How Will Hurricane Irma Impact Coal Ash in her Path?

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 […]

What if Hurricane Matthew Hits Florida’s Nuclear Reactors?

A report published by the Union of Concerned Scientists evaluated the risks of flood surge on associated power plant infrastructure in southern Florida. UCS’s report states, “Although Turkey Point, a large nuclear facility along the coast, is unlikely to be flooded by a Category 3 storm, everything around it is likely to be, and damage to nearby major substations could still prompt widespread outages in the region.” Similar impacts may be expected of other power plants in the path of Hurricane Matthew.

What’s the hurricane-climate change connection?

As hurricane season kicks off today along the Atlantic coast, it’s a good time to think about the connection between hurricanes and climate change. Just as we prepare for yet another hurricane season with basic emergency preparedness, we should also press for meaningful action on climate change to minimize future catastrophe.

New Report: Power Infrastructure Faces Increased Vulnerability From Climate Change

“A resilient power system is flexible, responds to challenges, enables quick recoveries, and is available when we need it most. Developing resilient power resources means shifting away from relying on a centralized grid to a more decentralized system designed to meet essential grid loads, even during extreme weather events. Most importantly, a resilient approach that places efficient and clean energy technologies at the core of its solutions helps our communities prepare for a climate-impacted future while also reducing the emissions that are driving those effects.”

Climate Change is Risky for Business in the Southeast

If we continue on our current greenhouse gas emissions pathway, the Southeastern U.S. and Texas will likely experience significant drops in agricultural yield and labor productivity, along with increased sea level rise, higher energy demand, and rising mortality rates. In particular, the region’s agricultural sector will be negatively influenced by the changing climatic conditions, with several commodity crops likely to face severe yield declines. Meanwhile, residents and businesses will likely be affected by higher heat-related mortality, increased electricity demand and energy costs, and declines in labor productivity, threatening the manufacturing base that is increasingly driving the regional economy. And in some cities, such as Miami and New Orleans, sea level rise will put significant amounts of existing coastal property at risk.

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

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.”

A Surge of Misinformation on Wind Farms and Hurricanes

This doesn’t mean that hurricanes pose no threat to wind farms. Even though wind turbines are designed to withstand serious weather (up to a Category 3 hurricane), super typhoons in Asia have had some serious impacts on wind farms onshore in China and Japan. Dr. Powell stressed that more accurate data in real life situations is necessary in order to better evaluate and design wind turbines for extreme weather. While previous data on hurricanes has been collected further offshore, Dr. Powell is working with the Department of Energy and NOAA to collect data closer to the coast in shallower water where offshore wind farms would be located.

Hurricanes and Offshore Drilling

The interplay of hurricanes and offshore drilling is one of complexity as we look toward a clean energy future. On one hand, the historical record tells us that hurricanes and offshore drilling don’t play well together. Hurricanes have caused major damage to offshore platforms and drilling-related infrastructure and have caused large oil spills. Yet on the other hand, as the only major offshore energy industry in the country, it is in a unique position to inform the conversation on offshore renewable energy. Coming from the perspective of a clean energy advocate, the important lessons to take away from examining the relationship between offshore drilling and hurricanes are that while offshore drilling’s risk is unacceptably high and poses a large economic and environmental threat, we can leverage the industry’s technological progress and apply it to a cleaner and safer alternative with offshore wind.

Wind Turbines and Hurricanes

Wind turbines are designed to withstand extreme weather. The risks of a catastrophic weather event are fairly well known and can be planned for, to an extent. Wind turbines are generally expected to survive up to a Category 3 hurricane. But, when failure occurs, a wind turbine failure is better than a failure at a coal, natural gas or nuclear power plant.

Hurricanes and Climate Change

Perhaps it’s unsurprising Alberto soaked South Carolina’s coast in mid-May and Beryl drenched north Florida and Georgia over Memorial Day weekend before the official hurricane season and beginning of summer – it certainly felt like full-on summer because North America had experienced the warmest first four months of the year on record. In April, the global land-surface temperature was 2.5°F above the 20th century average and the United States experienced its third warmest April since record keeping began in 1895. It’s also worth noting that hurricanes aren’t the only natural phenomenon ‘starting a few weeks early’ this year: Louisiana was spraying for mosquitoes a month sooner, the Carolinas began harvesting strawberries more than two weeks early and birdwatchers everywhere were treated to the annual arrival of migratory songbirds anywhere from one to three weeks early.