Script from No Shoot Foot (with links to sources):
Title scene – Spring Valley
Nevada Ghost Towns
Nevada is full of boom and bust ghost towns – places that ran out of the resources that sustained them. The miners who once lived in these towns preferred to move on to the next mine rather than learn how to live sustainably there. That was their choice. And they could. There were other mines... But what happens when there are no other places to move to? Humanity has populated almost every livable place on this planet. We have run out of desirable places to move away to. And if the big cities have their way, there will be even fewer places in the future. Like the ancient city/states in search of conquest, they wish to drain Rural areas of what resources they have. And now; in return, send them their cities' waste, their industrial waste, and even their nuclear waste.
One of the towns that didn't become a ghost town in Rural Nevada is a small community in White Pine County called Ely. About 5,000 people live here – plainly only a tiny fraction of the populations of the cities hundreds of miles away. This community's remoteness has served both as a hindrance and an asset over the years. Recently, Ely's economy has been doing rather well. People have started to move here to breath the clean air, enjoy the natural surroundings, and get away from the high stress lifestyle of the cities.
Ruth Open Pit Mine
There is also a profitable mine nearby. In the past, only minerals were valuable enough to take, and their extraction only ruined limited sections of the local environment.
Shoshone Ponds in Spring Valley
and Steptoe Valley Power plant site from Duck Creek Basin
But, times have changed. Las Vegas wants Rural Nevada's sparse water supplies, and power companies want to take even more water to operate up to four coal fired power plants – just in Ely's White Pine County.
The total area effected by the water grabs will approach the size of Vermont. If you consider land effected, this will be the largest ground water grab in the nation's history.
Map of water grab intentions (excluding Spring and Snake Valleys – and valley effected by the coal fired power plants)
Southern Nevada Water Authority wants to drill for what little water the high deserts of Rural Nevada have accumulated over tens of thousands of years and pipe it to Las Vegas, a city right next to the Colorado River. And Sierra Pacific wants to build a coal fired power plant to run the pumps. Southern Nevada Water Authority, LS Power, and Sierra Pacific claim that turning Rural Nevada's valleys into polluted dust bowls is the best option. They infer that it is the cheapest and most profitable. But for whom?
North Spring Valley
Taking Rural Nevada's water and leaving toxic waste can't possibly be profitable, in the long run, for Rural Nevada, the State of Nevada, or the West, for that matter.
This is Glenn Siding. It is near the primary location for where Sierra Pacific and Nevada Power intend to ship in train loads full of coal for their power plant. LS Power (now Dynergy) intends to build another coal fired power plant just a few miles north of here. As of now, this area is nothing more than a wide spot on a retired railroad track – hundreds of miles from any city. The railroad ties have rotted, the steel is rusted, and much of the rail will likely not be usable. Even the base needs extensive work. Repairs will cost a million dollars a mile.
There is no coal here. There is no trained work force. There is no industrial infrastructure. And most importantly, there are virtually no customers. Of course, the utility companies see this as a positive trait. There are very few people here to stop them.
As you can see in this scene, even in the dead of winter there is plenty of wind and sun – which, of course, would not have to be brought in by train.
Although the people who wish to exploit this area want us to believe that Nevada is essentially a wasteland, the locals know better. This heard of antelope was filmed on the exact location of the proposed power plant. Not only would they lose their home, but also the water that feeds the plant life they feed on.
The winter habitat for herds of elk and deer are also at risk. With the coal fired power plants, Rural Nevada will have to endure yet another water pipeline network, into three more valleys. Sierra Pacific claims that they will utilize “only” half the water of a conventional power plant. But... LS Power claims that they will only use 20% - "only" about a billion gallons a year. Remember, windmills would use none.
Sierra Pacific claims that they will “only” require 8,000 acre feet of water per year – for their first power plant. That would only support over 40,000 people – or an ecosystem, as it does now.
The physics of drawing water from wells is simple:
Like a well in an aquifer, no matter how deep you put a straw in a cup, the water drops at the top. This kills the native vegetation in the valleys – which also kills what feeds on that vegetation.
