Dirt Cheap Clean Energy? | January issue of Energy Justice Now

Just in time, the January issue of Energy Justice Now — the national forum for the Dirty Energy Resistance — is here!

Inside this issue:

- Dirt Cheap Clean Energy

-  Energy Storage and Solar Inspiring Customers to Drop Utilities?

Destruction of Demand: How to Shrink Our Energy Footprint

...and more!

Please share the January 2015 issue of Energy Justice Now with your friends, colleagues, neighbors, media, and elected officials! 

Subscribe to monthly email issues of Energy Justice Now!



Dirt Cheap Clean Energy

The most exciting news is coming sooner than I expected. The moment where the biggest fights become where to put all of the wind and solar, rather than having to endlessly fight off plans for nuclear, coal, oil, or gas power plants, or biomass or waste incinerators.

The lines are already crossing. These are the economic lines where the cost of wind and solar actually becomes cheaper than the cheapest of dirty energy sources (which, at the moment, is natural gas). In the past handful of months, research has shown that -- even without subsidies -- land-based wind power is now cheaper to build than natural gas combined cycle power plants which, themselves, have been undercutting nuclear, coal, biomass and trash incinerators in recent years, causing some to close because they can't compete with the momentarily cheap gas.

Solar power is on a path to undercut fossil fuels within five years, leading to headlines about how solar power could slay the fossil fuel empire by 2030 and whether new super efficient affordable solar panels could trump fossil fuels. The Boston Globe recently reported on how renewable energy is starting to win on price.

The most amazing chart is this one published in Bloomberg in October, titled "Welcome to the Terrordome." It shows solar prices coming down from the sky like a lightning bolt in the last few years, shooting down to levels under Brent (oil) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) prices, and fast approaching U.S. bituminous coal and Henry Hub (natural gas) prices.

...and it's just in time, since we'll soon be running short on natural gas. As fracking for natural gas takes over in recent years, the myths about gas supply echo that of coal -- supposedly hundreds of years of supply left. However, coal production in the U.S. has peaked and U.S. gas production is likely to peak by 2017. When a resource peaks, we've used up the cheap half. This means costs will rise as production can't keep up with demand, and more extreme extraction methods become necessary.

Thankfully, nearly all of our energy needs can be met by a combination of conservation, efficiency, wind, solar and energy storage. Demand reduction must be prioritized, cutting use at least in half, which would put the U.S. on par with per capita energy use in Europe. A 2012 study out of the University of Delaware showed that wind, solar and energy storage can meet our electricity needs with 99.9% reliability by 2030, cost effectively, with no government subsidies. Stanford University researchers have shown that all energy (including transportation and heating sector use) can be provided by conservation, efficiency, wind, solar, geothermal and hydropower (including ocean power) by 2050, while saving money, improving health and creating jobs.

Of course, there is no free lunch. Normal wind turbines use about two tons of a rare earth metal, neodymium, which is mined in horribly destructive ways in China, yet neodymium-free turbines exist and could be something we demand. Solar has a toxic reputation, for good reason, yet solar technology keeps evolving. Some newer types (like nanotech varieties) could be highly toxic, while others reduce or eliminate use of toxic materials. Even energy efficiency can be wasteful where it involves having to replace materials in buildings, lighting, appliances and motors. Material shortages can limit the clean energy dream, and it's hard to say where this limit may be. However, the status quo is terribly worse. This transition must be done as soon as we can, and as just and as democratically as we can.

This clean energy revolution is freaking out the energy utilities, who are seeing the writing on the wall if wind and solar are produced in a decentralized way where their centralized business model isn't needed. Some are even organizing and getting states (like Arizona) to make it more expensive for people to put solar on their roof and are using race-baiting tactics such as encouraging the Congressional Black Caucus to see net metering as harming their constituents (a claim that NAACP and other environmental justice advocates are pushing back against).

Ultimately, we need our movement for energy justice to be a movement that not only stops dirty energy in its tracks, but builds solutions that are decentralized, publicly-owned, and democratically controlled. Public utilities must truly be public to have economic incentives to use less. We can do this. We must.

Trash Incinerators: Don't Call it a Comeback

The New York Times ran an article on Jan 11th, 2015, acting like incinerators are making a comeback, and featuring the huge Energy Answers incinerator proposed in Baltimore as if it's "being built" (which is not true).  Incinerators are trying to come back, but our movement is effectively beating back the industry almost everywhere they go, with Florida a rare exception.

We submitted this Op Ed to the New York Times, but they chose not to print it (or those submitted by several others to correct their reporting).

It's also worth nothing that in Massachusetts (one of the four states where the Times says large new trash incinerators are being considered) it's illegal to even build them, and none are being considered.  See our webpages on incineration and zero waste for more info.


Trash Incinerators: Don't Call it a Comeback

The Times' Jan. 10th "Garbage Incinerators Make Comeback" article portrays a false trend.  Trash incinerators are the most expensive and polluting way to make energy or to dispose of waste.  Since they impact health and property values, they're one of the most unpopular technologies in the world, and are actually on the decline in the U.S.

