How Will Hurricane Irma Impact Coal Ash in her Path?

Coal ash at power plants from and NOAA map from 11am Friday Sep 8 showing cone of probable storm tracks

Last year, Hurricane Matthew spilled coal waste into the Neuse River and burst the dirt embankment of a cooling pond at the H.F. Lee power plant in Goldsboro, NC. As record-breaking Hurricane Irma barrels toward Florida and likely up toward Atlanta, at least 33 coal-fired power plants lie in her potential path, highlighting the dangers of relying on coal for electricity and storing ash in outdated sludge ponds.

While some of these at-risk plants use safer storage methods or are in the process of ash excavation, it’s common for coal ash to be stored as a watery sludge in settling ponds sometimes separated only by a narrow dirt berm from rivers, lakes, and coasts. Read more…

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Climate Signals and Hurricane Irma

This is guest post by Climate Signals, originally published here. SACE works to address the impacts of global climate change and ensure clean, safe and healthy communities throughout the Southeast. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma exemplify climate-fueled disasters that we can help avoid by addressing the climate crisis and transitioning to a clean energy economy. SACE wishes to express sympathy for those affected by these storms and hopes that you stay safe as Irma bears down on the Southeast.

Hurricane Irma Leeward Island NOAA 2017-09-05

Climate change is amplifying the damage done by hurricanes, by elevating sea levels and extending the reach of storm surge and by fueling storms with greater rainfall. Climate change may also be driving the observed trend of increasing hurricane intensity as well as the observed trend of more rapidly intensifying hurricanes[1][2]. In addition there is significant evidence linking climate change to the observed shift in the track of hurricanes such as Irma toward the U.S. coast.[3] Read more…

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Hurricane Irma Leads to Solar Questions

Living in south Florida, hurricanes and tropical storms are a frequent topic of conversation every year, and this week, with Harvey’s devastation fresh in our memories and Hurricane Irma swirling in the not too distant future, Floridians are rightfully worried. Just yesterday, Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for all of Florida, grocery stores are already running out of food and water, and some residents have already started to evacuate. But for those staying put, planning to weather the storm, another question has risen – If we lose power, will solar panels still work?

photo from NASA - Hurricane Irma

Here’s the short answer – If you are talking about the standard, grid-connected solar panel systems, no, they will not generate power. If the grid goes down, your solar panels are “down” as well, not providing any electricity to you. (If you’re not sure what kind you have, they are probably connected to the grid. The majority of residential systems are, often referred to as “grid tied”.) The biggest reason for this shutdown is safety – As soon as possible after the grid goes down in a hurricane or tropical storm, power companies get to work trying to bring it back on, that means hundreds, or even thousands, of workers and emergency response teams are performing hands on work on power lines in affected areas. If residential solar panel systems are connected to the grid and generating power, this poses an electric shock risk to any worker. Incorrectly connected generators pose the same risk and come with warnings not to connect to the grid.

Here’s the longer answer – Some solar panel systems will work when the power goes down. Essentially, if it’s not connected to the grid, you’re in business. If the whole system is designed to be off-grid, complete with battery back up, a power outage for everyone else won’t affect you at all, but again, these systems are relatively rare. It’s much more likely, and feasible, to have a solar system created with a disconnect switch and separate circuit that can be used in case of a power outage. The disconnect switch would ensure you’re not feeding any stray power onto the grid, and the panels would act like a solar powered generator for you as long as the sun is shining. If you wanted to have power during the storm or at night, you’ll need some form of battery backup connected to your panels, like the much talked about Tesla Powerwall system.

Read more…

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National Drive Electric Week Kicks Off Sept 9th!

SACE’s Anne Blair and Dory Larsen contributed to this blog post.

Since 2011, electric vehicle enthusiasts have hosted events all around the globe, celebrating the environmental and cost benefits of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy is excited to once again partner with local organizations, dealerships and volunteers across the Southeast for inspiring and educational events. To find an event near you, go here.  Or join SACE staff at one of the following events:

Alpharetta, Georgia 

Be one of the first to see the all-new 2018 Nissan LEAF at the metro Atlanta National Drive Electric Week Event at Avalon in Alpharetta! Tonight, Nissan will unveil their 2018 Nissan LEAF with an expected range of nearly twice the range of past models, but this event will be the only event in the Southeast to feature this new car before it goes on sale. 

The 2017 metro Atlanta National Drive Electric Week returns to Avalon in Alpharetta, GA on Saturday September 9, 2017  and will be open to the public between the hours of 11:00 AM and 4:00 PM.  The Electric Vehicle display will take place on Avalon Boulevard between the Valet Circle and the Tesla store.

The event is organized by CleanCities Georgia, EV Club of the South and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and sponsored by Georgia Power (Presenting Sponsor), United BMW (Major Sponsor), ChargePoint and Hannah Solar (Supporting Sponsors). Organizers and sponsors will be exhibiting on the Avalon Green.

