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Jul 28 2018

Response: Update: Wind Energy Proposal and Coal Backlash in North Dakota (

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Original Post by Matthew Culley (2016): https://coastalenergyandenvironment.web.unc.edu/wp-admin/post.php?post=3912&action=edit

Matthew Culley, in his 2016 post about the proposed Glacier Ridge Wind Farm in Barnes County N.D., brought up a lot of interesting points regarding conflicts with a shift towards a wind-dominant power supply. Matthew introduced the project, described the immense (1000 GWh) wind resource available to North Dakota, and the state’s success in harnessing this resource. However, there was some concern among the state Public Service Commission that the intermittent nature of wind power would pose a threat to grid stability when contributing significant (30%) proportions of the states power. As renewable energy continues to improve and constitute larger and larger portions of our energy supply I think this is a really important point. If we, at some point in the future, want the majority of our energy to come from renewable sources, we need to think about how we can overcome the intermittent issue. Matthew gave 3 solutions to this problem and I think that an update on the project itself and the feasibility of these stability measures would be useful.

http://www.inforum.com/news/government-and-politics/4324316-second-phase-barnes-county-wind-farm-approved

     The Glacier Ridge project, which was jeopardized by the permitting process and grid stability concerns at the time of Matthew’s post, was approved for its second and final phase in July of 2017. In light of the project’s progress, measures combating the instability of this energy resource are more important now than ever. As such, an update on the status of the wind-forecasting systems highlighted in Matthews post would be a practical contribution to this discussion.

According to a new paper published in May of 2018, authored by Notton et al., “forecasting should be the first response to manage the variable nature of solar or wind energy production, before the more costly strategies of energy storage and demand response systems would be put in place”. According to the review, current state-of-the-art forecasts are likely to achieve most of the economic benefits possible and that the interest for forecasting is increasing even for small or medium ISRES (Intermittent and Stochastic Renewable Energy Sources). This indicates that regardless of the scale of installations, forecasting, rather than storage, is the most feasible option. Says Notton et al., “Energy storage development needs specific operating strategies for an optimal management which cannot be developed without a good knowledge of the future input and output energies”. In summary, the forecasting technologies discussed by Matthew in his post continue to improve and further analysis suggests that they are our best bet when future energy costs and demand are unknown.

Figure: Average annual operating cost savings versus wind forecast improvements, shown for 3%, 10%, 14%, and 24% WECC wind energy penetrations (https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy11osti/50814.pdf)

Citations: Notton, G. et al. (2018, May). Intermittent and stochastic character of renewable energy sources: Consequences, cost of intermittence and benefit of forecasting. Retrieved July 27, 2018, from https://www-sciencedirect-com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/science/article/pii/S1364032118300327#bib72

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Jul 25 2018

EPA Activity Under Pruitt

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Scott Pruitt, EPA administrator under the first two years of the Trump administration, has had significant influence on energy and environmental policy in the United States. While many people applaud his legacy of roll-backs believing that these rules hinder free-market development, there are many consequences for the renewable energy industry, human health, and environmental systems. The EPA goals have changed in many ways under Pruitt’s reign and it’s important to understand the variations.

Photo by Gage Skidmore.

With Pruitt actively advocating against climate change measures, the EPA climate change website has been scrapped. Instead of normally providing data and information regarding the mechanisms of climate change, the page is being “updated” to represent the new EPA priorities and has been doing so for at least a year and a half. This seems rather questionable, as climate change is regarded as a very prominent issue by almost every other nation. It is no shock then that Pruitt also played a role in Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Climate Accord (Greshko et al, 2018). While many people doubted that the goals set forth by the PCA were attainable in the near future, the accord at least signified a global agreement to recognize climate change as major world issue. The United States withdrawing from this sends a message to the world that we may not be taking climate change seriously.

 

 

Many other EPA policies have been delayed or scrapped under the Pruitt administration- the Clean Power Plan is one such example. The plan restricted carbon dioxide emissions from new and existing power plants to encourage states to convert to clean energy sources. Pruitt announced plans to repeal this legislation in late 2017 and the process of rescinding it is in action (Greshko et al, 2018). There are talks of a replacement plan but nothing is set. Pruitt has also criticized fuel emission standards set by the Obama administration, claiming them to be too high and unrealistic. While automakers have pushed for new emission standards, they have not yet been changed (Mendolia et al 2018). However, states have the ability to waive for higher regulations and the automobile industry still has to cater to the global market, accounting for European countries with higher emission standards. Pruitt’s standards may not make a large impact on the energy efficiency of vehicles but will likely prevent America from being a global leader in this issue.

