Wind Industry Creates Jobs in Georgia, But Not All Is Peachy Keen

Attendees of the Georgia Wind Industry Tour had the opportunity to tour ZF Wind Power in Gainesville, Georgia.

With significant business incentives, the state of Georgia has long been an attractive location for manufacturing companies to set up shop.  The wind energy industry is no exception. The Peach State is currently home to over 20 wind energy component manufacturing facilities serving the domestic and international wind industry markets. In 2013, there were between 101-500 direct and indirect jobs provided by the wind industry in Georgia. In addition, the Port of Savannah’s Ocean Terminal is an important transportation hub for wind energy equipment.

On Monday, April 14, Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols hosted a Georgia Wind Industry Tour in Gainesville, Georgia. Sponsored by the Georgia Sierra Club, GreenLaw, and the American Wind Energy Association, attendees, including PSC Commission Chairman Chuck Eaton and Commissioner Bubba McDonald, had the opportunity to hear directly from three German-based manufacturing companies and tour a local wind facility.

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Pressure Mounts for Duke Energy Coal Ash Cleanup

A protest organized by Charlotte Environmental Action Group gathered outside Duke Energy’s headquarters on Feb. 6. Source: Charlotte Business Journal

Since the Dan River coal ash disaster began, North Carolina seems to have become the epicenter in the fight to clean up coal ash dumpsites. All eyes are on Duke Energy and state officials as clean water, public health and environmental justice advocates across the country follow the latest developments and press for strong, comprehensive clean-up to serve as a model for how the nation’s 1,425 coal ash dumps are handled.

A lot has happened since our last update on North Carolina’s coal ash fight, in the courts, the court of public opinion, at the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NC DENR) and the General Assembly. While the call grows louder for Duke Energy to move their coal ash out of leaking impoundments and away from our rivers, lakes, and streams, the massive utility continues to resist actually making plans to clean up their toxic dumpsites across North Carolina.

Duke’s major shareholders are now joining environmentalists and concerned citizens in calling for action on ash. They are demanding an independent probe of the Dan River disaster and the immediate rejection of four members of Duke’s board of directors. According to the investors those directors  “have failed to fulfill their obligations of risk oversight as members of a committee overseeing health, safety, and environmental compliance at the company.” We couldn’t agree more. 

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FPL’s Solar Plan: It’s a Joke, But It’s Not Funny

I live and work in south Florida and have been a clean energy advocate for well over a decade. During that time, Florida’s families and businesses have overwhelmingly supported more solar power in Florida’s energy mix. Yet, the Sunshine State’s elected leaders and biggest power companies have failed to deliver on the desire for more solar power. Florida, for instance, is the 3rd largest electricity market in the country, but ranked a mere 18th in 2013 for installed solar photovoltaics (PV).

Which brings me to Florida Power & Light’s (FPL) skeptical view of solar power.

FPL is the biggest power company in Florida, and one of the biggest in the nation, with about 4.7 million customers – serving over half of all Florida’s customers. The company made a $1.3 billion profit last year. Given the company’s size and influence, how it views solar power matters. The company recently announced a “new” solar energy program to construct up to 2.4 megawatts (MW) of solar PV over the next 3 years. If that doesn’t sound impressive, it’s because it’s not. As an FPL customer, it’s downright disappointing. Wait it gets better. The solar program would be funded by voluntary customer contributions of $9 per month. If this program sounds familiar, it should – but we’ll get to that in a moment. Meanwhile, the company filed a petition asking the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) to discontinue its popular solar rebate program that has helped residential and commercial customers install solar on rooftops since 2011. The company paints solar power as not cost-effective and providing limited value to its system. Read more…

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Georgia Buoys Offshore Wind Power

Potential design of a meteorological tower. Source: BOEM

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) just recently released a “finding of no significant impact” for Southern Company’s proposed offshore wind energy study equipment. The draft environmental assessment found that a meteorological tower or buoys offshore Georgia would have negligible environmental impacts.

If the environmental assessment by BOEM is finalized, Southern Company may be allowed to lease three areas offshore near Tybee Island, Georgia. In those three lease blocks, Southern Company would be permitted to install “a meteorological tower and/or up to two buoys for data collection.” The lease and data collection could continue for up to five years. A separate process is required for development of an offshore wind farm, but data collection is a vital step before a company decides to further invest in offshore wind development. Developing an offshore wind farm off Georgia’s coast is not a foregone conclusion.

