Coal Tattoo

NY Times on ‘Wind vs. Coal’

In case you missed it, Sunday’s New York Times had a lengthy piece about the “Wind vs. Coal” battle going on along West Virginia’s Coal River Valley, where environmental groups are promoting alternative energy over mountaintop removal coal mining.

The story is here, and there’s also some nice graphics, video and photos. The story is part of a series called Beyond Fossil Fuels, which the Times said will “examine innovative attempts to reduce the world’s dependence on coal, oil and other carbon-intensive fuels, and the challenges faced.”

Here’s the “nut-graph” from the Times story:

Critics say the practice, known as “mountaintop removal mining,” is as devastating to the local environment as it is economically efficient for coal companies, one of which is poised to begin carving up Coal River Mountain. And that has Ms. Scarbro and other residents of western Raleigh County in a face-off of their own.

Their goal is to save the mountain, and they intend to do so with a wind farm. At least one study has shown that a wind project could be a feasible alternative to coal mining here, although the coal industry’s control over the land and the uncertain and often tenuous financial prospects of wind generation appear to make it unlikely to be pursued. That, residents say, would be a mistake.

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CONSOL ‘goes green’ with new headquarters


CONSOL Energy might not be too keen on meeting water quality standards at its operations along Dunkard Creek in north-central West Virginia, but this “green” news about the Pittsburgh-based coal giant showed up in my e-mail inbox this morning:

CONSOL Energy Inc.’s  headquarters, located in Southpointe near Canonsburg, Pa., has become the first building in the business complex to be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified. Known as CNX Center, the 309,000 square-foot building was designed to be energy-efficient and compatible with the environment by including multiple features required for the LEED certification, such as public transportation stops close to the building, bicycle stalls for employees, an exercise facility and showers.

According to a press release from CONSOL:

During construction, local materials (obtained within a 500-mile radius), low chemical emitting paints, adhesives and carpet, and wood certified to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards were utilized. The project team also recycled more than 75 percent of all waste, diverting it from the landfill.

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Gazette photo by Chip Ellis

Given the numerous challenges working against any substantial recovery of the region’s coal industry, and that production is projected to decline significantly in the coming decades, diversification of Central Appalachian economies is now more critical than ever. State and local leaders should support new economic development across the region, especially in the rural areas set to be the most impacted by a sharp decline in the region’s coal economy.

That’s the take-home message from a major new report issued today by the Morgantown consulting group Downstream Strategies. The report is called, “The Decline of Central Appalachian Coal and the Need for Economic Diversification.”

It’s must-read material for anyone who cares about the future of the Appalachian coalfields, and especially for elected officials who keep hoping that the next coal boom is just around the corner.

evanhansen.jpgrory.jpgAuthors Rory McIlmoil and Evan Hansen  make the case that a host of factors — competition from other coal-producing regions, rising interest in natural gas and renewable energy, and the depletion of Central Appalachia’s best reserves — has prompted a decline in regional coal production that is unlikely to be reversed. In fact, they report:

After strong and increased production through the mid-1990s, regional production last peaked in 1997 at 290 million tons. Even as national production continued to grow, by 2008, Central Appalachian production has fallen 20 percent to 235 million tons.

Recent projections indicate that — despite substantial coal reserves — annual production may decline another 46 percent by 2020, and 58 percent by 2035, to 99 million tons.

And, importantly, that’s without considering the potential impacts of climate change legislation or new restrictions on mountaintop removal coal mining. Both of those policies are likely to further squeeze the region’s coal industry, the report says, making it all the more important to begin planning for such events:

Should substantial declines occur as projected, coal-producing counties will face significant losses in employment and tax revenue, and state government will collect fewer taxes from the coal industry. State policy-makers across the Central Appalachian region should therefore begin taking the necessary steps to ensure that new jobs and sources of revenue will be available in the counties likely to experience the greatest impact from the decline.