People’s Climate March in Washington, U.S., April 29, 2017. File photo by REUTERS/Mike Theiler

Pruitt has declared a two year suspension on the Clean Water Rule, a 2015 policy that protects drinking water by limiting runoff from fertilizers and pesticides (Davenport, 2018). He also denied the banning of pesticide chlorpyrifos, despite EPA studies showing that this a toxic chemical with no safe exposure levels (Mendolia et al, 2018). He halted methane regulations and delayed a rule dealing with acceptable ozone standards before a judge ordered otherwise (Greshko et al, 2018).

 

Pruitt has also made some structural changes to the organization such as the barring of many scientists in academia from participating on advisory boards for the EPA. Industrial scientists, who are regulated by the EPA, are still allowed on the board and have actually increased their presence due to the restriction on university members. Many of these industrial board members include pesticide manufacturers and coal producers (Economist, 2018). He has also included other measures, including policy that only allows the agency to use studies with public data. While this may seem like a great idea having transparency in science, many pollution and climate change studies use confidential health data to decide how products, such as coal or fertilizers, are linked to respiratory diseases and cancer (Economist, 2018).

Overall, the EPA under the Pruitt administration has taken steps backward in terms of clean energy, public health, and trust in science. Andrew Wheeler has since taken over the EPA after Pruitt’s resignation and no one is fully sure where he will lead the agency. He may very well continue in Pruitt’s footsteps since he also has questioned the reliability of climate science and has past experience lobbying for coal companies (Dlouhy, 2018).

Sources 

Greshko, M, and L Parker. “A Running List of How President Trump Is Changing Environmental Policy.” National Geographic, National Geographic Society, 23 July 2018, news. nationalgeographic.com/2017/03/how-trump-is-changing-science-environment/

Mendolia, Joey, and Daniel Bush. “All of the Ways Scott Pruitt Changed Energy Policy.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 5 July 2018, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/all-of-the-ways-embattled-epa-chief-scott-pruitt-has-changed-energy-policy

Davenport, Coral. “E.P.A. Blocks Obama-Era Clean Water Rule.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 31 Jan. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/01/31/climate/trump-water-wotus.html

“Scott Pruitt Embarks on a Campaign to Stifle Science at the EPA.” The Economist, The Economist Newspaper, 26 Apr. 2018, www.economist.com/united-states/2018/04/26/scott-pruitt-embarks-on-a-campaign-to-stifle-science-at-the-epa

Dlouhy, Jennifer A. “New EPA Boss Same as the Old: Pruitt Policies to Stay Intact.” Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg, 6 July 2018, www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-07-06/new-epa-boss-same-as-the-old-boss-pruitt-policy-to-stay-intact

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jul 02 2018

How efficient are renewable sources of energy?

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Renewable sources of energy, such as solar, wind, geothermal, and hydro, have been on the rise. In 2017, eighteen percent of energy generated in Texas was in the form of solar or wind and a few small towns there, such as Denton, are striving to rely solely on clean energy (1). This raises the question of whether the whole globe will ever be able to switch to complete renewable energy.

A solar panel system on top of Chase Bank Building in Denton, TX. Image from http://o3energy.com/denton.html

Part of this answer will depend on the efficiency of our energy technology. Our current system relies on the use of fossil fuels however, natural gas power plants are only around 42 percent efficient and coal burning plants are approximately 33 percent efficient (2). Because of this lack of efficiency, we burn through much more energy than we actually use. This suggests that if we switch our grid to renewables that we won’t need to produce as much energy as we currently do. However, is this really feasible? How efficient are our current renewable energy sources?

The efficiency of solar PV depends on the materials of the panels; the two most common types are crystalline silicon and thin film cells. Most of these solar cells have an efficiency of nearly 22 percent. More expensive solar cells have a higher efficiency and many types that are still being researched have yet to reach 15 percent efficiency (3).

The efficiency of different types of solar cells over time. From source 3.

 

Wind power, one of the cheapest forms of energy, provides a bit more hope. Wind energy efficiency averages around 35-45 percent (4). Theoretical limits described by the law of physics suggest a maximum efficiency of approximately 60 percent (5). This shows that there is room for improvement as we begin to draw more power from this source.

Copyright 2009 Land Agent Services LLC

Geothermal power plants produce electricity constantly and are generally more stable sources of energy. Despite their reliability, they are only about 12 percent efficient (6). Their low efficiency is often primarily due to system design in which the geothermal fluid is separated from the steam used to generate power unless additional technology is installed.

In conclusion, our current renewable energy technologies are not highly efficient but this doesn’t mean they aren’t still promising. We have an incredible amount of solar, wind, geothermal, and hydro power penetrating this earth right now and only a small portion of this energy needs to be utilized to power the globe.