Far from a comeback, of the currently operating commercial-scale trash incinerators in the U.S., the last one to be built at a new site came online in 1995.  From 1995 until now, at nine existing incinerator sites (including West Palm Beach), operations have expanded, adding nearly 6,000 tons/day (tpd) of new capacity.  In that same time, 74 U.S. incinerators have closed, shutting down nearly 21,000 tpd of capacity.  Another 2,250 tpd incinerator (Florida's North Broward plant) is talking about closing soon for lack of waste to burn, as waste is sent to the new 3,000 tpd West Palm Beach incinerator one county north, to the displeasure of West Palm Beach residents.

Many hundreds of proposed incinerators have been stopped in the past few decades as well.  One compilation shows that 280 incinerator proposals were defeated in the decade between 1985 and 1994, and that trend has continued to this day, with several proposals defeated just last year.

At the industry's peak in 1991, there were 187 commercial trash incinerators in the U.S.  There are now about 80, with two more looking to close in the next year.

Waste Management, Inc., the world's largest waste corporation, has moved away from incineration.  Last year, they sold off their Wheelabrator subsidiary, abandoning their role as the nation's second largest operator of conventional waste incinerators.  Several experimental types of incinerators, using gasification, pyrolysis and plasma arc technologies have failed to prove capable of commercial operation.  WMI invested in a variety of these companies in recent years just to abandon them as well.

With this industry, there is a lot more "blowing smoke" than actual fire.  The plan in Baltimore for the nation's largest incinerator is permitted, but not actually "being built" as the article portrayed.  Incinerators supposedly "under consideration" in four other states aren't anything likely to happen, either, and are largely unknown to state permitting agencies.  One of those states, Virginia, confirmed that they have no active applications for incinerators anywhere in the state.  However, an informal proposal for one was "shot down due to public opposition" last year, after a year-long battle.

The same happened in Frederick, Maryland last November after a decade-long fight with the community caused the incinerator deal to crumble, even after all permits were issued.  The deal began to unravel when the partner county paid $1 million to back out of the contract thanks to their fiscal conservatism.  If only Harrisburg, Pennsylvania's leaders listened in 2003 when I warned them that the city faced bankruptcy if they invested in rebuilding their incinerator.  Eight years later, after listening to their consultants instead, the city was the largest at the time to seek bankruptcy protection.

Sadly, this is not so unusual, as incinerators must lock in energy sales and long-term waste supply contracts, even if construction is privately financed.  Local governments signing long-term waste contracts often get locked into bad deals where they pay too much for too long and are punished if they reduce waste or recycle more, since they still pay fees on waste they no longer supply to the incinerator.

Trash incineration is more expensive than landfilling which the waste industry (even the trash incinerator industry's trade association) has publicly admitted.  Of course, incinerators do not avoid landfilling as they need landfills for their ash.  Every 100 tons of waste burned results in 30 tons of ash that ends up landfilled.

Two studies done for the Energy Information Administration since 2010 show that trash incineration is also the most expensive way to make electricity.  It's the most expensive to build, and also the most expensive to operate and maintain – even though they get paid to take waste as their fuel, while other (non-renewable) energy sources pay for their fuel.

The industry avoids using the unpopular 'i' word, preferring to refer to incinerators as energy facilities, even though they're primarily waste facilities.  If you compare their pollution to other energy facilities, you find that they're far dirtier than coal power plants.  To make the same amount of energy as a coal plant, the average trash incinerator in the U.S. releases 28 times as much dioxin (the most toxic man-made chemicals known to science), 2.5 times as much carbon dioxide (impacting global warming), three times as much nitrogen oxides (impacting asthma), six times as much mercury and nearly six times as much lead (both affecting the brain and more), and 70% more sulfur dioxides (affecting breathing).  Incinerators are this much more polluting even though the average incinerator was built in 1987 and the average coal plant was built in 1968, with fewer pollution controls.

A state-wide analysis by New York's environmental agency, found that the state's ten trash incinerators put out 14 times more mercury per unit of energy produced than the state's eight coal plants, and more mercury in total, even though the coal plants are much larger.

Recycling is stagnating where political leaders haven't really been leaders.  However, in over 7,000 communities around the country, people are using Save Money and Reduce Trash (SMART) programs where they pay less if they throw out less trash (also known as "pay as you throw").  Just like any other utility, if you pay for how much you use, you'll use less.  Communities switching to these programs find immediate reductions in trash generation of 44% on average.  Over 80% of Wisconsin communities and over half of Iowa communities use it.  These programs are now mandatory in Minnesota, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, and are being considered in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Using the most expensive and polluting way to reduce tons going to landfills by 70% makes no sense, when some cities are already showing the way with "zero waste" plans that divert 70% or more from landfills and incinerators through source reduction, reuse, recycling and composting.  In doing so, they create 10 times as many jobs as landfills or incinerators.

Mike Ewall, Esq. is founder and director of Energy Justice Network, a national organization supporting communities threatened by polluting energy and waste facilities.