A Ride & Drive will also be held with vehicles provided by United BMW and individual EV owners. Let us know you are coming and/or share with your friends here.

Asheville, North Carolina – Electric Car Show at Asheville Outlets

In celebration of National Drive Electric Week, come to Asheville Outlets on September 10th, 12-4PM to see the latest all-electric & plug-in hybrid vehicles! This event is free and family-friendly.

  • Owners & Dealer cars on display including Tesla, BMW, Mercedes, Nissan, Chevrolet, Ford, Toyota and Kia
  • Electric and solar vehicle charging station demonstrations
  • EV owners and clean energy businesses on-site to answer questions about costs, range, charging and more!
  • Meet members of the Blue Ridge Electric Vehicle Club
  • Discover insights about the 2018 models like the new Nissan LEAF and most efficient car in the United States: the Hyundai Ioniq Electric
  • To volunteer by displaying your EV or help at an info table, go here.
  • To RSVP and share on Facebook, go here.


Due to the threat of Hurricane Irma, this event is postponed until further notice. 

Southern Alliance for Clean Energy is hosting an electric vehicle tailgate in conjunction with the Florida League of Women Voters ”Hot Topics” event with FL SUN, an initiative working to organize group solar installations. The event will be an opportunity for members of the public to check out some of the latest electric vehicles available and discuss opportunities to expand EVs and charging in the state. The EV Tailgate will be held outside in the parking lot near the charging station. Let us know you are coming and/or share with your friends here.

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I’m super excited about Solar in the Southeast

Today is my first day full-time with SACE, but I’ve been transitioning into this Solar Program Director role part-time since June.  In the whirlwind world of the solar industry and policy, I thought it appropriate to pause today and introduce myself along with a bit of my vision for this role.

My job here is to drive solar adoption in the Southeastern states, and the stage is certainly set.  It’s a fabulous time to be working on solar and, despite continued challenges and battles throughout the nation, positive momentum is building.  Solar photovoltaic (PV) prices have dropped 99% in my lifetime – the installed cost has dropped 70% just this decade.  Some recent utility-scale projects have been commissioned below US$1/Watt.

Solar is becoming mainstream for economic reasons as well as environmental ones.  Here are just a few of my initial observations.

Solar trends

Solar PV in the Southeast has been doubling each year for the last five years.  North Carolina has the second-most solar capacity in the entire U.S.A. (behind California) and represents more than half of the solar PV across our seven-state Southeast region (North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi).  The Southeast has approximately 5 GW (gigawatts) of solar capacity on the ground in 2017 and is on track have 10 GW by 2021.

Read more…

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Biking for SACE in the 2017 Red White and Blue Ridge Climate Ride

Laura Reynolds, a consultant for SACE who works on Florida water and energy issues, has chosen to embark on an amazing bicycle journey through Climate Ride to raise awareness and funds for the environment! Climate Ride is a non-profit that organizes multi-day, multi-city charitable bicycle rides and hikes to address sustainability, climate and clean energy issues.

Starting September 24, Laura is riding hundreds of miles through the Blue Ridge Mountains from Virginia to Washington D.C. to ask our elected leaders to take climate change seriously and allow science to drive their decision making, not corporate lobbyists.

The Red White and Blue Ridge Climate Ride consists of over 100 cyclists pedaling for three days to raise money and awareness for organizations that are leading the nation in climate change, clean energy, active transportation, sustainability, and public health efforts.

Laura has chosen SACE as her beneficiary and has already raised almost $10,000! Her team’s goal is to raise $30,000 by the end of September. To make a donation, visit Laura’s page! For more information, visit

“I wanted to channel my negative energy following the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement into something lasting and positive. SACE is one of the most successful and influential environmental nonprofits in the Southeast, and with our help, they can continue to make a lasting impact and ensure a clean energy future.” Laura Reynolds, SACE Climate Ride Team Captain

Texas Wind Farms Survive Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas on August 25. Data source: ERCOT (

Wind farms are generally engineered to withstand up to Category 3 hurricane-strength winds. Even though Hurricane Harvey struck the Texas coast as a Category 4, no wind turbines were destroyed by the storm’s winds. Why not? In coastal Texas, there are just over 2,000 megawatts of wind power capacity already installed. However, three projects representing 389 megawatts faced the worst of Hurricane Harvey – Harbor Wind (9 MW) on the north side of Corpus Christi, and the Papalote Creek I/II sites (380 MW, total) in San Patricio county. Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas as a Category 4 storm, with winds exceeding 130 miles per hour. It took six hours for Harvey to move 30 miles across Corpus Christi and Aransas Pass, pummeling the area with Category 3 and Category 4 winds.

At noontime on Friday, August 25th, the Texas coastal wind projects were operating at 95 percent output, an exceptionally high output level (also called a capacity factor). As expected, several wind farms curtailed power production when wind speeds exceeded safety limits. Also, as local grid connections failed and power outages affected the entire region, wind farms remained offline until grid connection could be re-established. (In cases such as Papalote Creek, the utility transmission and distributed system was heavily damaged by the storm and estimated to not go back online for several days). Between 3-4PM, as conditions deteriorated, wind power production dropped by approximately 800 megawatts, with a regional operation rate of about 47 percent.