 

Citations

  1. Gass, Henry. “Despite Natural Gas Boom, This Texas Town Is Going 100% Renewable.” The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor, 14 June 2018, www.csmonitor.com/Environment/2018/0614/Despite-natural-gas-boom-this-Texas-town-is-going-100-renewable.
  2. Prentiss, Mara Goff. Energy Revolution: the Physics and the Promise of Efficient Technology. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2015.
  3. Green, Martin A., et al. “Solar Cell Efficiency Tables (Version 51).” Progress in Photovoltaics: Research and Applications, vol. 26, no. 1, Jan. 2018, pp. 3–12., doi:10.1002/pip.2978 .
  4. The Wind Energy Fact SheetThe Wind Energy Fact Sheet, NSW Government, 2010.
  5. Blackwood, Marisa. “Maximum Efficiency of a Wind Turbine.” Undergraduate Journal of Mathematical Modeling: One + Two, vol. 6, no. 2, 2016, doi:10.5038/2326-3652.6.2.4865.
  6. Zarrouk, Sadiq J., and Hyungsul Moon. “Efficiency of Geothermal Power Plants: A Worldwide Review.” Geothermics, vol. 51, 2014, pp. 142–153., doi:10.1016/j.geothermics.2013.11.001.

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Jul 28 2016

Case Study: OWC Pico Power Plant

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On a small chain of islands in the middle of the Atlantic sits a large, concrete structure, which holds what many hope to be the future of renewable energy generation in Europe. The European OWC Wave Power Plant was authorized by the European Commission as field site to test the technology of oscillating water column (OWC) wave power as well as observe the success of its design and materials (CORDIS, 1995). Interest in the field of wave energy is growing and the project is an attempt by the Portuguese government to get a better understanding of how these systems could work on a national scale. However, intermittent funding and mechanical limitations have turned what should have been a quick project into a 20-year affair that is still struggling to operate continuously.

sideview

http://www.pico-owc.net/cms.php?page=542&wnsid=dbb177dd9668f08318207830330904df

The main idea behind the power plant is the use of an OCW, or oscillating water column. A turbine is located behind a large chamber, known as the pneumatic chamber, which sits seven meters above the ocean floor (CORDIS, 1995). As waves crash against the front of the structure, water flows into the chamber, causing the water level to rise and sink. The air above the water in the chamber is forced through the turbine and causes the blades to spin. The turbine is connected to a generator that turns the kinetic energy of the blades into electrical energy, which is fed into the power grid further inland (1995). The generator is rated at 500 kW (1995) and during tests run in 2010, the plant was able to produce close to 45 MWh of energy (OWC Pico Power Plant, 2014).

Because of the tumultuous history of operation, the Pico plant has not been the subject of an extensive environmental survey. However, a study was preformed about the potential noise pollution from the plant, both above water and underwater. Above water, the sounds produced were found to be within the audible range for humans, which could potentially effect nearby communities (de Moura, 2010). The results of the underwater study were inconclusive; the hydrophone was unable to be retrieved due to the conditions of the ocean and the data could not be analyzed. However, there is a growing concern over the noise pollution produced underwater because of the “high abundance and diversity of marine mammals”(2010) in the area that could be damaged by the noise.

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http://www.pico-owc.net/gallery.php?cat=52&id=351&wnsid=7c6cd91ba6e05da947d5047218cdc724

The plant has seen several investors as a result of the technical problems. The EC supplied an estimated €2-3 million for the initial construction, along with the investment of the EDP and the EDA. Close to €1 million was funded by several organizations including the EDP to bring the plant back online after the original project ran out of funds (Aquaret, 2008). In the past few years, the plant has been unable to receive sufficient funding from any organization. The WavEC Offshore Renewables even launched a public campaign for donations for the project, under the title “Support Wave Energy. Save the Pico Power Plant.” After its completion in 2014, the campaign managed to raise over $55,000, most of which was sponsored by EDA, one of the original partners for the project (Monk, 2014). However, the money raised could not offset the cost of running the plant for the duration of the campaign, which was close to €160 thousand (2014). Without a dedicated investor, the Pico Power plant may not be able to continue operating within the next years.

sea view

http://www.pico-owc.net/gallery.php?cat=42&id=226&wnsid=8e59c45a7d6d10b995906dddfa282af3

The Pico Power Plant is a good example for the problems within the renewable energy sector. It holds great promise and has shown some good results, but overall has proved a difficult project to support. A lot of the technology in this sector is still being developed and perfected, a process that will take a lot of time and money. While attempting to operate the plant has proved problematic, it has also provided much insight into the proper installation of OWC power systems. After every failure or mechanical error, the particular cause was addressed and the overall design was improved. The researchers were able to determine what doesn’t work as much as what does work for an OWC power plant, both of which are equally important in pioneering new technology. To many, financing this profit-less project may seem like a waste of time, but the real benefit of funding the Pico plant is to greatly advance green technology, hopefully long before we actually need it.