The environmental assessment for Southern Company’s activities comes about a week before a group of environmental organizations announced a lawsuit that may have implications for the offshore wind industry along the Atlantic Coast. The Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife and Whale and Dolphin Conservation lawsuit would expand critical habitat for North Atlantic right whales - a critically endangered species (only about 450 individuals exist). The critical habitat designation would limit activities offshore that may harm North Atlantic right whales, potentially including activities associated with offshore wind development. Read more…

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Duke Energy’s Commitment to Overspend on Coal Plants

Using the Coal Asset Valuation Tool from Synapse Energy Economics, the total cost to update certain Duke Energy coal units in the Carolinas is compared with the cost of widely-used electric industry benchmarks. DEC refers to Duke Energy Carolinas plants; DEP to Duke Energy Progress.

Duke Energy is banking on charging customers in the Carolinas an estimated $7.7 billion just to keep its existing fleet of coal plants running. For at least thirteen of those units (at 5 plants), however, it is pretty clear that the additional investment is not worthwhile, and Duke Energy should change its plans.

What’s worse, Duke Energy is trying to wow financial analysts with these costs, while keeping them out of legal proceedings before state regulators. In February, Duke Energy pointed to projections of these expenditures as “earnings base growth” when speaking to financial analysts and shareholders.  While not all of the cost estimates included in the model we used appear to be in Duke Energy’s financial plans, the company did include an estimate of $2.9 billion in planned “investments” in Carolinas coal plants for environmental controls.

Yet in a legal filing with state regulators, Duke Energy insisted that studying these costs today would be imprudent.”  There’s no question that Duke Energy agrees that compliance with future environmental regulations will have costs, and that it decided not to estimate those costs in its resource plans.  Resource plans are the documents in which the utility demonstrates how it will continue to provide reliable and cost-effective electricity service to their customers. Duke Energy’s failure to include any cost estimate whatsoever in its resource plan is a clear failure to seriously consider whether there are cost-effective alternatives to keeping those coal plants in operation.

It’s a cycle we’ve seen before: Utilities that fail to evaluate the costs associated with avoiding environmental problems try to foist those costs on their customers sooner or later. Today, Duke Energy is struggling with the Dan River coal ash disaster. As the public once again learns about the consequences of bad planning and how utilities coordinate with environmental regulators to avoid compliance lawsuits, Duke Energy is hardly in a position to say that evaluating whether it makes sense to keep coal plants running is “imprudent.”

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Toxic Mercury Pollution Limits Survive Major Court Challenge

This guest post was originally published by Environmental Defense Fund on its Climate 411 blog and was co-authored by Pamela Campos, EDF attorney, and Mandy Warner, EDF Climate & Air Policy Specialist.  Find the original EDF blog post here

Some environmental threats are hard to explain. Toxic mercury is not. A dangerous neurotoxin that threatens young children, developing babies, and others, almost everyone reacts viscerally at the idea of ingesting it. And the scientific evidence endorses that instinctive response.

That’s why [yesterday’s] decision by a federal court to uphold the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics (MACT) rule is cause for celebration. For decades, power plants have been spewing out mercury. It ends up in our lakes and rivers, in fish, and ultimately in our bodies. It’s been closing favorite fishing holes and, more ominously, delaying mental development for our children. Even spiders in the Sonoran desert and trout in Colorado’s highest mountain lakes are affected.

When the EPA finally issued rules under the Clean Air Act to limit mercury pollution, the owners of the dirtiest power plants sued to stop it. Just like with every other major air pollution rule, they claimed it would be unaffordable, ignoring clear evidence that clean air protections are consistently shown to have public health benefits that far exceed the pollution control costs.

So [yesterday's] decision is a big deal for protecting our health. The court was sweeping in its denial of industry challenges, confirming that EPA’s technical and legal judgment was sound.
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New Round of IPCC Reports Keep the Climate Drum Beating

IPCC AR5 WG3 Report CoverThe latest reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) came out this month on the impacts of climate change, how to adapt to those impacts, and how we must reduce greenhouse gas pollution. These two reports compliment the IPCC’s report last fall on the latest physical science of climate change. All three reports, respectively called the Working Group or WG 1, 2, and 3, are part of the 5th Assessment Report, or AR5 for short and are being released as a series, with WG1 covering the physical science of climate change, WG2 covering the impacts of climate change and adaptation strategies, and WG3 covering climate change mitigation.

