revenue in 2012. Our host state is not alone, as new energy efficiency programs are taking root and expanding all across the Southeast. Read more…

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Gina McCarthy, the Power Plant Carbon Standards, and Reducing the Risks of Power Outages

This is a guest post by John Rogers, senior energy analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and co-manager of the Energy and Water in a Warming World Initiative (EW3) that looks at water demands of energy production in the context of climate change. SACE is an active partner with UCS on this critical work. This blog was originally posted on June 5, 2014 via the UCS blog, “The Equation.”

The EPA’s new power plant carbon standards are a potential climate game changer for a whole lot of reasons, given how much fossil-fueled power plants contribute to global warming. And in her speech unveiling the proposed standards on Monday, in talking about what global warming means for the power sector, rather than the other way around, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy nailed it.

How climate change puts our electricity at risk

Administrator McCarthy’s speech was chock full of compelling points about the science of climate change, current and future impacts, and solutions.

Fort Calhoun nuclear plant in Nebraska, with too much Missouri River (Credit: Wikimedia/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

About three-quarters of the way through, she turned her attention to the reliability implications of our evolving fleet of coal, nuclear, natural gas, and renewable energy plants (emphasis added):

The critics are wrong about reliability, too. For decades, power plants have met pollution limits without risking reliability. If anything, what threatens reliability and causes blackouts is devastating extreme weather fueled by climate change. I’m tired of people pointing to the Polar Vortex as a reason not to act on climate. It’s exactly the opposite. Climate change heightens risks from extreme cold that freezes power grids, superstorms that drown power plants, and heat waves that stress power supplies.

Wildfires and power lines: not a great combination (Credit: Flickr/Colin Shackelford)

How climate change increases power sector risks was the exact subject of a recent UCS report. Power Failure: How climate change puts our electricity at risk—and what we can do looks at the ways our electricity system is vulnerable to extreme weather and how climate change is making some types of weather more common. It covers climate impacts including sea level rise, wildfires, drought, and heat waves, and what they all mean for power plants, power lines, and more. Read more…

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Taxpayers in the dark and at risk from Vogtle nuclear loan guarantees

SACE’s High Risk Energy Choices program director, Sara Barczak, contributed to this blog post from Whitney Rappole, 2014 graduate of Emory Law School and former Turner Environmental Law Clinic student.

Former Turner Environmental Law Clinic intern, Whitney Rappole

As a student attorney at the Turner Environmental Law Clinic at Emory University School of Law, I was given the opportunity to join the Clinic in representing the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE). Together the Clinic and SACE have been working to uncover the truth about the $8.33 billion worth of federal loan guarantees offered by the Department of Energy (DOE) to Southern Company and its partners. Since February of 2010, when the DOE conditionally offered these loan guarantees, we’ve questioned what may be going on behind the scenes.

The $8.33 billion was to support construction of two new nuclear reactors in Georgia at Plant Vogtle. Specifically, $3.46 billion for Georgia Power Company (subsidiary of the Southern Company), $3.06 billion for Oglethorpe Power Corporation, and $1.81 billion for the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG).

The battle to find out more information about these loan guarantees, especially the risks posed to taxpayers, was first pursued by SACE back in March of 2010, through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Unfortunately that was only the first of ten FOIA requests submitted over several years to the DOE, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Department of Treasury, which would all be met with resistance or ignored.

While SACE, a member of the public, was kept in the dark, DOE continued to negotiate with the Southern Company behind the scenes, but struggled for years to reach an agreement on what the credit subsidy costs associated with the loan guarantees should be. The credit subsidy cost is a fee paid by the entity receiving a loan guarantee in order to cover the estimated cost to the Government of supplying the guarantee. It is based on an estimate of the amount of money that would be needed by the Government to cover any “defaults and delinquencies, interest subsidies, and other requirements,” as well as “origination and other fees, penalties, and recoveries.” If the credit subsidy fee paid by the entity isn’t enough to cover the costs of default, taxpayers shoulder the risk. Essentially, the Government will take from taxpayers the money it needs to make up what it lost as a result of the default. Read more…

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Climate Knoxville Brings People Together to Support Climate Action

This post was written by SACE Communications Intern, Taylor Lyon, and SACE Communications Coordinator, Jeannie McKinney.

On July 12, a coalition of environmental, social justice and faith-based groups gathered at the Climate Knoxville Action event in Market Square to show strong support for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate climate change impacts. These groups also joined together to advocate for Knoxville’s Smarter Cities Partnership — an initiative to improve the city’s sustainability through cost-effective energy efficiency efforts, including a program to weatherize inner-city homes and reduce the burden of high utility bills on low-income residents. Over 100 people came out to learn more about these efforts and to show their support for a cleaner, greener Knoxville. Read more…

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Coal Ash Stories Come to Washington

This guest post is written by Jared Saylor, Earthjustice Campaign director, and was originally published on Earthjustice’s blog on July 8, 2014. You can access the original post here

The aftermath of the devastating Kingston coal ash spill of 2008.

On July 8th, it was standing room only in a stately meeting room in the U.S. Capitol building as Senate staffers and a group of citizens gathered for a briefing about the hazards of toxic coal ash waste. Earthjustice and the Sierra Club organized the briefing in an effort to educate elected officials and their staff on the importance of keeping off the Senate floor any legislation that would prevent the EPA from regulating this toxic waste.

We’ve been here before. No fewer than six times over the last four years have House and Senate members tried to subvert EPA regulations on coal ash. Time and again, they’ve introduced standalone legislation or added riders to unrelated bills that would prevent the EPA from ever regulating coal ash. In 2010 the agency proposed the first-ever rules that would protect communities near these sites; they have languished since. It took a lawsuit brought by Earthjustice on behalf of 10 local and national public health and environmental groups and one Native American tribe to force the EPA to set a deadline of Dec. 19 to finalize these rules. Today’s briefing was an opportunity to let the Senate know that they should not allow any effort to stop this important public health move.

Read more…

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Southeastern U.S. Jealous of Brazil’s Solar-Powered Sports

Mineirão Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil

This post was written by SACE Communications Intern, Taylor Lyon.

Watching the 2014 World Cup makes us wonder: Would solar sports arenas work here too?

On June 14th, the first ever World Cup match powered by solar energy was played. The 2014 World Cup is more than an exhibition of premier soccer; it’s an exhibition of premier solar energy, too. The world is being shown a blueprint of how to invest in low or zero-emission technologies. Accordingly, the United States, with our substantial sports culture, should be enthusiastic to jump on board with this innovative idea. Our Southeast region in particular has yet to take advantage of solar-powered sports, and should take a close look  and evaluate the benefits installing solar on our stadiums. Read more…

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