The report adds:

While there are numerous options available, the development of the region’s renewable energy resources and a strong focus on energy efficiency offer immediate and significant opportunities to begin diversifying the economy.

In a news release, Rory said:

Coal has contributed significantly to local and state economies in Central Appalachia, but production has fallen substantially over the last 12 years as other coal basins and sources of fuel have become more competitive. This trend is expected to continue as mining costs increase due to the depletion of the lowest cost coal reserves, and as new environmental regulations are implemented. As this happens, local and state economies will need new sources of jobs and revenue to replace coal mining jobs and taxes.

And Evan added:

Given that coal production is projected to decline significantly in the coming decades, diversification of Central Appalachian economies is now more critical than ever. State leaders should use this legislative session to increase support for new economic development across the region, especially in the rural areas set to be the most impacted by a sharp decline in the region’s coal economy.

We’ve talked a lot on Coal Tattoo about the concept of “peak coal,” and  about what greenhouse gas limits and new restrictions on valley fills would mean for the coal industry and the region as a whole. We’ve discussed options for “green jobs” in the coalfields, including an op-ed Evan co-wrote about an abandoned mine cleanup project that Downstream Strategies was working on as one example, and Rory’s project in his former job promoting the Coal River Wind Project (and Evan’s report on the economic benefits of it).

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OVEC urges opposition to Mingo coal-to-liquids plant


First, coal industry officials asked their supporters to get involved and back the proposed Trans-Gas coal-to-liquids plant in Mingo County. And now — on the even of a public hearing on the project — the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition is trying to build opposition to an air pollution permit for the plant.

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Industry seeks help pushing coal-to-liquids plant


The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has extended the comment period for the proposed TransGas Development liquid coal plant in Mingo County, and the coal industry is taking advantage of the opportunity to try to drum up support for the project.

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Manchin seeking to tighten his new energy law


As a special session of West Virginia’s Legislature continues, lawmakers have passed two resolutions expressing their support for the coal industry, saying that:

… Recent events at the federal level, most notably the debate over “cap and trade” legislation in Congress and obscure regulatory actions by the Environmental Protection Agency, are casting a shadow of doubt and uncertainty over the future of the coal industry in West Virginia…

But lawmakers are also examining a little-noticed bill sent to them by Gov. Joe Manchin to make several changes in the Manchin energy bill passed earlier this year. The change are in HB 408 and the companion SB 4008.

Recall that Manchin’s bill was intended to require utilities in West Virginia to get a share of their power from alternative energy sources. But, some critics noted that the governor’s definition of alternative energy was so broad as to include just about anything.

The new bill is aimed at narrowing this definition a little bit, according to Manchin communications director Matt Turner. “We want people to use newer technology,” Turner said.

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Do West Virginians want cleaner energy?


Gazette photo by Lawrence Pierce

Gov. Joe Manchin and the state’s congressional delegation are sure to get an earful today when they meet with a herd of coal company executives and elected officials from coalfield counties.

But what do most West Virginians think about the ongoing debate over fighting global warming, reducing the impacts of mountaintop removal and moving toward cleaner production of energy?

I wondered that yesterday, as I was reading a post on Joseph Romm’s Climate Progress blog called, “Voters in Ohio, Michigan and Missouri overwhelmingly support action on clean energy and global warming.” Romm was describing the findings of a recent Pew Environmental Group survey that found:

Recent surveys of voters conducted in three swing states and five swing congressional districts find overwhelming support for a two-part plan to reduce global warming emissions and to require use of clean energy sources.

There is support in all three states for the combined proposal to reduce emissions and require clean energy sources. When asked, “Congress is considering an energy plan that has two key parts. One part would require factories and power companies to reduce their emissions of the carbon pollution that causes global warming by 17% (20% in MO) by the year 2020 and by 80% by the year 2050. The other part would require power companies to generate 15% of their power from clean energy sources like wind and solar by the year 2025. Would you favor/oppose this entire plan?”

