Clean Power Plan (a.k.a Obama’s War on Coal)

At the direction of President Obama, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the Clean Power Plan Proposal in June 2014. The main goal of the proposal is to regulate carbon emissions from existing and future fossil fuel powered plants. Pursuant to the order, the EPA will release the final standards in June 2015. This order requires the EPA to work flexibly with states, energy agencies, labor unions, etc. to develop unique plans for each state. The EPA has set a “target goal” for each state- meaning the state must meet the target number in terms of carbon emissions. However, the methods that the states choose to meet the goal, is up to them. To develop their targets, the EPA first determined each state’s carbon-emissions baseline divided by its total electricity generation. Then using this number, the EPA established the target based on the capacity of each state to achieve reductions based on four “building blocks.” These building blocks are the states capacity to: 1. Make coal-fired power plants more efficient, 2. Use low-emitting natural gas combined cycle plants more where excess capacity is available, 3. Use more zero and low-emitting power sources such as renewables and nuclear, and 4. Reduce electricity demand by using electricity more efficiently.

For instance, the EPA has decided that Kentucky must reduce their carbon emissions by 18% by the year 2030. Using the “building blocks” the EPA provides illustrative ways that Kentucky may choose to meet that goal such as a 6% increase in efficiency of coal plants, 2.3% usage of low-emitting natural gas combined cycle plants more where excess capacity is available, 1.4% usage of more zero-emitting power sources such as renewables and nuclear, and 8.5% reduction in electricity demand by using electricity more efficiently. As mentioned, the state may adopt these illustrative methods, but is allowed to develop their own plan. Because the EPA expected “push-back” from some states, it has developed a “Model Plan” for any state that refuses to submit a carbon-emission reduction plan. Here is a map of the “target” goals for each state. It’s interactive, so you can click on a state and view their target numbers.

Target Number Map

The EPA proposes that carbon-emission reductions will significantly battle climate change, protect public health by eliminating 30% of all carbon emissions, increase energy efficiency, and reduce demand on the electricity system. So, why all the opposition? Two words: jobs + money. Opponents of this legislation have labeled it “Obama’s War on Coal,” and over a dozen states have filed suit against the EPA. Opponents claim that the cost of the changes to machinery combined with lessening the demand on coal will essentially cause the plants to close. The states with the highest coal production (and most opposition) are Wyoming, which produces 39.4% of the U.S. coal supply, West Virginia at 11.8%, Kentucky 8.2%, Illinois 5.3%, and Pennsylvania 5.2%. In Wyoming, there are 17 mines that employ 6,673 employees. In West Virginia, there are 326 mines that employ 20,751 employees. Kentucky has 370 mines with 12,905 employees. Illinois has 33 mines and 4,164 employees. Finally, Pennsylvania has 207 mines with 6,817 employees. Just from the top-five coal producing states, 953 mines and 51,310 jobs will be affected by this legislation assuming the opponents have a valid argument that the costs will force closure. Here are examples of signs that many residents of Somerset, PA have displayed in their yards in response to the Clean Power Plan.

Obama Coal

 

Recently, Obama has proposed a $4 billion dollar fund to reward states who are beating their climate goals. However, his proposal will likely be skeptically addressed by a Republican majority in Congress.

Sources 

http://www.c2es.org/federal/executive/epa/carbon-pollution-standards-map

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/06/25/presidential-memorandum-power-sector-carbon-pollution-standards

http://www.oilandenergydaily.com/2013/07/05/obama-war-on-coal/

http://www2.epa.gov/carbon-pollution-standards

http://blog.epa.gov/epaconnect/2014/06/our-clean-power-plan-will-spur-innovation-and-strengthen-the-economy/

http://www.eia.gov/coal/annual/pdf/table21.pdf

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/08/us/politics/for-states-that-dont-file-carbon-cutting-plans-epa-will-impose-model-rule-.html?_r=0

http://powersource.post-gazette.com/powersource/home-powersource/2015/02/03/Obama-Proposes-4-Billion-for-States-Beating-Climate-Goals/stories/201502030068

