Black History Month Energy Champions: Rep. Johnnie Turner Recognizes the Energy and Poverty Nexus

TN State Representative, Johnnie Turner, presenting to constituents in Memphis, TN

In honor of Black History Month, SACE is publishing a blog series highlighting the efforts of African American leaders working to ensure that clean energy opportunities are available for all people and communities in the Southeast. This post is the final in the 2015 series; find previous 2015 posts here.

TN State Representative Johnnie Turner is no stranger to the financial struggles of African-Americans in low-income communities.  Having grown up in a poorer neighborhood, Rep. Turner learned at an early age that saving energy meant saving money that could be used to meet other financial needs for her family.  Now, as a State Representative in Tennessee, Rep. Turner serves a community that continually struggles with poverty and she is determined to help lift these communities out of economic hardship.

Overall, Memphis, Tennessee struggles with poverty and was recently named the 4th poorest city in America.  Rep. Turner’s district, District 85, has a considerable number of lower income African American communities, some of which are located along the border of Tennessee and Mississippi.  Many of her constituents live in old, inefficient homes and lack the capital to make improvements to their homes that would help these families save money on their electricity bills.  Rep. Turner has continually heard from her constituents struggling to pay high utility bills, despite working full time and trying to lift themselves out of poverty. Read more…

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Wind Power Transmission Project Could Create Tens of Thousands of Jobs

Transmission power cable from General Cable

Transmission power cable from General Cable

This blog is part of a series reviewing the proposed Plains and Eastern Clean Line project. Other blogs in the series are available here.

The Plains and Eastern Clean Line project would connect up to 4,000 megawatts of wind power capacity to the southeast. As part of the federal Department of Energy’s Environmental Impact Statement review, the DOE estimates the socioeconomic impacts of the proposed 720-mile high voltage direct current transmission project. Job creation estimates are included in the socioeconomic impacts portions of the EIS. Based on the EIS jobs estimates, lifetime job estimates may conservatively approach tens of thousands of new jobs for the Plains and Eastern Clean Line project and the wind facilities it enables.

Job creation and other impacts associated with the Plains and Eastern Clean Line project are generally broken down into the six separate parts of the project. Based on the EIS, the six parts from west to east would support the following total jobs:

  • Wind Development Zones (Oklahoma/Texas) – Up to 9,910 total temporary jobs, annually for two years (during construction)
  • Alternating Current (AC) Collection System (Oklahoma/Texas) – 1,178 total temporary jobs
  • Oklahoma Converter Station (Oklahoma) – 681 total temporary jobs, plus 54 permanent annual jobs (for the life of the project)
  • HVDC Transmission Line (Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee) – 3,838 total temporary jobs
  • Arkansas Converter Station (Arkansas) - 244 total temporary jobs, plus 37 permanent annual jobs (for the life of the project)
  • Tennessee Converter Station (Tennessee) - 730 total temporary jobs, plus 39 permanent annual jobs (for the life of the project)

Read more…

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Duke Energy charged with 9 Clean Water Act violations from coal ash

Late Friday afternoon, after many had gone home for the weekend, news broke that The Department of Justice filed federal charges in all three of NC’s federal district courts against Duke Energy for violations of the Clean Water Act. Duke is charged with 9 misdemeanor violations for polluting four of NC’s rivers. In order to settle the charges, Duke Energy’s plea bargain includes $68.2 million in fines and restitution and $34 million for community service and mitigation projects – totaling over $102 million, which already garnered widespread media coverage after Duke’s announcement Feb. 18, 2015 in a financial disclosure statement. No individuals will be charged in connection to the violations. The deal will ultimately need the approval of a federal judge.

The federal grand jury probe has been ongoing since last February when Duke dumped nearly 39,000 tons of coal ash and 24 million gallons of wastewater into the Dan River near Eden, North Carolina. That’s a total of 140,000 tons of toxic waste and wastewater combined into the sensitive eco-system of the Dan River. Four of the federal misdemeanor charges are for the Dan River ash disaster. Additional charges accuse Duke Energy of illegally draining coal ash and wastewater at three other power plants: the Catawba River from the Riverbend power plant just west of Charlotte; the Neuse River from the H.F. Lee plant; the French Broad River from the Asheville plant. The charges include failure of Duke officials to maintain treatment system equipment at the Dan River plant and the Cape Fear power plant in Chatham County.