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

de Moura, A., Carvalho, M., Patrício, S., Nunes, N., Soares, C., 2010, Airborne and underwater noise assessment at the Pico OWC Wave Power Plant, ICOE, www.icoe-conference.com

EUROPEAN COMMISSION, 1995, European wave energy pilot plant on the island of Pico, Azores, Portugal, Community Research and Development Information Service, http://cordis.europa.eu/project/rcn/21567_en.html

Monk, K., 2014, Closing of the “Support Wave Energy. Save the Pico Power Plant” campaign, OWC Pico Power Plant, http://www.pico-owc.net/news.php?cat=83&newid=315&wnsid=25ec0200d2a007c50f433e5390548ec7

2008, Case Study- European OWC pilot plant Pico/Azores, Aquaret, http://www.aquaret.com/images/stories/aquaret/pdf/cswavepico.pdf

2014, OWC Pico Power Plant, WavEC Offshore Renewables, http://www.pico-owc.net/

2016, Pico Oscillating Water Column, TETHYS, https://tethys.pnnl.gov/annex-iv-sites/pico-oscillating-water-column

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Jul 25 2016

Antartica is Still Growing, Despite Rising Temperatures

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One of the popular arguments for the proof of global climate change is the melting of Earth’s ice and the rise of sea level. In a fairly recent study by NASA, researchers concluded the Antarctic Ice Sheet is growing in size instead of shrinking, which challenges several studies regarding ice loss on the continent. Obviously, this means that Global Warming is a hoax. Or at least, that’s what a quick glance at the article will tell you. However, the situation on the continent is not that simple.

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Credits: NASA

The article specifically states that the mass gains of the ice sheet are greater than losses. This means that not the entire sheet is growing, just certain areas. This growth is due to the large amount of snowfall left over from the last ice age, 10,000 years ago (Viñas, 2015). The ice sheet is still losing mass, and at a frightening pace.”If the losses of the Antarctic Peninsula and parts of West Antartica continue to increase at the same rate they’ve been increasing for the last two decades,” says Jay Zwally, the leading glaciologist of the study, “the losses will catch up with the long-term gain in East Antartica in 20 or 30 years”(Viñas, 2015). For now, the 0.7 inches of snowfall is just enough to keep the ice sheet where it is, if not a little larger. However, this will not be the case in the next few years if ice loss is not reversed.

Admittedly, the title can be misleading, so much so that my climate change denying aunt shared this with me in hopes of changing my mind. An article like this one will most likely be used as ammunition for climate change’s opposition, if it has not already. The ability for deniers to point out one specific instance in the world where the effects of climate change are not being felt yet is really all they need to make an argument. In reality, the proof for deniers is not any proof at all and instead has to do with proving the evidence wrong. In this day and age, it has become much easier to deny science and facts in favor of a general consensus by the public, regardless of the actual merit of these ideas. With any luck, enough lawmakers can be convinced to look at the evidence within the next few years to make the necessary changes to ensure the safety of our planet.

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Jul 25 2016

What’s the deal with the Clean Power Plan?

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U.S. Supreme Court Building. (chinesejudge, 2005, Flickr)

Opposition to President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) has rung loud and clear across the country. The U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay earlier this year after criticism was voiced from 29 states, putting the plan in a stand still. Though the CPP has hit many roadblocks, the current resistance may not be indicative of how the plan will play out.

The CPP is President Obama’s second attempt to put climate policy in action, after the American Clean Energy and Security Act failed to pass both houses of Congress in 2009. The main feature of the CPP is to implement performance standards for power plants to reduce emissions. Though this is a federal policy, it gives the states the ability to design their own plan to comply with the standards based on unique energy mixes — so, why all the backlash?stock-photo-1627655-coal-pile-and-pollution

Coal-fired power plant. (iStock, 2006)

Three words — money, jobs, and legality. The CPP is the unpopular because it is a very expensive plan. The estimated cost is somewhere between $7.3 and $8.8 billion. Many states would have to close down numerous coal plants to achieve emission reductions, leaving thousands of people without work. The stay on the CPP was issued in response to allegations that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is going outside of its authority in trying to regulate state carbon emissions.

The Supreme Court’s stay blocks the use of public funding for any work related to the CPP, and many state representatives have further stagnated the process. But, representatives like Governor Matt Mead from Wyoming may be saying one thing and doing another.

The New York Times article Fighting Obama’s Climate Plan, but Quietly Preparing to Comply illuminates the hoops that some Republican representatives are going through to appear opposed to Obama’s plan, all while secretly planning to adhere to CPP regulations. Some state representatives are even preparing energy and carbon plans under the guise of different legislation.