Mining Safety

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, coal mining continues to rank high among dangerous occupations despite legislative initiatives to make the industry safer. Fatal mining accidents, cave-ins, and explosions gain worldwide media attention. One mining accident that every western Pennsylvanian is familiar with is the “Nine for Nine” Rescue at Quecreek mine where nine miners were trapped underground for three days. Due to their safety training, common sense, and a dedicated team of highly organized mining professionals, all nine survived the nightmare. The accident was eye-opening for Pennsylvania mining officials and the rescue set an example for the industry of how to precisely handle this type of accident and execute a successful rescue operation.

Quecreek mine is a deep mine located in Friedens, Pennsylvania (my hometown.) On July 24, 2002, nine miners accidently dug into the Saxman mine unleashing 150 million gallons of stagnant water. One of the nine miners was able to successfully warn the other group of men working in another part of Quecreek. Nine miners safely evacuated the mine, while nine remained trapped by quickly rising water. The trapped miners were approximately 240 feet underground and a mile and a half from the mine’s entrance.

In just under a half hour after the breach of the Saxmon mine, Joe Sbaffoni, Pennsylvania’s deep-mining safety expert, and Dave Rebuck, the owner of Black Wolf Coal Co., gathered a team together to rescue the miners.

After looking over the maps of the mines, the team decided that if there were survivors, they had to be located at the highest point of the mine. Using GPS, they determined that they needed to drill on the Arnold Family Farm.

IMG_1042

In less than eight hours, a six-inch air hole was dug into the ground to supply air to the miners. After running some calculations, the rescue team realized that the miners were probably about neck deep in water. Therefore, plans to dig ten subsequent holes to pump out the water became the next challenge. That is, however, until a mine ventilation specialist suggested an unprecedented plan: to create a pressurized air pocket similarly seen naturally in underground caves. If they could use air compressors to create an airlock, then they would be able to stop the water from rising.

IMG_1041

Once the airlock was successfully established, the rescuers prepared to drill the escape tunnel. A 1,500-pound drill bit was rushed to Somerset County from Clarksburg, West Virginia. On Saturday, July 27 at 10:15PM, the drill finally broke through. Four hours later, all nine miners were safely brought to the surface.

 

holes

The Quecreek mining accident led to an overhaul of mining safety laws in our state. Mining operations getting within 500 feet of another mine had to first show that mining was still safe before continuing. Permitting procedures, already a yearlong process, became stricter. Finally, a central mine map repository was created. In 2009 came major changes to the commonwealth’s Mining Safety Act. A Mining Safety Board comprised of representatives from the mining industry and the United Mine Workers was created. The Board meets on a quarterly basis to discuss policies, precautionary measures, and coal miner concerns. The Board is able to make changes without waiting for the House and Senate to pass legislation. The ability to make quick decisions about mining safety measures ensures that miners don’t have to wait for an accident or fatality to happen before changes are implemented.

Sources:

http://www.msha.gov/quecreek/quecreekupdates.htm

http://www.msha.gov/quecreek/QueCreekInvestigationReport.pdf

http://old.post-gazette.com/localnews/20020804chapninep9.asp

http://www.quecreekrescue.org/video.asp

https://stateimpact.npr.org/pennsylvania/2012/07/25/regulators-say-quecreek-led-to-better-mine-safety-laws/

 

 

 

Mine Subsidence in Pennsylvania

Coal mining began over 200 years ago in Pennsylvania. Today, there are more than 1 million homes that sit above abandoned mines. Because of this, Pennsylvania has one of the largest abandoned mine problems in the country.

 

According to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), mine subsidence is “defined as movement of the ground surface as a result of readjustments of the overburden due to collapse or failure of underground mine workings.” Mine subsidence usually presents itself on the surface in the form of either sinkholes or troughs. These impacts usually take many years to present themselves.