As we reported in September, the confidence of AR5 is much higher than in previous assessment reports (AR4 was released in 2007) that climate change is happening now, that it’s due to human activity, and it’s having negative impacts on society and the environment. WG1 stated greater-than-ever confidence (95% confidence) that human activity is the cause of climate change; WG2 states that climate change is happening now on every continent and that its impacts, such as the extreme weather we have experienced recently, are becoming ever more evident.

The report released yesterday, WG3, stresses the urgency of transitioning into the clean energy economy.
If we are to live in a future in which global average temperatures do not rise by more than 2 degrees Celsius–the level agreed upon by international scientists and policymakers–we need our fossil-fuel-caused greenhouse gas emissions to drop by 40-70% from 2010 levels by 2050, and to practically zero out by 2100. To help this happen, WG3 says we need to triple or quadruple, worldwide, our carbon-free energy sources such as solar, wind, and other renewable technologies by 2050. Read more…

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The Solar Uprising Begins

Floridians stood up for solar in a major way at last Thursday’s Solar Uprising Rally in Tallahassee, FL.  With over 300 people in attendance, loudly calling for the state to adopt policies that support solar power in the Sunshine State, we made quite an impression.  Now, it remains to be seen whether Florida legislators will heed the call for action.

Students and solar proponents from across the state, including as far away as Miami, traveled to the Capitol to make their voices heard. Energized by great local bands and abundant sunshine, the crowd brought a lot of spirit to the steps of the Capitol. In the crowd, there were students supporting solar as the cleaner energy source for their future, solar installers whose livelihood depends on an active solar market, and consumers who believed they should have the ability to install solar on their homes as they wish.  Our fantastic speakers highlighted all of these perspectives and more in their comments.

Student speakers LaQuinta Alexander and Jabari Mickels

Student speakers and younger voices lent a lot of passion to their arguments for solar and for the younger generation being involved, engaging in the political process to make sure they are represented in Tallahassee.  Justin Vandenbroeck, an engineering student from the group IDEAS For Us, spoke about having to leave Florida since the state’s market no longer can support his work with a solar energy company. Dream Defenders Jabari Mickles and LaQuinta Alexander described an imperiled future for communities that bear the burden of our current dirty energy policies through high utility bills and adverse health impacts, and spoken word poet and FIU student Anthony Paz called for people power to make transformative changes to our current system. Despite their urgency, the message was very positive: Chris Castro described the moment as a crisis leading to opportunity.

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Burying the evidence and our heads: North Carolina deletes climate docs

I don’t know about you, but I’ve really found the breaking news on climate change assaulting and terrifying lately. Headlines like “Climate Change: ‘Abrupt,’ Unpredictable,’ ‘Irreversible’ and ‘Highly Damaging‘” have frequented my news feed illustrating how catastrophic the effects of climate change will be and actually already are. Just last week I saw the first “official” climate refugee story break as residents of Papua New Guinea began fleeing their homes. There’s even one threatening my own wanderlust featuring climate-hit-list tourism destinations.

Reports of record breaking extreme weather and the UN’s latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report emphasize the urgent need to adapt to climate change. NASA is also looking toward the future of understanding, mitigating and surviving man-made climate change, illustrating that it’s more clear than ever before that this is not some future threat, but a reality being felt now.

But what is even more disturbing to me than all of these news stories is fact that the state of North Carolina continues to deny the very real threats facing our communities, natural resources and economy despite years of work in our recent history to understand, mitigate, and prepare for the role we bear in contributing to climate change. The state that once showed promising leadership and a commitment to tackling climate change has now not only abandoned those efforts, but is also trying to destroy the evidence that climate change is happening and all the work the state itself supported for years.

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Floridians Stand Up for Solar Today at the State Capitol

Hundreds of Floridians – including a former governor, college students, solar industry developers, faith leaders, clean energy advocates and more – converged on Florida’s State Capitol in Tallahassee for a #SolarUprising Rally to demand that elected leaders act to unlock solar power development in Florida.

As we’ve noted in recent blogs, Florida has the best solar potential east of the Mississippi and the third largest potential for rooftop solar generation in the nation, yet ranks only 18th for solar PV installation in 2013. The sad truth is that solar energy in the Sunshine State is greatly under-utilized because Florida lacks the leadership and policies needed to unlock the solar market.

A detailed blog about the rally and the policies and leadership Florida needs will come on Monday – but you can follow real-time updates all day through several digital media accounts – InstagramFacebookTwitter – and the rally can be tracked via social media with the #SolarUprising hashtag. For now – here’s a brief round up:
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