Democratic representatives in favor of the CPP are using available resources to continue plans to cut carbon emissions. Many Democrats are showing little concern over the opposition to the CPP, as they have seen similar antics from climate change deniers time and time again. However, some of these same folks are criticizing the CPP for not doing enough in the way of public health — especially in light of the Flint, Michigan water disaster.

Representatives, democratic or republican, are wise to be considering a future where the CPP is a reality — come November, there’s a 50/50 chance of a new administration that supports carbon policies. Last year, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton announced a $30 million plan to revitalize and protect coal communities in the U.S.

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Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. (kansieo, 2008, Flickr)

Clinton’s plan would provide competitive grants for people with innovative plans for community growth, funding for schools and educational programs, and ensure the benefits of coal miners who loose their jobs. The plan may not be perfect and is dependent on her election, of course. But it is a hopeful sign that people on both sides of the aisle are paying attention.

The CPP could be fundamental in moving the nation towards cleaner renewable energy. If executed carefully, it could also be a means of economic development and growth in struggling communities. The fate of the CPP is unknown, but it seems that clean air has finally become a bi-partisan priority.

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Jul 24 2016

North Carolina’s Coal Ash – An Eventful Spring and Summer

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On July 15th, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory (R.) finally signed a bill into law requiring Duke Energy to clean up half of its coal ash sites. The bill represents a hard-fought compromise between the state legislature and the Governor, who had vetoed previous clean-up legislation as well as disbanding a coal ash committee earlier this year. This resolution isn’t a perfect solution to the state’s coal ash problems, but it may be the best that can be done while Governor McCrory remains in office. This blog post will briefly examine the problems with the 14 coal ash sites in North Carolina, and then look at the failed clean-up attempts as well as the bill that was recently signed.

http://lockerroom.johnlocke.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/nc-coal-ash-map.png

Copyright 2014 Becki Gray

 

Duke Energy has been operating coal-fired power plants in North Carolina for the better part of 6 decades. The company operates a total of 26 coal plants in six different states, and 14 of these plants are in North Carolina (see the above map). The combustion of coal results in two forms of ash: fly ash and bottom ash. Both of these types of ash must either be stored dry in a landfill, or in water in ash basins (read more about Duke Energy’s coal plants and ash management here – http://www.duke-energy.com/pdfs/duke-energy-ash-basins-fleetwide.pdf). In recent years, studies have begun to question the environmental effects of storing coal ash in basins. These studies are beginning to find that water can leach from these ponds and contaminate aquifers in the area, resulting in toxic drinking water for local residents. Groundwater samples taken in areas surrounding coal ash ponds have been found to have mercury, arsenic, chromium, and other hazardous metals. In addition, on February 2 2014, coal ash from a pond in Eden spilled into the Dan River, contaminating 70 miles of the river with 39,000 tons of coal ash. The picture below shows the aftermath of the spill.

https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/import/switchboard/blogs/bhayat/assets_c/2014/02/Dan%20River%20Spill%20Aerial%202%20Photo%20by%20Waterkeeper%20AllianceRick%20Dove-thumb-500×333-14631.jpg

Copyright 2014 Waterkeeper Alliance

 

Since this incident in 2014, lawmakers, local NC residents, Duke Energy, and Governor McCrory have been locked in a struggle to decide how the clean-up of these toxic coal ash ponds will be handled. It often has seemed as if the NC residents and lawmakers were on one side (in favor of immediately excavating and cleaning over 30 coal ash sites), and McCrory and Duke Energy were on the other side. McCrory and lawmakers have struggled over who has the authority to handle this problem, and have actually gone to court over it. You would think that the man who was elected to serve the interests of North Carolina residents would be all for cleaning up toxic coal ash that is contaminating the drinking water of North Carolina… but you would be wrong. In entirely unrelated news, Governor Pat McCrory worked for Duke Energy for 28 years before becoming governor.

In the aftermath of the Dan River spill, the General Assembly passed a law requiring Duke Energy to close all of its coal ash ponds by 2029. But questions remained about the handling of the cleanup – were North Carolina residents living near these coal ash ponds supposed to deal with contaminated drinking water for 13 more years? In response, lawmakers pursued further legislation to speed up the timeline and protect the health of residents. Later in 2014, the North Carolina Coal Ash Management Commission was formed to oversee the closing of coal ash ponds. However, McCrory challenged the constitutionality of this commission by claiming that the legislature overstepped their roles and placed unconstitutional limits on his executive power. The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled in McCrory’s favor in January 2015, and he suddenly disbanded the commission in early March 2016.

http://media.cagle.com/20/2014/03/03/145112_600.jpg

Copyright 2014 John Cole

 

Then, in June of this year, Senate Bill 71 reached McCrory’s desk. The bill sought to reestablish the Coal Ash Management Commission, as well as force Duke Energy to pay for filtration systems and municipal water connections for 900 homes located near coal ash sites. The bill had broad bipartisan support, but the Governor vetoed it on June 6th. Duke Energy was even mystified by the decision, stating in a press release: “We don’t understand why the Governor would veto a bill that makes North Carolina’s Coal Ash law even stronger. Very importantly, it reconstitutes a Commission that will evaluate the safety and cost of any closure plan on customers.”