 

1 - Modes of Subsidence

 

Sinkholes are generally only associated with abandoned mine workings, particularly shallow room-and-pillar mines where there is less than 50 feet between the coal seam and the surface. Room-and-pillar mining involves cutting into the coal seam in square or rectangular blocks, which are the pillars. The pillars support the ground above the seam. The openings between the pillars are the rooms. Sinkhole subsidence typically occurs when the mine roof collapses into a room of the room-and-pillar mine causing the overlying ground to cave in. This caving in creates a depression in the ground surface. Deeper mines often fill in when they collapse, and the subsidence never makes it to the surface. Today, shallow mines are not generally allowed. Mines now have to be at least 100 feet below the ground surface and/or any structures. More shallow mines may be authorized by the DEP only if the coal company has a subsidence control plan that shows that the mine will be stable.

 

2 - Room and Pillar Mining

 

Troughs can occur over active or abandoned mines. What triggers a subsidence trough is very different from a sinkhole, even though the resulting impacts to the surface may be similar. Troughs usually occur when the mine pillars “punch” into the mine floor or roof which causes the above ground to sag downward.

 

3 - Trough Subsidence

 

The state is responsible for “shoring up mine subsidence” caused by abandoned coal mines. Under the authority of the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA), the PA Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation is responsible for taking care of subsidence problems among other issues caused by mining. The SMCRA calls for a federal tax on coal mining, which is distributed among the states to help pay for abandoned mine reclamation. This tax is set to expire in seven years. Before the tax expires, Pennsylvania will receive between $750 million and $770 million of those tax dollars for mine reclamation. Statewide, though, it is estimated that it would cost $4.7 billion to fix all of the known problems with abandoned coal mines. This amount does not include emergency projects, such as when a subsidence causes a road to sink.

 

The state, however, is not responsible for damage caused to private property. Many people are not prepared for mine subsidence. Of the more than 1 million homeowners who are sitting on top of abandoned mines in Pennsylvania, only about 6 percent have subsidence insurance. Most of those who do have insurance are in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Mine Subsidence Insurance through the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is $57.50 per year for $100,000 worth of coverage up to $500,000. Standard homeowner’s insurance does not cover damage caused by subsidence.

 

4 - Subsidence Damage

 

 

Sources:

http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/underground_mining_information/20835/mine_subsidence/1134234

http://triblive.com/state/pennsylvania/7194295-74/mine-problems-priority#axzz3RHlageBF

http://www.dep.state.pa.us/msi/mininghistory.html

http://triblive.com/neighborhoods/yourallekiskivalley/yourallekiskivalleymore/4442104-74/subsidence-mine-mines#axzz3RMs2tD8Z

http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/abandoned_mine_reclamation/13961

http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/bureau_of_mining_programs/20865

http://www.dep.state.pa.us/MSIHomeowners/ratetable.html

Is Our Water Safe From Fracking?

Water pollution has been a hot topic when it comes to natural gas drilling. One fear that has permeated the fracking world is that the fracking process will contaminate our ground water. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has set up a minimum requirement for all Oil & Gas companies to protect and ease fears. In order to obtain a permit to drill anywhere in our state companies must give a detailed report to the Pennsylvania DEP that includes all information required to carry out environmental risk analysis. The well depth and location must be specified, as well as related geological information including the type and nature of surrounding rock formations, proximity to groundwater, and proximity to local water supplies. All surface water supply owners within 1,000 feet of the drill site must also be notified by certified mail. Finally, drillers must submit a deposit or bond to the state as security against violation of environmental regulations and restrictions.

After this report is submitted and land owners are notified Oil & Gas Companies usually contract out to a water testing lab to create a “base line” test. This means they collect water samples from any natural source within the regulated area and test it for any pollutants before they start doing anything, this even includes clearing timber and creating infrastructure for the pad. Then after drilling has started and they must consistently test the water and compare it to the base line test. Most Oil and Gas Companies go above and beyond the minimum set out by the state and test the water after each step in the production process (i.e. clearing timber, building the bad, drilling, fracking, etc). Oil and Gas leases almost always contain a “Water Testing” clause in the addendum in the lease as well. This clause usually lays out what they will be testing for, how often they will test, and if s test reflects an adverse change from the base line test the company will provide potable water until such a time when the landowner’s water source has been tested and determined to be clean again. This is required by the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Act as well as replacing any depleted water sources they disturb.