  • 75% of voters in Michigan favor.
  • 68% of voters in Ohio favor.
  • 67% of voters in Missouri favor.

OK, what’s that got to do with West Virginia? Well, in that same post, Romm mentioned another survey that found:

63% of likely voters (and 59% of independents) in AK, AR, IN, ME, MI, MO, MT, NC, NV, ND, NH, OH, PA, SD, VA, WV support the bill.

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Given reports that Massey Energy has started blasting away on Coal River Mountain, where environmentalists and local citizens hoped to see a wind farm instead of a strip mine, it’s worth taking a look at what recently happened in another one of these United States …

Today, President Barack Obama is touring Florida Power and Light’s new DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center in Arcadia on Tuesday – the largest photovoltaic facility in the U.S.  This comes two years after Earthjustice fought FPL’s plan to build the nation’s largest coal plant near Everglades National Park.

There’s more about this FPL facility here, and background on Earthjustice’s fight against the coal plant here.

According to a statement from Earthjustice:

In June 2007, Earthjustice gathered evidence and experts which helped convince the Florida Public Service Commission to consider the full costs associated with polluting coal plants. It was the first time that global warming played a role in a PSC decision, and the first time in 15 years that state regulators rejected a new power plant.

David Guest, managing attorney for Earthjustice in Florida, said:

Instead of having a dirty coal plant to provide power, we have clean solar energy. It is gratifying to know that Earthjustice helped change public policy and moved our state to more common-sense technology. We are finally putting the sunshine back in the Sunshine State.

W.Va. ranked poorly in energy efficiency, clean power


Gov. Joe Manchin touting energy efficiency at the kick-off event of last year’s Energy Star Sales Tax Holiday in West Virginia.

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin was saying the other day — when confronted by anti-mountaintop removal protesters outside his office at the Capitol — that his administration is pushing for alternative energy projects in out state:

We want to do everything. We’re committed to attracting wind farms and attracting solar farms. We’re looking at all of that.

But a new report out this morning from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy gives West Virginia a failing grade for its efforts to improve efficiency in buildings, industry and transportation systems.

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Coal industry supports don’t much like it when they are confronted with the inevitability of changes in our energy system to deal with global warming. One typical response: To throw out figures about how much our nation relies on coal and argue that there’s no way to replace the 50 percent of our electricity that comes from burning it.

But a new study — just out this morning from the National Academy of Sciences — explains that a cleaner energy future is possible. Sure, it’s a major undertaking, and it might increase costs. But its doable, and it’s necessary to save the planet, according to the scientific consensus spelled out in the report. And guess what? It might even be able to include coal, if the industry stops fighting change and works to perfect and deploy carbon capture and storage technologies.

According to the NAS report, “America’s Energy Future: Technology and Transformation“:

With a sustained national commitment, the United States could obtain substantial energy-efficiency improvements, new sources of energy, and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions through the accelerated deployment of existing and emerging energy technologies … 

But …

Initiating deployment of these technologies is urgent: Actions taken — or not taken — between now and 2020 to develop and demonstrate several key technologies will largely determine the nation’s energy options for many decades to come.

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Amid all the other reactions to the Obama administration’s announced plans for dealing with mountaintop removal, I am sitting here on a Friday afternoon, wondering if they — and the rest of us — buried the lead.

There it is, at the bottom of their list of proposals:

Federal agencies will work in coordination with appropriate regional, state and local entities to help diversify and strengthen the Appalachian regional economy and promote the health and welfare of Appalachian communities.

What? Who? When? How?

We should all want to know the answers to those questions … our elected officials — from Sen. Byrd to Gov. Manchin and down to county commissioners and mayors — should all be demanding to know.

President Obama campaigned at least in part on promises that he would “green the economy” with lots of good, new jobs based on alternative energy industries. And whether anyone likes it or not, efforts to deal with global warming — another Obama priority — are going to impact coalfield communities. Our leaders would be right to ask what is going to be done to give our people jobs in this new economy.