Finally, on July 15th, McCrory signed off on House Bill 630. The bill will require Duke Energy to clean up coal ash at seven of its fourteen sites, using a strategy called “cap in place.” This means that the ponds would be drained of water and capped, instead of excavating and removing the hazardous coal ash. Duke Energy will also be required to provide clean drinking water to plant neighbors by 2018. While this bill is a good place to start, many residents are still worried. Because Duke is not being required to remove the hazardous waste, some people worry that the toxic chemicals will still be able to contaminate drinking water. Critics of the bill say that it is unfair for Duke Energy to avoid $10 billion in costs to excavate ash from the more than 30 ponds. It also seems unfair for the seven sites’ residents located near coal ash sites that will not be cleaned up immediately.

It seems like common sense to just clean up the coal ash sites permanently, regardless of the cost. However, politics and Governor McCrory stand in the way of doing what is right for the environment. It may seem way out of reach for an ordinary citizen like you or me to make a difference in this problem. But one huge thing can (and should) be done – vote for Roy Cooper (or anyone but Pat) for Governor on November 8th.

 

Citations

Burns, M., 9 February 2016, Two years later, NC fines Duke for coal ash spill, WRAL, http://www.wral.com/two-years-later-nc-fines-duke-for-coal-ash-spill/15342212/

Chatlani, S., 19 July 2016, North Carolina Gov. McCrory signs compromise coal ash cleanup bill, UtilityDive, http://www.utilitydive.com/news/north-carolina-gov-mccrory-signs-compromise-coal-ash-cleanup-bill/422876/

Chatlani, S., 7 June 2016, North Carolina Gov. McCrory vetoes coal ash bill, UtilityDive, http://www.utilitydive.com/news/north-carolina-gov-mccrory-vetoes-coal-ash-bill/420478/

Chatlani, S., 21 March 2016, North Carolina coal ash commission abruptly shuts down, UtilityDive, http://www.utilitydive.com/news/north-carolina-coal-ash-commission-abruptly-shuts-down/415926/

Duke Energy, 30 September 2014, Duke Energy Coal Plants and Ash Basins, Duke Energy, http://www.duke-energy.com/pdfs/duke-energy-ash-basins-fleetwide.pdf

Gronewold, A., Dalesio, E., 18 July 2016, North Carolina Governor Signs Duke Energy Coal Ash Cleanup Compromise, Insurance Journal, http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/southeast/2016/07/18/420340.htm

Tiberii, J., 29 June 2016, Lawmakers Compromise on Coal Ash Regulation, WUNC, http://wunc.org/post/lawmakers-compromise-coal-ash-regulation

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Jul 23 2016

Wind Energy Proposal and Coal Backlash in North Dakota

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Glacier Ridge Wind Farm LLC, a wind energy company based in Colorado and operating in the Midwest, has recently announced plans to pursue a 300 MW wind farm development in Barnes County, North Dakota. The state has a vast wind energy resource, and is a leader in the United States in harnessing it. However, this potential project is the largest wind farm ever proposed in the state, and must receive a permit from the state Public Service Commission. Discussion among the commissioners on the PSC has focused on renewable energy’s impact on coal power plants and grid reliability. This blog post will examine the wind energy resource in North Dakota, and then tackle the problem of balancing grid stability concerns with progressing towards a renewable-dominated energy future.

fieldwindfarm

Copyright 2009 Land Agent Services LLC

The state of North Dakota has enough wind capacity to generate more than 1 billion kWh of electricity. By 2013, the state had 1.7 GW of wind energy installed, producing 16% of its energy needs. The reason behind North Dakota’s vast wind resource is its location in the wind-swept Great Plains. The flat geography there allows winds to pick up speed uninhibited by hills or forests or other topography. This means that the average wind speed at 80 meters makes wind-generated electricity economically feasible in a majority of the state’s area. The US DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory produced the following map of the wind resource in North Dakota at 80 meters. For reference, wind speeds around 6.5 meters per second and greater are considered suitable for development.