The bigger fear that citizens should be worrying about is the water that is used for the actual fracking process. The Water Resources Planning Act requires withdrawals of over 10,000 gallons per day to be reported to the DEP and all withdrawals resultant of Marcellus Shale drilling must be registered with either the Susquehanna River Basin Commission or the Delaware River Basin Commission. Additionally, this legislation requires drillers to report the quantity and chemical content of produced water created by individual wells. In 2010, the DEP imposed specific limitations on the amount of total dissolved solids (TDS) permitted in produced water before it could be discharged into local bodies of water. Before such disposal, produced water must be treated until no more than 2,000 mg/L of TDS are present. These strict regulations have encouraged an unprecedented level of research and investigation into produced water recycling in Pennsylvania. Most of them time problems only occur when there are accidental spills of the production water because of automobile accidents or faulty storage on the production vehicles. Pennsylvanians should sleep soundly at night knowing the state and most oil and gas companies are doing everything they can to make sure your water is safe.

References:
Abdalla, C., Drohan, J., Swistock, B., & Boser, S. (2011). Marcellus shale gas well drilling: Regulations to protect water supplies in pennsylvania.Pennsylvania State University
Laura Legere, “DEP: Oil and gas operations damaged water supplies 209 times since end of ’07,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 22, 2014.
Kevin Begos, “4 states confirm water pollution from fracking,” AP, Jan 5, 2013.
Laura Legere, “Sunday Times review of DEP drilling records reveals water damage, murky testing methods,” Times-Tribune, May 19, 2013.
“DEP says 166 water complaints filed in tri-county area,” Herald-Standard, Nov. 15, 2012.

Letting the market decide: Is Pennsylvania’s Deregulation Approach to the Electricity Distribution Best Thing for Consumers? Letting the market decide: Is Pennsylvania’s Deregulation Approach to the Electricity Distribution Best Thing for Consumers?

 

Almost 20 years ago, Pennsylvania law recognized a need to “begin the transition from regulation to greater competition in the electricity generation market to benefit all classes of customers and to protect this Commonwealth’s ability to compete in the national and international marketplace for industry and jobs.”[1]  Since then, consumers of electricity have had the great pleasure of shopping for electricity, which has theoretically forced competing utility providers to maintain competitive rates.  Pennsylvania is one of fifteen states with this type of deregulated scheme.[2]

The question remains: is the average consumer of electricity better off with the “natural monopolies” of yore, or with the invisible hand on their thermostat?

While the Competition Act is careful to protect the rights of those with low income to valid access to electricity, it would seem to me that a deregulated system could prove to be counter productive.

The first problem is transparency.  Even economic conservatives point out the “lax disclosure” requirements that allow large providers to take advantage of consumers.[3]  If utility providers are afforded the same advertising standards as people selling any other commodity, it could leave a consumer in the position of being without electricity as a result of getting a raw deal on the free market.  In response to an unusually cold winter, which had left many consumers with ridiculous, unanticipated rate hikes, the Pennsylvania Public Utility commission has issued new disclosure requirements would could address the concern of transparency in this regard.[4]

That being said, the second problem with leaving the electric grid to the free market relates to the unusual circumstances of the polar vortex this winter.  Is it a good idea to leave people’s power to a market subject to the whims of wildly uncontrollable variables?  This past harsh winter is one example, leaving many people with exorbitantly higher bills after switching to seemingly lower competitive rates in the free market.[5]  Rates could also spike if local utility companies are feeling competitive pressure, experiencing plant problems, or moving investments elsewhere.[6]

While risk is a part of our free market economy, the question still remains whether we want to allow such risk to influence something as important as power generation.  In my opinion, recent events demonstrate that a de-regulated market for electricity has been consistently tenuous and unpredictable.