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PSC to AEP: Turn over documents on efficiency

An interesting little breaking news item:

The West Virginia Public Service Commission has ordered American Electric Power to turn over documents concerning its demands-demand side management and energy efficiency programs.

The PSC order is available here,  and it is the result of an effort by the West Virginia-Citizen Action Group to have conservancy and energy efficiency be a bigger part of the commission’s consideration of AEP’s huge rate increase request, currently pending before the PSC.

Lawyers for AEP opposed the WV-CAG request, but Citizen Action lawyer (and loyal Coal Tattoo reader) Tom Rodd explained that the PSC had already granted WV-CAG’s request to intervene in the case for the central purpose of arguing that AEP can and should reduce costs to its customers with better conservation and efficiency measures.

Hearings on the rate request are scheduled for next month.

New report: Coal-to-liquids not an easy answer

Coalfield politicians love to pain coal-to-liquids technology as an easy and patriotic answer to our nation’s dependence on foreign oil.  But a new report from the National Research Council explains that, while coal-to-liquids might be part of a long-term answer, it’s far from an easy one.

The report is available online here or here (depending on whether you want to pay for the .pdf file or read it free online) and there’s a press release summarizing the findings here.

In short, the report concluded:

Liquid fuels from biomass and coal have the potential to reduce petroleum fuel use and CO2 emissions in the U.S. transportation sector over the next 25 years. Even with abundant resources in biomass and coal, however, substantial investments in research, development, and commercial demonstration projects will be needed to produce these alternative liquid fuels in an environmentally conscious way, and at a level that could impact U.S. dependence on imported oil.

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Global warming: Efficiency is part of the answer

Yesterday’s little post about movement on the Waxman-Markey climate change bill generated some comments from Coal Tattoo readers about what role improved energy efficiency can plan in dealing with global warming.

So, I thought I would pass one some information on that particular issue.

First, I did a story a few months back for the Gazette about a study by the Worldwatch Institute that concluded, among other things, that a progressive plan to address global warming should:

— Make buildings more efficient – Buildings consume about 40 percent of global energy and emit a comparable share of carbon dioxide emissions. More efficient lighting and appliances and improved walls and windows could reduce energy use in buildings by 70 percent or more, with the investment paid for via lower energy bills.

 — Improve efficiency of power plants – Two-thirds of the energy contained in the fuel for most power plants is converted to waste heat or lost in distribution. Combined heat and power systems can reduce those losses to less than 20 percent and provide the U.S. with 150 gigawatts of generating capacity – more than nuclear power now provides.

The entire study is available here.

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Wind vs. Coal: The China edition


Artwork by PETER O. ZIERLEIN, via The Nation

We’ve had some interesting discussions here at Coal Tattoo about Wind vs. Coal (See previous posts here, here, here and here). And whenever we start talking about the U.S. regulating carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants, some folks always seem to jump in and say things like, “Well, sure, but what about China?”

Well, what about China?

There’s a great story in the latest issue of The Nation, and it’s available online too, here.

Obviously, China has lots of coal. And it’s burning it — and the Chinese want to keep burning it. But, they also have a little bit of wind, and they’re apparently gearing up to use it in a big way, too, at least according to Christian Parenti, a National contributing editor and writer who authored this story.

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speakerpic.jpgW.Va. House of Delegates Speaker Rick Thompson and other House leaders apparently don’t want to even talk about real alternative energy sources.

Coal River Mountain Watch folks report this morning that the House Rules Committee — a small panel that controls the body’s agenda — refused to bring to the floor a resolution in support of the Coal River Wind Project.  As Coal Tattoo readers well know, this proposal would avoid blowing up some Raleigh County mountains and instead put a wind energy facility at the site.

House Concurrent Resolution 52  had 6 original cosponsors and 35 cosponsors. But House leaders sent it to committee, and then bottled it up without allowing the public to see where their elected representatives stood whether West Virginia should try to move toward a greener energy future.