Copyright 2010 NREL

                As you can see, except for a couple of brown spots on the northern, eastern, and western borders, anywhere in the state could be a potential site for wind development. Therefore, it makes a lot of sense for wind energy projects to continue to be proposed in North Dakota. However, the intermittent nature of wind brings up questions of how large a percentage of the state’s energy needs can be met by wind while still keeping the grid stable.

The new proposal by Glacier Ridge would consist of 87 to 99 turbines that would begin operation in 2019. Construction must begin by the end of 2016 for the project to receive the full tax break from the state, but several commissioners on the PSC are hesitant to permit the project. Commissioner Brian Kalk said that “as we bring in more wind and as companies continue to retire coal and potentially nuclear, the reliability of the power grid, I think, is threatened.” The grid requires power running through it at all times. Hypothetically, if the grid in southeastern North Dakota relies on this new 300 MW farm for 30% of its electricity, and there is a day where the wind does not blow at all, then the grid could see rolling blackouts for its customers.

Copyright 2016 Todd Wadena

Recently, Great River Energy Company announced plans to close its 189 MW Stanton coal plant in 2017 due to low energy prices in the region. This follows a trend of coal-fired power plants closing operation as renewable energy seizes larger chunks of the energy market. Wind energy growth may slow down for the time being due to the aforementioned concerns about the grid. There are a couple of solutions that will hopefully allow Glacier Ridge and other wind energy companies to continue to build new developments.

  1. Wind Production Forecasting Systems – Xcel Energy, a wind energy company located in North Dakota, has pioneered an advanced forecasting model that accurately predicts future wind speeds. The model is called WindWX, and has helped reduce Xcel Energy’s forecasting error by 37%, which has saved customers $37.5 million through 2013. The forecasts use complex algorithms and real-time data to give 168-hour predictions. These predictions can then be used by grid operators and utility companies to power down less efficient power generators (i.e. coal plants) on windy days or ramp up these generators on calmer days. This greatly increases the efficiency of the grid and allows wind energy to be more reliable.
  2. Storage – This is the obvious solution for all renewable energy technologies. If energy storage became more efficient, we could rely on renewable energy to meet more of our energy needs. As it stands, storage is too expensive and inefficient to be economically feasible. However, research and progress is being made daily, and will become viable in the not-so-distant future.
  3. Grid Reform – Our grids are wildly outdated and unable to handle a renewable energy future. Transmission inefficiencies and constant power demands are a couple of the main problems. We must transition to smart grids in the future as well as micro-grids to allow renewable energy technologies to flourish.

Citations

Walton, R., 21 July 2016, 300 MW Wind Farm Proposed for North Dakota, Largest in State, UtilityDive, http://www.utilitydive.com/news/300-mw-wind-farm-proposed-for-north-dakota-largest-in-the-state/423078/

Nisbet, M., 2014, Unlocking North Dakota’s Wind Potential, North American Wind Power, http://www.nawindpower.com/online/issues/NAW1408/FEAT_01_Unlocking-North-Dakota-s-Wind-Potential.html

U.S. Department of Energy, 2010, 80-Meter North Dakota Wind Resource Map, WINDExchange, http://apps2.eere.energy.gov/wind/windexchange/wind_resource_maps.asp?stateab=nd

 

 

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Jul 16 2016

WWF Buys Fishing License (Blog Post 2)

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WWF is doing something unusual for environmental groups, but the reasons why they are doing it justify the action. They are buying a $100,000 commercial shark-fishing license in the Great Barrier Reef. But they are not buying to fish sharks; they are buying it protect them.

The WWF is buying this license because whoever owns the license can fish in the area, and can operate detrimental actions on the marine life in the area. The current owner has been dragging a “1.2km net anywhere along the length of the Great Barrier Reef, targeting sharks (Slezack).” However, this does not just endanger sharks. Like in many marine ecosystem, many animals are present, and the net often attacks animals that were not meant to be fished, such as dolphins and sea turtles. This is called bycatch, and it is disastrous to marine life. Usually, like in this circumstance, nets are dragged on the sea floor, hoping to catch a certain animal species, such as a shark. This will guarantee the fisher a lot of some kind of animal, so they use nets. However, other animals that the fisher would not sell also get caught in the net. Usually by the time they are attested to, the animals have passed away due to the oxygen, and then the bodies are discarded. Many animals are killed for really no reason then poor fishing. It is a shame for marine life, and can cause harmful effects if this practice stands the test of time. It can deplete numbers of animals and cause some breeds to become endangered.

 

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Anyway, the WWF buying this fishing license will be a victory for sharks in the Queensland area. The area generated about 10,000 caught sharks per year. And from 2014 to 2015, shark intake almost doubled, from 222 tonnes to 402 tonnes (Slezack).