 


[1] 66 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 2802 (West)

[2] Hannah Wiseman, Lindsay Grisamer, E. Nichole Saunders, Formulating A Law of Sustainable Energy: The Renewables Component, 28 Pace Envtl. L. Rev. 827, 906 (2011)

[3]http://www.pennlive.com/editorials/index.ssf/2011/08/the_darker_side_of_electric_de.html

[4] http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/breaking-news/index.ssf/2014/04/pennsylvania_public_utility_co_1.html

[5] http://articles.mcall.com/2014-03-01/news/mc-pc-electric-deregulation-disaster-20140301_1_deregulation-electric-bills-public-utility-commission

[6] http://triblive.com/business/headlines/5464496-74/power-firstenergy-company#axzz30CEICHCv

Biodiesel: Maybe Fast Food Isn’t Such a Bad Thing

Link

Recently, my wife and I opened our own bakery.  Starting a business of this type involves many fees, including supplies, maintenance, and trash disposal.  Of the many suppliers, contractors, and service providers I have spoken to in the last several months, however, maybe the most intriguing was a gentleman who works for a local biofuel company.  After answering questions regarding how much oil we use on average in our fryers and selecting the best location for a storage barrel, the gentleman wrote us a check for the privilege of taking away our expended oils, with the intention of producing biodiesel.

Anyone who has worked at a fast-food chain or restaurant has, at least once, had the unfortunate duty of emptying grease traps or fryers, and it is not for the faint of heart.  For larger operations, these filthy, repulsive oils are held in massive storage containers measured in hundreds, or even thousands of gallons.  While this waste product was once a nuisance that restaurants paid to be rid of, in recent years, its increased value has made it a common target by thieves.  The transformation of this used cooking oil is just one of the ways to make biodiesel, a renewable fuel source that is being used to supplement conventional diesel fuel.  In addition to cooking oils, biodiesel can be made from algae, soybeans, and a number of other renewable resources.

There are conflicting views on the use of biodiesel in automobiles.  For instance, many studies claim that biodiesel use in newer diesel engines is not only safe, but beneficial, burning cleaner than traditional gasoline, and lessening the wear-and-tear on engine parts.  Also, most vehicles require no retrofitting in order to run even 100% biodiesel, with only a small drop in engine performance and fuel economy.  On the negative side, while greenhouse gas emissions are generally lower, some studies point to an actual increase in nitrous oxide emissions.  Additionally, auto manufacturers, uncertain about the long-term effects of biodiesel use, have been reluctant to accept the use of higher blends of biodiesel above 5 percent.  In fact, in 2010, Mercedes-Benz prohibited the use of blends above 5 percent, and refused to honor their warranties when the damage was caused by the use of these fuels.

Though its use dates back decades, biodiesel has peaked in recent years as an inexpensive way to power diesel engines in cars and trucks, and additionally, to utilize the unusable solids from the cleaning process in animal feedstock.  The use of biofuels has been encouraged in many ways, including research and tax credits.  First, the Energy Policy Act of 1992 encouraged the research and development of biofuels, including biodiesel, and the necessity of the increased use of these fuels.  This was followed by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which provided a $1 tax credit, per gallon, for sellers of biodiesel from plant products, and 50 cents per gallon for recycled vegetable oils.  Though this Biodiesel Tax Credit had been extended until the end of 2013, and the Biodiesel Tax Incentive Reform and Extension Act of 2014 was introduced in Congress in February, there is currently no extension of this tax credit.

Some in the industry claim that, if the maximum potential for recycling used cooking oil alone were to be achieved, the United States could supplement our annual diesel fuel use by up to 5 percent.  Of course, there is still the debate on whether there are truly long-term effects on diesel engines through the use of biodiesel, and because most of the large-scale use of biodiesel is relatively recent, we may not know for years the potential impacts it will have.  It is, however, in our best interest to find out soon, however; so long as there is an appetite for fried foods and sweets, there will be a relative abundance of used cooking oil that can be used to potentially lower our dependence on foreign oil and the emission of greenhouse gases.