Read more…

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Black History Month Energy Champions: Rev. Leo Woodberry Fights for Climate Justice and Energy Equity

In honor of Black History Month, SACE is publishing a blog series highlighting the efforts of African American leaders working to ensure that clean energy opportunities are available for all people and communities in the Southeast. This post is the third in the series; find additional posts here.

Reverend Leo Woodberry has a long history as an activist and community organizer and attended his first demonstration at the age of 14.  Born in New York City but with family in the South, Rev. Woodberry moved to South Carolina in the 1980s where he remains today as the Executive Director at Woodberry & Associates and serves as the pastor of Kingdom Living Temple in Florence, South Carolina.

Throughout his work, Rev. Woodberry has exhibited remarkable leadership in combating racism and promoting justice. Notably, there was a rash of African American church burnings in the mid-1990s throughout the South. Rev. Woodberry’s work with the South Carolina Burned Church Restoration Coalition helped to bring the arsonists to justice, effectively shutting down the public operations of the Ku Klux Klan in South Carolina. In addition to his leadership in combating racism and promoting social justice, Rev. Woodberry has worked to advance the understanding of environmental racism and climate justice.

In his early days as a community activist, “environmental justice” was not a common term, and some frowned upon it as being too militant. Rev. Woodberry joined the nascent African American Environmental Justice Action Network and leveraged his position as Executive Director of the Eastern Carolina Community Development Corporation to organize community members around the issue of mercury contamination in fish and waterways due to pollution from coal-burning power plants. This issue was especially important in Florence County, South Carolina where fish are subsistence food for low-income citizens. Read more…

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Duke Energy expecting $100 million fine in federal coal ash investigation

In a plea deal to match other major environmental disaster plea deals, Duke Energy appears to be expecting fines around $100 million to resolve, in part, the federal criminal investigation initiated after the massive Dan River coal ash disaster in 2014. Official announcements are pending in the days to come about the criminal charges, but the $100 million fines were discovered in federal disclosure filings and a Duke press release on Feb. 18 and were reported by the Charlotte Observer. The $100 million that Duke Energy disclosed in its earning report as “probable financial exposure” is expected to go to fines, community-service, and mitigation projects.

It has been just one year since a Duke Energy facility had an impoundment failure, dumping up to 39,000 tons of coal ash and 24 million gallons of wastewater into the Dan River. The company already reported spending $20 million to clean up the Dan River site itself, although 90% of the ash still remains in the river. In addition to the federal criminal probe on this disaster, Duke Energy is being sued by multiple organizations including SACE for its ongoing coal ash pollution at the Dan River site. This case has yet to be settled or resolved. A suite of other conservation groups and Riverkeepers represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center have also taken Duke Energy to court to resolve coal ash contamination problems at its 13 other leaky impoundments. Yesterday’s financial disclosure does nothing to resolve these cases or indicate financial culpability to settle them independently.

Read more…

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Powering Through Key West Hurricanes at Ruben Valdez’s Solar Home

This guest blog is the fifth in a series on diversity in the solar energy field in Florida and was written for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy by Alissa Jean Schafer, Marketing and Media Director with the US Solar Institute.

What do the post office, organic seaweed, hurricanes, and solar energy have to do with each other? They are all elements of Ruben Valdez’s story of going solar at his home in Key West. Fourth generation Cuban American, Valdez made the decision to go solar several years ago, and it’s a decision he is reaping the benefits from today.

The idea of going solar was one that stuck in his mind particularly because of the special weather concerns that South Florida can bring. “I’m in hurricane country here, and this area is prone to get hit quite often. I knew that backup power would be a good idea, either from a generator or another source. I chose solar partially because it doesn’t require fuel, like a generator would. If a hurricane hits and we get flooded, fuel can be hard to come by. Solar is reliable.”

Valdez’s system is a 1.8 kW Bi-Modal solar installation. Bi-Modal means that it connects to the grid, but it also has a battery backup system for scenarios such as hurricane-related power outages. After researching his options and learning more about the many benefits of solar, Valdez realized that solar was the logical choice. After both a military career and 28 years of service in the US Post Office, Valdez understands the importance of making smart and reliable choices. Read more…

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Wind Power Transmission Project Would Provide Health Benefits

Courtesy: TN Valley Infrastructure Group

This blog is part of a series reviewing the proposed Plains and Eastern Clean Line project. Other blogs in the series are available here.