EPA Gives Green Light to Biomass Carbon Pollution | January issue of The Biomass Monitor

You can run, but you can’t hide...the January issue of The Biomass Monitor — the nation’s leading publication covering the health and environmental impacts of bioenergy — is here!

Inside this issue, “EPA Gives Green Light to Biomass Carbon Pollution”:

- EPA Chooses Politics Over Public Interest on Energy Policy

Biomass Industry Plays With Fire, Gets Burned

Biofuel Hell

...and more!

Please share the January 2015 issue of The Biomass Monitor with your friends, colleagues, neighbors, media, and elected officials! 

Subscribe to monthly email issues of The Biomass Monitor!




CONFERENCE CALL: How to Beat Back the Biomass Industry…and Win!

The Biomass Monitor & Anti-Biomass Incineration Campaign - January Conference Call
Thursday, January 15, 2015 at 3pm PST / 4 MT / 6 ET
Guest Speakers: Gretchen Brewer and Elaine Bailey, PTAirWatchers
When Port Townsend Paper proposed a biomass power facility for their paper mill in 2010, PT AirWatchers director Gretchen Brewer and board member Elaine Bailey worried that their region’s air quality—already compromised by the paper mill—would only get worse.
PTAirWatchers worked to educate the public on the many health and environmental impacts of biomass energy and filed a legal suit challenging the facility’s air permit. After many years and three legal challenges that went all the way to the Washington State Supreme Court, Port Townsend Paper canceled the project in the spring of 2014.
Listen to Gretchen and Elaine’s story and join us for conversation and questions on Thursday, January 15, 2015 at 3pm PST / 4 MT / 6 ET.
Email thebiomassmonitor [at] gmail.com for call in number and access code. 

Concerns About Syracuse, NY Trash Incinerator Pollution

- January 6, 2015, LocalSYR

It’s the next step to allow trash from Cortland County to be brought into Onondaga County’s Waste to Energy facility.

Both counties’ legislatures this week have held public hearings on the so called “Ash for Trash” plan.

For two decades now Onondaga County's Waste to Energy facility has been burning trash only from Onondaga County.

The legislature is now considering changing that law to allow for trash to come in from Cortland County.

The the extra trash would allow the incinerator to meet the minimum levels of trash it handles as established in a new contract agreed to between OCRRA and the plant operator, Covanta.

Largest Ground Source Heat Pump Installation in UK Poultry Sector

- September 1, 2015, Farming Life

Renewable specialist TGE Group has been awarded a £1m contract to install a 1,300kW heat pump for a Shropshire poultry farmer to provide heat and cooling across four new poultry units.

On completion, the system will be the largest Ground Source Heat Pump installation in the UK poultry sector.

The project, currently in build, will be managed alongside the construction of the units to ensure the four, 50,000 bird capacity sheds are complete for late spring. The installation of five Geo Qube Ground Source Heat Pumps, manufactured specifically for the poultry industry, will deliver reactive heating and cooling to each building.

Nova Scotia Power Biomass in Cape Breton Raising Green Concerns

- by Aaron Beswick, January 9, 2015, The Chronicle Herald

About 2,790 hectares.

That’s a rough estimate of how much woodland will need to be cut annually to feed Nova Scotia Power’s biomass boiler at Point Tupper.

“It seems that more of the fears are coming true than the benefits we had envisioned from that facility,” said Kari Easthouse, manager of the Cape Breton Private Land Partnership.

Foresters in northern Nova Scotia are warning that the wood being burned at Nova Scotia Power’s new biomass boiler may be green, but the electricity coming out of it isn’t.

New Biomass Power Facility on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula?

- Sam Ali, January 8, 2015, ABC 10

The Keweenaw Renewable Energy Coalition is one step closer to helping bring a solution to the energy crisis in the Copper Country.

Last night, KREC gathered experts in the logging and timber industries for a biomass working session to discuss the future of a possible 11-megawatt biomass electric plant.They were joined via Skype by Asko Ojaniemi, the head of an energy efficiency solutions company in Finland. The plan is to bring in his team to design a plant that matches the needs of the area.

KREC’s treasurer says one of the bigger decisions will be the location of the plant.

Media Helps Biomass Industry Spread Wildfire Hysteria

-  by Melissa Santos, January 4, 2015, The News Tribune

[Yet another mainstream media article mouthing biomass industry talking points and ignoring the science showing no link between logging and the prevention of large wildfires. -Josh]

Ann Stanton credits a state program with saving her home from the worst wildfire in Washington’s history.

Despite her property being in the path of the Carlton Complex fire, which scorched about 256,000 acres in Okanogan and Chelan counties last summer, Stanton’s home and the trees around it survived with minimal damage.

It wasn’t just luck. A year earlier, Stanton and her husband worked with the state Department of Natural Resources to thin the trees on their 20-acre property, reducing the wildfire’s ability to spread.

“It made all the difference in the world for us,” Stanton said last month. “The house was completely spared. If you could ignore the black trunks on some of the ponderosa pines, you could imagine the fire had never happened.”

DNR officials think thinning and restoring more forests on public and private lands throughout the state could help prevent another wildfire season like 2014, which was the most destructive in state history.


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