Bats, Eagles, and Wind Turbines

Wind energy is publically seen as a clean, green, and friendly alternative to the destructive drilling and mining industry. Wind energy is derived from wind farms, which are clusters of turbines as tall as 30-story buildings.[1] Each turbine has rotating blades that are roughly the same size as a passenger jet’s wingspan and spin at speeds upward of 170 mph.[2] Although the blades appear to spin slowly, these massive fans have become death machines for bats and birds alike, with a special concern regarding eagles and endangered bats.

The executive branch has recently established a new rule declaring that they will not prosecute the companies responsible for the illegal killing of eagles on wind farms[3]. The new law provides legal protection over the lifespan of the wind farm if the company obtains a permit and makes efforts to avoid killing birds.[4] Studies are not decisive in determining how many eagles are killed a year which does create misleading data. A low end estimate of deaths is about ten per year, but a high kill area in California averages 60 eagles killed per year.[5] Various environmental agencies have attempted to subpoena the Obama industry to release the violations and prosecute those responsible.[6]

Wind turbine destruction of bats is a well-known and documented problem. According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, in 2011, 420 turbines killed an estimate of 10,000 bats.[7] In attempts to create a deterrent, the Bat and Wind Energy Cooperative fitted certain turbines with “an acoustic device that would generate a noise that would disrupt a bat’s ability to locate the turban plate.”[8] The results showed a dramatic decrease in the amount of bat deaths per deterrent turbine.[9] It may be possible to create an eagle deterrent as they have with the bats.

 


[1] Wind farms that kill bald eagles are now protected from prosecution.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Wind farms can kill eagles without penalty

[6] House panel subpoenas Obama administration over wind farm eagle deaths.

[7] How Wind Energy is sucking the Life out of Our Bat Population.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

 

Sources

“Wind Farms that kill bald eagles are now protected from prosecution.” Associated. Press 6 Dec. 2013 http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/wind-farms-that-kill-bald-eagles-are-now-protected-from-prosecution/#the-rundown

“House panel subpoenas Obama administration over wind farm eagle deaths.” FoxNews.com 12 Mar. 2014 http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/03/12/house-panel-subpoenas-white-house-on-wind-power-eagle-deaths/

“Wind farms can kill eagles without penalty.” Cappiello, Dina. 6 Dec. 2012. http://www.nbcnews.com/business/business-news/wind-farms-can-kill-eagles-without-penalty-f2D11702834

“How Wind Energy is Sucking the Life out of Our Bat Population.” http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/news-and-opinion/152702125.html

Wind in Danger

In January 2014, electricity created by wind counted for 4.8% of the electricity used in the United States.  This is an increase since last January, which was an increase since the January before that and so on and so forth.  Wind is a clean renewable energy and is much cheaper than fossil fuels.  As shown in its growth over the last decade, Wind power could be answer to the fossil fuel shortage that is inevitable.  However, Wind Energy, which was could have been a threat to fossil fuels in years to come, is in danger of losing government funding and investors.

Fossil Fuels, i.e. coal, natural gas, and petroleum, are the source of 68% of the electricity used in the United States.  It is inevitable that these sources of energy will eventually run out.  They are not renewable.  Thus, there has been a push to find an alternative source of renewable energy so the eventual loss of fossil fuels will be a non-issue in the future.  It was thought that wind power, and possibly solar power, could be the answer to fossil fuels and that is why the industry has consistently grown in the last decade.  However, due to possible choices made by Congress and the boom of the natural gas industry, the U.S. Wind industry is lacking investors.

It is unclear whether Congress will extend the U.S. farm subsidy.  This has obviously made investors weary.  It takes time and money to build wind farms and the federal subsidy that has doled out to the wind power industry has helped alleviate the cost of building new wind farms.  Another aspect that has made investors weary is the boom of the natural gas industry in the United States.

