Posts Tagged ‘green energy’


Review: “Kallenberg Excels With Heartfelt ‘Haynesville'”

FROM CollegeMovieReview.com:

I sit here speechless (which doesn’t happen often) after watching Haynesville, a fascinating documentary on the Haynesville Shale, called “this century’s gold rush,” located in the northwest corner of Louisiana. The Haynesville Shale is a massive deposit of natural gas thousands of meters beneath the ground, just waiting to be accessed. This reserve of natural gas, with the others already known in the States, is large enough to power the nation’s electricity for the next 104 years (which is pretty important considering that Americans use more energy and electricity than any other country in the world)! This natural gas has so many implications both positive and negative, not only for the people of Northwest Louisiana, but for the entire country.

Basically, this documentary takes everything we ought to know (but don’t) about energy: its extraction, consumption, storage (or the lack thereof), cost, uses, and effects—like pollution—and puts all of it into 72 mind-blowing minutes. “By coincidence or by God’s will, the United States is given a chance to have the cleanest fuel that will bridge it over to the next generation of fuels and technologies. That is right in front of us.”

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I Feel Another Coal Rant Coming On – HaynesvillePlay.com

Coal is getting under my skin again. Two things in particular are bothering me: coal ash and the myth of “clean coal.”

In catching up on articles this past weekend, I read an article in Sierramagazine about the problems associated with the coal ash ponds created by the huge coal-fired electric plant in Colstrip, MT. As coal is burned, it leaves behind a certain amount of residue, but unlike the wood in our fireplace, coal ash is filled with dangerous heavy metals and toxins, including mercury. Some of the ash is turned into building materials, but much of it wastes away in holding ponds along with sludge from srubbers that remove a portion of the pollutants from the smokestacks. Unfortunately these ponds lead to even more pollution as the chemicals in the water both leech into the groundwater and evaporate into the air.

I also saw a piece in the New York Times about the difficulties in cleaning up the massive coal ash spill in Kingston, TN. This massive spill in 2008 made us all aware of the dangers of these holding ponds. Outside of the sheer magnitude of the cleanup (the article notes that the disaster spilled “5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash across 300 acres into the Emory River and an affluent shoreline community near Knoxville(,) enough ash to cover a square mile five feet deep.”), the cleanup crews are having trouble finding appropriate dumping grounds for the sediment. The spilled ash is horrible stuff, filled with heavy metals that can lead to cancer, and not many landfills can handle it, especially not in these massive volumes. The one landfill that does take the sludge, located in tiny Uniontown, AL, has received so much rain lately that it has to deal with 100,000 gallons of tainted water per day as a result. The cleanup contractors are looking across the southeast for sites to process the tainted water, including in my home state of Louisiana. That situation is not yet resolved.

It is hard for me to believe the environmental furor over hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, a practice that has not created a single documented instance of groundwater contamination, when there are hundreds of these toxic retention ponds at coal plants all over the country, many of which are classified by the EPA as “high hazards” or disaster sites (see map below). I can certainly understand the desire to avoid other potential new hazards, but the outrage directed towards fracking, especially in the Northeast, would be much better spent preventing the spread of toxic pollution associated with coal-fired power plants.

Which brings me to the oxymoron of “clean coal.” It makes my head hurt to try to find two words that go less well together. That large scale carbon sequestration and storage (CSS) has not yet been demonstrated is fairly well known, but what happens if it is finally possible? The amount of carbon captured for storage from coal generating plants would be huge. We would quickly run out of places to store it. On top of that, coal plants would have to burn lots more coal just to power the CSS process. Talk about a win-win for the coal industry!

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Visualizing The U.S. Electric Grid – NPR.org

The U.S. electric grid is a complex network of independently owned and operated power plants and transmission lines. Aging infrastructure, combined with a rise in domesticelectricity consumption, has forced experts to critically examine the status and health of the nation’s electrical systems.

View interactive graphic.

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A Natural Choice – Washington Post – Editorial

IN AMERICA’S climate debate, one of the most promising developments of recent months has been the growing recognition in Washington that natural gas may play a key role in curbing carbon emissions. The resurgence of gas comes through the discovery of massive deposits in Appalachian shale formations and elsewhere — a reserve that offers the prospect of stable domestic supplies and relatively low prices. Since burning natural gas produces half the emissions of burning coal, switching the two fuels could put a significant dent in America’s carbon footprint.

The rumor this month was that such arguments had swayed the White House and that President Obama would back policy aimed at discouraging coal and encouraging natural gas at a speech he delivered to the Business Roundtable on Wednesday. The rumors didn’t bear out. That’s too bad. With climate-change legislation still stalled in Congress, nudging gas forward is something that the government can do quickly and relatively cheaply to meet its medium-term emissions goals if current trends persist.

To be sure, America doesn’t want to depend too much on one commodity. Drastically ramping up the amount of natural gas burned to generate electricity would require infrastructure investments in certain regions as well as retrofits of certain plants or the construction of entirely new ones.

But existing gas-fired plants are running at only about 25 percent capacity, in part because many are switched on only when demand spikes. The Congressional Research Service reports that doubling the use of existing plants could replace about a third of coal-fired power, getting America a third of the way to its goal for 2020. For reasons of infrastructure, that might be too optimistic a scenario. But BP — which has a stake in natural gas — estimates that retiring the 80 dirtiest coal plants and replacing them with gas-fired power would get America 10 percent of the way to its 2020 emissions target and increase domestic gas consumption by only 5 percent.

Even if you don’t trust BP’s numbers, a range of attractive policy options is available, starting with tax incentives to decommission old coal plants. Natural gas is so competitive, it might not take much more than that. However, policymakers might also consider coupling that with some carrot to switch to gas. States that demand that utilities derive a certain portion of their electricity from clean sources could also allow natural gas to count in such requirements, discounting for the carbon emissions it does produce. Federal legislators contemplating a similar, national standard might also consider this.

In the long term, natural gas is only a bridge fuel as America weans itself off carbon, since it still produces plenty of emissions. With a rising carbon price, natural gas will become too expensive to burn. But it can provide the country some time to bring to market the cleaner technologies on which America eventually must run.

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