Along with limiting the species, there are more side effects of shark numbers falling. Sharks are apex predators, and are important to the food chain. When large amounts of them are taken out of a habitat, the prey they would have eaten expands in numbers, and then there is not enough food for them to eat. That can decrease fish population, and decrease algae and plankton population. This can alter the oxygen levels in the water, as well as the minerals. And then, that whole are of the ocean is changed. If you take one animal out of the ecosystem, everything else changes. Also, this can have effects on humans as well, who eat many sea creatures.

In the Great Barrier Reef area, there have been recent bleaching’s, which have affected the ecosystem as well, along with the algae who cannot adapt to the new environment (Slezack). With the less number of sharks in the area, snapper, who is a smaller predator, have been increasing in size and eating more than they should. These snapper eat algae-eating fish, and then the excess of algae “overwhelms” the coral (Slezack). Then coral dies, and does not act as a habitat for many animals, who then have to find new shelter. Affecting the environment with overfishing and bleaching effects one aspect, but that one aspect effects and changes the whole ocean.

 

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The biggest thought I would take away from this article is that one small ripple in the ocean changes everything else, and the ocean never fully recovers from it. The ocean can adapt, but it is never the same. It is interesting to think what the ocean was like hundreds of years ago, when it was more untouched. The WWF buying this land to save it is an initiative that can be used for other areas by other groups, so it will be interesting to see the affect it has on other areas of land and ocean.

 

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Slezak, Michael. “WWF Buys Shark Fishing License on Great Barrier Reef to Scrap It.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 13 July 2016. Web. 16 July 2016.

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Jun 24 2016

Why is the United States Lagging Behind in Renewable Energy?

From May 7 to May 11, 2016, Portugal made history. The entire country was powered solely through a combination of “solar panels, wind turbines, biofuels, geothermal heat and hydroelectric power” (Bird). In other words, renewable energy alone kept the nation running for four days!

Portugal – Care2.com

Portugal is not alone in their ambitious endeavors with renewable energy. Numerous countries around Europe have committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and environmental pollutants by setting and meeting “ever-better renewable energy goals” (Bird). These countries include but are not limited to: Spain, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Denmark etc. Each of these nations have different goals of varying magnitudes, but they are definitely making the steps necessary for a transition over to green and renewable energy.

Unfortunately, the United States has been lagging behind its European counterparts in regards to renewable energy policies, implementation and technologies. Whereas many European nations extract 1/3 to ½ of their energy from renewable resources, the United States only gets around 12% of its energy as a form of renewable energy. As Professor E. Donald Elliot of Yale Law School states, the apathetic nature of the United States towards renewable energy lies “deep in our political structure and political culture, as well as our natural endowment of huge resources of fossil energy, including shale gas and unconventional oil.”

Due to the nature of our government here in the United States, it is nearly impossible to get the two major parties of our government to cooperate and get things done. With only two parties vying for power and because they seem inclined to disagree over everything, making the passing of every policy or plan a grueling, tedious and, sometimes, fruitless task. The issue of renewable energy is no exception with many Democrats being “highly skeptical that dispersed consumers can get enough information to make smarts decisions” and Republicans arguing that “energy choices should be left to the market”. (3 Elliot) For economic, environmental, and just pure survival reasons, the United States needs to step up its game and gain a foothold in the green energy industry before it is too late. The transition will happen regardless of American reluctance, as evidenced by Europe’s progress and China’s rapidly growing investment and implementation of multiple types of renewable energy within its’ borders (Ma). The graph below depicts the total capacity of wind power installed in China from 2001 until 2012.

 

Becoming a leader of the green energy revolution would allow the United States to gain a significant economic advantage in this evolving industry..

If the government cannot move, then it is up to the people. However, although a lot of the obstacles to implementing a renewable energy policy related to our political structure,  some of them, like America’s misconception of low and high gas prices, are ideologies entrenched within American society that are enforced by lack of education and knowledge of climate change. In order for our country to make a change and become more invested in renewable energy as well as the future, the general public must be informed and educated to avoid such misconceptions. This way, the two parties will hopefully be able to find common ground through the interests of the people and take the necessary steps in order to establish a future that generations to come will be glad to call home.

 

Sources:

Bird, Susan. “Using Only Renewable Energy, Portugal Powered Its Entire Country for Four Days.” Care2.com. Care2, 21 June 2016. Web. 24 June 2016.
Elliott, Donald E., Dr. “Why the United States Does Not Have a Renewable Energy Policy.” Environmental Law Institute (2013): 1-7. Web. 24 June 2016.
Ma, Damien. “Re-balancing China’s Energy Strategy.” Paulsoninstitute.org. The Paulson      Institute, 2015. Web. 24 June 2016. <http://www.paulsoninstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/PPEE_Rebalancing-Chinas-Energy-Strategy_Ma_English.pdf>.

 

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