Natural gas is in abundance in the United States.  Its abundance has made the source of energy extremely cheap.  This has shied investors away from the wind industry.  Proponents of wind power argue that while natural gas is cheaper now it will eventually rise in price and wind power will remain a constant price for decades.  It does not take a genius to realize that the last statement is true, but investors are still afraid to get involved with the wind industry.

In recent days, IKEA invested in an Illinois wind farm.  Hopefully, this is a sign of what is to come.  If Congress extends the federal subsidy discussed above, then the U.S. should see an influx of voters.  This would be ideal as wind could be the renewable energy that the United States has been searching for years.  Only time will tell if wind power will be a long term answer.

SOURCES

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2014-04-10/business/chi-ikea-illinois-wind-farm-investment-20140410_1_wind-farm-american-wind-energy-association-wind-projects

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/04/10/wind-solar-grow-but-investments-fall/7511733/

http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=427&t=3

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-04-07/u-s-wind-power-blows-new-records-again-and-again-.html

Addressing the Concerns of Wind Energy

Today, as technology increases, there are many renewable energy sources that are being more widely used then ever before. One of these renewable energy sources is wind energy. Wind energy is characterized as a clean renewable energy source that reduces green house gas emissions, reduces electricity costs, and is cost competitive with energy from coal and gas power plants all by maximizing the benefits of the air around us. The process of creating wind energy involves large wind turbines that are set into motion when the wind blows. As the turbine propellers move with the wind, electricity is generated. Although the wind industry has been growing in recent years along with other sources of renewable energy sources, some critics are not “blown away” by the pros of wind energy at the expense of the cons.

Most of the concerns surrounding wind energy revolve around three complaints: the impact of aesthetic appearance of the landscape wind farms are located on, the noise the turbines generate is causing health problems, and the turbine blades are harmful to the wildlife surrounding the farms, primarily birds and bats.

First, the land use varies substantially on the site of the wind farm.  The National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the US stated that a wind farm is anywhere between 30 and 141 acres per megawatt of power output capacity. Turbines disturb less than one acre permanently and less than 3.5 acres are disturbed temporarily during construction. This means that the turbines themselves occupy a small portion of the total area of a wind facility and the surrounding area can be used for recreational purposes, highway construction, or livestock grazing. By making the land surrounding the turbines accessible for public use brings value to this energy source that is not provided for in other energy sources. Although the turbines are large and an eyesore to some individuals, the land surrounding the turbines can be used for additional purposes all while generating a key societal need of clean energy.

Second, many people living near wind farms complain of sound and vibration issues stemming from the turbine blades moving through the air as well as mechanical sounds stemming from the turbine formation itself. However, it has been found by studies done in Canada and Australia that these issues do not affect public health. The only confirmed medical symptom is known as “shadow flicker” which is caused by turbine blades interrupt the sunlight causing a flicker of light and shadows. Shadow flicker has been reported to have the potential of inducing photosensitive epilepsy seizures. However, today with modern technology and proper planning this health issue can be minimized by planting trees, installing window awnings, strategically planning the placement of turbines, and curtailing operations when certain light conditions are present.

Third, a recent national wind coordinating committee (“NWCC”) stated that bird and bat collisions with turbines poses no significant threat to the species of animal. Additionally, great strides have been taken to locate wind farms in areas where they will not harm birds in flight. It has also been reported that bats are more likely to fly when wind speeds are low. By keeping turbines at a stand still in times of low wind speeds the death of bats will be reduced without much setback to the energy produced. These advances plus further innovation should decrease the problem significantly and make wind energy more safe for the surrounding wildlife.

Albeit that there are valid concerns surrounding wind energy, there are many qualities that are admirable of this renewable source such as:

  • Wind energy yields no pollutants, including those that cause global warming.
  • Wind energy does not have any effects on the earth’s water supply.
  • Usually turbines generate energy at wind speeds ranging from four to twenty-five metres per second and one turbine roughly produces 6 million kilowatt hours a year providing electricity for 1,500 households.
  • The European Wind Energy Association (“EWEA”) reported that in 2012 100 GW of wind power can generate electricity for a year to 57 million households which is the equivalent to 62 coal power plants, 39 nuclear power plants, or 52 gas power plants.
  • The Natural Resource defense council (“NRDC”) stated that in some months wind energy provides more than 6 percent of our nations electricity and experts believe that this number could increase by 5 times that amount in the future.
  • Additionally, the NRDC stated that a typical 250MW wind farm (around 100 turbines) will create 1,073 jobs over the lifetime of the project.