Over the next three days, wind power production generally increased during the daytime, and declined at nighttime – similar to “normal” coastal wind power production levels. At no time did power production from all coastal wind farms reach zero. In other words, as Hurricane Harvey was battering the coast, coastal wind power projects mostly remained online and operating, as if nothing out of the ordinary was occurring. Read more…

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How Will Hurricane Harvey Affect Texas Wind Farms?

How will Hurricane Harvey Affect Texas Wind Farms?

Hurricane Harvey is projected to become the first Category 3 hurricane to hit the U.S. since 2005. That year, it was Hurricanes Dennis, Katrina, and Rita that wreaked havoc across the Gulf Coast. In anticipation of Hurricane Harvey, oil platforms in the gulf are evacuating. The South Texas Nuclear Generating Station between Corpus Christi and Galveston, is preparing.  Ports and some major power plants along the Texas coast are beginning to brace for Hurricane Harvey. All energy infrastructure along the path of Harvey will be affected, including wind farms.

Several large wind farms may be in the line of sight for Hurricane Harvey. Wind projects including Harbor Wind (9 megawatts, MW), Papalote Creek I (180 MW), and Papalote Creek II (200 MW), Baffin (188 MW), Penascal I (202 MW), Penascal II (201 MW), Pattern Gulf (283 MW), Magic Valley (203 MW), Los Vientos Wind 1A (200 MW) and 1B (202 MW) and Cameron 1 (165 MW) may see hurricane force winds.

To date, no wind farm in the United States has been destroyed by a hurricane. Neither Hurricane Iselle (Hawaii, 2014), Hurricane Sandy (New Jersey, 2012), nor Hurricane Irene (Delaware, 2011) harmed wind farms. Wind farms in hurricane-prone coastal zones are frequently designed to withstand hurricane-force winds, up to level Category 3 hurricanes. For self preservation purposes, wind turbines automatically shut down when wind speeds reach excessive levels. Hurricane Harvey is slated to become a Category 3 storm, and may test the limits of turbine engineering.

Read more…

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What Could TVA Do, If No One Was Looking?

Recently, two southeastern utilities found themselves facing scandal head-on as major projects fell apart, leaving the utility – and potentially customers – covering lost costs that add up to billions of dollars. Both Southern Company’s Kemper County integrated gasification combined cycle plant and SCE&G’s VC Summer nuclear plant serve as important reminders that decision making at the utility level is not infallible and bad decisions can have real effects on our pocketbooks.

Southern Company and SCE&G made these huge miscalculations and planning mistakes despite oversight from utility regulators, which in many states takes the form of public service commissions (PSCs). Combining input from utilities, customers, and energy policy experts, PSCs decide how utilities can pass costs along to customers based on whether the expense was prudent and necessary. PSC hearings are often run much like a court room, with testimony, cross examination and submissions of evidence.

That’s why Tennessee Valley Authority ratepayers should be worried by TVA’s recent proposal to move some of its decision making activities behind close doors. As the Kemper and V.C. Summer debacles illustrate, even when utility decisions are subject to thorough regulatory oversight, they are not immune to failure. More often than not, however, utility regulators, like public service commissions, are able to help utilities’ identify economic risks and ensure impacts to rate payers are minimum. But what about when a utility is not subject to utility regulators, like TVA???

Read more…

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Eclipse is gone, Solar’s back on

Totality & the sun's corona Photo Credit: Brooke Durham with Southern Alliance for Clean Energy

Southern Alliance for Clean Energy’s Energy Policy Manager Simon Mahan contributed to this blog post.

As we waited excitedly for the moon’s shadow to cross the Southeast during yesterday’s Great American Eclipse, I didn’t think much about how the solar panels at SACE’s Asheville office – or thousands of other rooftop systems and utility-scale solar power plants across the country – were fairing. At about 2:30 p.m. ET on Monday, August 21, 2017 the only thing I was paying attention to was the quickly-dimming golden ball above our heads.

Now I can see why ancient civilizations viewed solar eclipses with confusion and anxiety: as the moon steadily slid across the sun, it produced an eerie light reminiscent of hurricane weather for about 15 minutes. Then the mountain cove I was sitting in was plunged into almost total darkness at 2:37 p.m. ET. For about two minutes, my family and I got to see the sun’s dazzling corona, a few stars popping out, and the brilliant ‘diamond ring’ effect as the moon began to slide away.

Eclipses are still a bit magical even though scientists and their modeling predicted yesterday’s celestial show down to the minute. In fact, it’s because eclipses are exceptionally predictable that utilities and electric consumers can better prepare for reduced solar output during eclipses than they can on an ‘average’ day with intermittent cloud cover or storms.  Read more…

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