Here on Coal Tattoo, we’ve had a pretty interesting discussion about the “Wind vs. Coal” debate (See posts and reader comments here, here and here). Both environmentalists who support the Coal River Wind Project and coal industry folks who either oppose or question its worth have taken part … too bad the West Virginia Legislature doesn’t want to have the same debate on the floor of the House of Delegates.

Meanwhile, though, Gov. Joe Manchin’s alleged alternative energy bill — a piece of legislation tailored to meet the needs of the coal industry — continues to move ahead. It’s up on 2nd reading in the House today.

Wind vs. Coal, The Offshore Edition


In this Oct. 30, 2002, file photo, a speed boat passes by offshore windmills in the North Sea offshore from the village of Blavandshuk near Esbjerg, Denmark. While the Obama administration has touted offshore renewable energy development, a turf fight between two federal agencies has stymied the government’s ability to issue rules needed to approve wind energy projects off America’s coasts. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Monday, March 16, 2009, the infighting has got to stop. (AP Photo/Heribert Proepper)

We’ve had a good discussion of this issue as it involves the Coal River Wind Project, in Wind vs. Coal I and Wind vs. Coal II.  And now this dispatch comes in from The Associated Press:


Associated Press Writer

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Windmills off the East Coast could generate enough electricity to replace most, if not all, the coal-fired power plants in the United States, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Monday.

The secretary spoke at a public hearing in Atlantic City on how the nation’s offshore areas can be tapped to meet America’s energy needs.

“The idea that wind energy has the potential to replace most of our coal-burning power today is a very real possibility,” he said. “It is not technology that is pie-in-the sky; it is here and now.”

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My friend Rick Wilson makes a pitch for green jobs for the coalfields today on his Goat Rope blog:

Many companies and public agencies are making more or less sincere noises about moving in a more sustainable direction. And there are public resources to support this emerging economy in both the stimulus package and President Obama’s proposed budget. There is also the possibility of using federal funds for reclaiming abandoned mines to create jobs aimed at mitigating some of the damage.

Of course, Coal Tattoo has made the pitch for increased spending on cleaning up abandoned coal mines across Appalachia before. And part of President Obama’s budget plan would help to do that, as I explained in Obama AML plan: Green jobs for the coalfields.

rahall_photo.jpgBut Obama’s AML plan is going to face a lot of attacks from Wyoming lawmakers and others. So far, it hasn’t even gotten the support of Appalachian political leaders, like West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin or House Natural Resources Chairman Nick J. Rahall.

So it becomes all the more important that Obama pick a strong leader, someone with real vision for cleaning up the coalfields (and strongly regulating strip mining) to run the U.S. Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

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Much ado about biomass: Co-firing with coal


 First Energy Corp.’s R.E. Burger Power Plant near Shadyside, Ohio.

First Energy Corp. announced this week that it is going to spend $200 million to convert its R.E. Burger Power Plant near Shadyside, Ohio, so it can burn a mix of coal and biomass — wood and plant wastes.

The Columbus Dispatch has a story about this,  and they report:

Bruce Nilles, director of the Sierra Club’s National Coal Campaign, said FirstEnergy’s decision will create less pollution from a cleaner fuel. Unlike coal, burned biomass doesn’t emit mercury, a potent neurotoxin, or sulfur dioxide, a compound that helps create smog, soot and acid rain. “It’s a lot less toxic pollution,” he said.

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Wind vs. Coal II


In Wind vs. Coal I, I gave readers some criticism of the Coal River Wind Project jobs report, as well as a response from the report author and a reply from a coal industry critic.  Thanks to everyone who has so far contributed comments on that post, especially Bill Howley of the Power Line blog, foro some thoughts nobody has really brought up yet.

Just to continue this debate and discussion, I’m passing on this, from the CNN/Fortune Green Wombat blog:

Here’s a talking point in the green jobs debate: The wind industry now employs more people than coal mining in the United States.

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