coal-burning power plants

Coal Ash Wednesday: 419 parts per million

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Breaking all the wrong records in the climate change fight:

Scientific instruments atop the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii showed that levels of carbon dioxide in the air averaged 419 parts per million in May, the annual peak, according to two separate analyses from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Those readings are about half a percent higher than the previous high of 417 parts per million, set in May 2020. Carbon dioxide is the most important greenhouse gas driving global warming and researchers have estimated that there hasn’t been this much of it in the atmosphere for millions of years.

I think it was 11 years ago when I attended a climate change summit hosted by NC WARN, featuring former NASA scientist James Hansen. At that time, atmospheric carbon was about 378 parts per million, and Hansen was adamant that we must keep it from passing the 400 mark. That was a tipping point that would very likely trigger the dissolving and subsequent release of methane hydrates in the permafrost and ocean floor. That is no longer a theory, it is happening right now:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Pandemic recovery is boosting coal burning

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2021 is shaping up to be a really bad year for global emissions:

The pandemic abruptly slowed the global march of coal. But demand for the world’s dirtiest fuel is forecast to soar this year, gravely undermining the chances of staving off the worst effects of global warming.

Burning coal is the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions, and, after a pandemic-year retreat, demand for coal is set to rise by 4.5 percent this year, mainly to meet soaring electricity demand, according to data published Tuesday by the International Energy Agency, just two days before a White House-hosted virtual summit aimed at rallying global climate action.

Any time you have an economic setback, the "easy way forward" is the first to get chosen. Coal deposits are still abundant, even after a few centuries of sustained mining, and they are relatively easy to access. In other words, it will take a continued (global) effort to promote alternatives, or the human race will always revert to that "easy" approach when economic pressure comes to bear. We have made much progress in the right direction:

Renewable energy surpasses coal-burning in nation's power generation

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The clean energy revolution is more than just a slogan:

The United States is on track to produce more electricity this year from renewable power than from coal for the first time on record, new government projections show, a transformation partly driven by the coronavirus pandemic, with profound implications in the fight against climate change.

It is a milestone that seemed all but unthinkable a decade ago, when coal was so dominant that it provided nearly half the nation’s electricity. And it comes despite the Trump administration’s three-year push to try to revive the ailing industry by weakening pollution rules on coal-burning power plants.

Please understand: It wasn't those air pollution rules that brought renewable energy to the level it is right now; it was the wise decision to harness the market and entice investors into the mix. Policies like NC's Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards created the demand that drove production and innovation, two key areas that had been dormant for wind and solar for so long. And once that process began, the costs associated with renewable energy would (naturally) drop, keeping the momentum going:

Notes from the Kakistocracy: Mercury rules on the chopping block

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Andrew Wheeler is about to score a big one for his coal buddies:

Reworking the mercury rule, which the E.P.A. considers the priciest clean-air regulation ever put forth in terms of annual cost to industry, would represent a victory for the coal industry and in particular for Robert E. Murray, an important former client of Mr. Wheeler’s from his days as a lobbyist. Mr. Murray, the chief executive of Murray Energy Corporation, personally requested the rollback of the mercury rule soon after Mr. Trump took office.

In a statement on Friday, Hal Quinn, president of the National Mining Association, praised the new rule, calling the mercury limits “perhaps the largest regulatory accounting fraud perpetrated on American consumers.”

Mercury is a pretty nasty neurotoxin in its elemental (particulate) form, and it's persistent; you just can't burn coal hot enough to get rid of it. But that danger pales in comparison to what happens when elemental mercury drains into or settles upon a body of water. It bonds with microorganisms and becomes motile; it comes to life in the form of methyl mercury. And when consumed by any larger organism (from fish to people), it can no longer be filtered out, so it bio-accumulates. And it becomes selective in its eating patterns, much preferring the soft neural tissues of a developing fetus. Placental barriers mean next to nothing to this creature, and that's why it's incredibly important that man-made barriers be kept in place:

Coal Ash Wednesday: Fact-checking Trump's "Clean Coal" nonsense

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Proving my decision to not watch this trainwreck was a wise one:

TRUMP: "We have ended the war on beautiful clean coal."

THE FACTS: Coal is not clean. According to the Energy Department, more than 83 percent of all major air pollutants — sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, toxic mercury and dangerous soot particles — from power plants are from coal, even though coal makes up only 43 percent of the power generation. Power plants are the No. 1 source of those pollutants. Coal produces nearly twice as much heat-trapping carbon dioxide per energy created as natural gas, the department says. In 2011, coal burning emitted more than 6 million tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides versus 430,000 tons from other energy sources combined.

I don't expect an answer to the following question, because logic dictates there can't be one, but: WTF does "beautiful" have to do with coal? I consider myself an artist of sorts, and I've done numerous charcoal sketches. But I've never finished a drawing, looked at my darkened fingertips and said, "Beautiful." It's just not a word that anybody would automatically associate with coal, is what I'm saying. Until now.

Stanford research on utility companies' growing opposition to Solar power

The future of our planet literally hangs in the balance:

As installed solar prices fell in the period after 2009, the utility industry maintained the view that these small installations posed no threat to their businesses. Then, the industry made an abrupt about face with the publication of an important briefing paper in 2013. In January of that year, the Edison Electric Institute, the industry association for investor owned electric utilities released a briefing paper entitled “Disruptive Challenges” that focused on the key economic challenges facing the retail electricity sector. In it, a dark future for the industry was outlined: how flat electricity sales, the rapidly falling cost of distributed solar power, and rising rates necessary to replace existing grid infrastructure create a unique set of challenges for the power sector.

The paper was all the more unusual because it was released for public consumption. Most EEI publications are released only to member utilities for internal consumption.

And the likely reason it was released for public consumption was to (more easily) provide talking points for all the other industry-related "think tanks" and right-wing nutters opposed to both renewable energy and climate change science. We're in the middle of this crisis right now, folks, and it's important to understand this is a national battle and not just more Duke Energy shenanigans. And this is especially relevant for many of my environmentalist friends who were eager to make compromises to get the recent energy bill passed, that included more freedom for Duke Energy to "negotiate" rates they pay to Solar farms. It's a long one, so try to stay with me:

Two tales of anthropogenic eagle fatalities

And they're both energy-related:

The U.S. Justice Department says 38 golden eagles and 336 other protected birds have been found dead at the company’s wind projects in Carbon and Converse counties from 2009 until now. The bulk of the fine money will pay for projects to preserve golden eagles.

It’s the second prosecution of a wind energy company for harming or killing protected birds. Duke Energy pleaded guilty last year to killing eagles and other birds at two Wyoming wind farms.

More than likely this is the result of siting wind turbines without taking into consideration local or migratory avian behavior. They did the same in California with horrific results, and it almost scuttled the wind power industry. But before you decide generating renewable energy from wind is not worth the cost in bird lives, know that they are dying from coal-burning power plant toxins as well:

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