A newly proposed transmission project would connect high quality wind power to the southeast. The proposed Plains and Eastern Clean Line project  would provide up to 4,000 megawatts of wind power from western Oklahoma and Texas to the southeast. The project is currently undergoing a federal U.S. Department of Energy Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) review process to evaluate potential impacts from the 720-mile high voltage direct current transmission project. The EIS directly evaluates a few of the benefits of the proposed project.

By using wind power instead of dirtier forms of power generation, the Plains and Eastern Clean Line project is anticipated to reduce air pollution. Specifically, the Department of Energy calculated the project could displace up to 11,100 tons of nitrogen oxides (NOx) per year. NOx emissions can cause asthma and other respiratory diseases, as well as premature death. NOx can also create smog, acid rain and nitrogen-polluted waterways.

Additionally, wind energy made available by the transmission project would reduce sulfur oxides (SOx) by up to 33,000 tons annually. Similar to NOx, SOx cause or worsen respiratory illnesses like emphysema and bronchitis, leading to increased visits to emergency departments. SOx are also a primary cause of acid rain and acidification of lakes and streams.

Further, the Department of Energy estimates Clean Line wind power would reduce mercury emissions by up to 200 pounds per year. Mercury pollution can lead to impaired neurological development, particularly in young children.

Read more…

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Gulf Power = Green Power? Utility leaps forward

Updated at 4:40pm ET, on February 16 to reflect correct solar capacity planned for military bases in Georgia Power’s service territory.

Gulf Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company and one of the smallest investor-owned electric utilities in Florida, just took not one, not two, but THREE steps forward on clean energy in as many weeks.

First, in late January, Gulf announced a partnership with three military bases to build 120 megawatts (MW) of solar capacity, setting a new bar for utility-scale solar in the Sunshine State. The move puts the utility on par with its sister utility Georgia Power’s 120 MW of planned military installations. There’s still a ways to go before catching up with Georgia Power’s commitment for a total of one gigawatt (1,000 MW) of total solar developments, but both utilities are far ahead of their sibling Alabama Power, which has yet to announce any utility-scale solar projects.

Then, Gulf Power announced the retirement of the coal-fired generating units at its Lansing Smith power plant, a major move away from dirty energy sources. The units, which could produce up to 375 MW of power in their heyday, are 50 years old and not economical to upgrade to meet current public health standards. Gulf Power’s Scholz plant is also retiring, underscoring the transition away from coal power as clean energy technologies become more competitive. SACE is keeping an eye on the coal ash that remains in unlined ponds at the two coal plants, and we expect a thorough clean-up and remediation of the unlined toxic waste pits to be part of these retirement plans. Read more…

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Sign Up Today to Protect Our Coast from Offshore Drilling

Hands Logo 2014Today, registration officially opens for the 6th annual Hands Across the Sand, taking place this year on Saturday, May 16. Hands Across the Sand is the annual grassroots day of action in which communities all around the globe gather at a local beach or other treasured place and join hands to protect these treasured places from the impacts of offshore drilling and dirty fossil fuels.

SACE has been a leading sponsor of Hands since its inception on the beaches of Florida in 2010. Since then, Hands events have brought thousands of communities together to stand up for their most treasured places in all 50 states and in 44 countries around the world.

The gatherings are simple… at 12:00 noon, in any time zone, participants join hands to form a line as long as possible along their local beach, river, lake, park, or other treasured place. This chain of people is both a physical and metaphorical line in the sand, making a statement that these people are standing up for the protection of our treasured places from the impacts of risky fossil fuels.

Will you consider signing up here to help with an event in your community? Read more…

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How to Review an Environmental Impact Statement

This blog is the first in a series reviewing the proposed Plains and Eastern Clean Line project. Other blogs in the series will be available here when published.

The Plains and Eastern Clean Line, a high voltage direct current transmission project, would connect more than 3,500 megawatts of high quality, low cost wind power from western Oklahoma and Texas deep into Arkansas and Tennessee. The 720 mile long power line is presently undergoing a federal environmental impact statement review by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). A draft version of that review has been published and the public has until March 19th to provide comments. Weighing in at 3,700 pages, the hulking review document exhaustively covers just about any impact the project may have. How can anyone read that much and still provide valuable comments on the project? Here’s a few quick tips to help review the Plains and Eastern Clean Line EIS in order to provide good quality comments. Read more…

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