Like all Energy Sources, there are flaws that can be contributed to each source. Government agencies are doing further research into renewable energy sources, like wind, in order to solve any issues that may arise in order to sustain the lifestyle we are all accustomed to while sustaining the environment. The wind industry has taken great strides to produce energy in a safe manner and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Sources:

http://sites.duke.edu/windenergy2012/comparison/

http://www.globalwindday.org/faq/how-much-electricity-can-one-wind-turbine-generate/

http://www.globalwindday.org/about-wind-energy/

http://www.nrdc.org/energy/renewables/wind.asp

http://homeguides.sfgate.com/positive-negative-wind-energy-78719.html

http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/our-energy-choices/renewable-energy/environmental-impacts-wind-power.html

Photo: http://barnardonwind.com/2013/03/11/wind-farms-co-exist-with-other-land-uses-debunking-the-myth-of-energy-density/

 

 

Are Dams the Future of Hydro-power?

Hydro-power is a type of renewable energy.  Hydro-power uses water movement to make energy, and unlike major energy generators it does not destroy, or lessen the source of power in anyway during the process. With low operating and maintenance costs, and high reliability it seems to be an excellent choice of an energy source. However the costs associated with the planning and construction of hydro projects are extremely high, and also along with these projects come many fears. Such as public worry, economical impacts, and major environmental impacts. Because of these concerns major dams, such as the hoover dam, have been pushed to the side. Currently a wide variety of new possible ways to make Hydroelectricity are in development.

The future of hydro energy can be described in four major areas. Those areas include tidal power, marine current power, wave power, and osmotic power. While these are currently the four major areas that could be the future of hydro, they have many obstacles to still overcome. The Department of Energy several times mentioned how, “every tidal and marine current project faces a cost efficiency issue and the cemetery of inventions is full of projects technically viable but economically bound to death.”

The first type, tidal power, is very similar to a dam system. At the entrance to an inlet a dam or barrages are built, these have gates that water flows through as the tide rises and lowers. During this process the moving water moves turbines to create energy. This however can be very disrupting to marine life. There is also the option for a tidal fence, which has vertical turbines that are embedded into the sea floor. The tidal fence system is much cheaper than a system of barrages.

Marine Current is another one of the possible futures of hydro-power. The Department of the Interior once noted, “capturing just one percent of the Gulf Stream’s energy could meet 35 percent of Florida’s annual electricity needs.” Also according to that the Department says there is more than 21,000 times more energy in the Gulf than in Niagara Falls.  The challenge with this system though is being able to effectively and economically getting turbines into the seabed, or on underwater platforms.

The final two options for the future are wave power, and osmotic power. Wave conversion is by far the most advanced of the four. Currently a company has a prototype of a design off the shores of Scotland that they launched in 2010. This 600-foot long machine is a link of cylindrical sections that float on the oceans surface. As the ocean waves flex and bend the cylinders it generates power. Currently they are also trying to incorporate solar energy into this design. Osmotic is the most complicated and least developed. This is just the process of harvesting kinetic energy from the process of osmosis that naturally occurs when seawater and river water pulls together.

While the future of hydro-power is still not 100 percent certain, there are many options that leave hope that hydro-power will continue to grow and become a major player in the renewable energy field.

 

 

 

Sources:

 

http://www.planete-energies.com/en/the-energy-of-tomorrow/the-future-for-current-energy-sources/renewable-energy/the-hydropower-of-tomorrow-274.html

 

http://www.usbr.gov/power/edu/pamphlet.pdf

 

http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/energy/hydro-energy-future7.htm