Steptoe Valley (looking towards the LS Power plant site)
What the utility companies don't want us to know; is that if we allow even one of the coal fired power plants, we may as well say goodbye to most of the herds of antelope, elk, and deer that live here in the Winter.
But, that may be the least of our worries. Increased carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is already increasing the acidity of our oceans, causing wild fires worldwide, perilously changing our weather patterns, putting as many as a million species at risk, and endangering the world's coastal cities with total destruction.
Beetle infested trees, snow covered mountains, Brian Head
This is a pine forest in Rural Nevada. As you can see, the pine beetles have already killed a significant portion of the forest. Scientists believe that at least part of the reason the pine beetle are such a scourge now is because of Global warming. 2006 was the warmest year in recorded history in the United States – 2.2 degrees warmer than average. Our winters are just not a cold as they used to be – and consequently, not as many pine beetles die off. This destruction isn't just happening in Nevada. It's happening from Arizona to Canada. Brian Head, Utah used to look like this. Within 10 years, all of this species of pine were dead. Our Douglas Fir likely have less than 10 years left to live. And, of course, more carbon in the atmosphere will likely reduce that window.
Coal fired power plant at Page, Arizona
They tell us that the new coal fired power plants are not like coal fired power plants any more. They tell us that they now have “clean” coal – which takes the pollution out of the air and puts it in a sludge pond. They tell us that they will be able to burn over 10,000 tons of coal a day, per plant – without using the latest technology, with no significant consequences. And they tell us that since the cost of building coal gasification is 20 percent higher, it's just not practical yet. Who are they?
We will have a hard time knowing who these people are, because the Energy Policy Act of 2003 allows power companies to (act like Enron and) set up multiple subsidiaries to blur their financial reports.
Dick Cheney and his Energy Advisory Team
What we do know is that two Peabody Coal executives were named to President Bush's Energy Advisory Team after coal companies gave $900,000 to Republican coffers. We also know that four days after Vice President Dick Cheney announced the administration's new energy plan, Peabody, a privately held company for 120 years, went public, and sold stock for $420 million, $60 million more than expected.
Peabody Group is the largest coal company on the planet, and they presently lease almost a third of the mines in the Powder River Basin – where the Ely power plants will get their coal.
You may not be familiar with Peabody's history of coal mining on the Navajo Reservation. But, the Navajo and Hopi people will never forget.
Dying forest on the Navajo Reservation
They have witnessed their water wells drained. Their springs have dried up. And their forests are dieing. Peabody Coal took 4000 acre feet per year. This was only half of what just one of the four Ely coal fired power plants will take!
Peabody supplied the Navajos' coal to the Mojave Power Plant, in Laughlin – which was part owned by Nevada Power – now a subsidiary of Sierra Pacific Resources.
The intriguing aspect of these relationships are financial deals with a big New York bank; Lehman Brothers. Nevada Power and Sierra Pacific have both been dealing with Lehman Brothers. Recently, Lehman Brothers loaned Sierra Pacific Resources $335 million dollars in unsecured notes. And yes, this is the same Lehman Brothers that is the largest investor in Peabody Energy Co.
In case you didn't know, Lehman Brothers does not have the best reputation on Wall Street. They were recently charged with violations of the 1933 Securities Act, and agreed to pay $222.5 million to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by mislead investors of Enron.
Laughlin coal fired power plant
Part of the reason Sierra Pacific and LS Power want to build coal fired power plants near Ely is because the Mojave Generating Station, a coal fired power plant in Laughlin, was shut down. And why was it forced to shut down?... Because it was one of the dirtiest coal fired power plants in the country. And the owners, including Nevada Power, would not install the pollution control equipment required – even though they had promised to six years earlier. The plant now sits idle. Its toxic sludge sits nearby, waiting for the day the containment barriers leak, and its toxic contents leak into the Colorado River. Ely is next.
But, Ely isn't the only place environmentally at risk.
Those of us living in Nevada haven't thought much about the ranches in Wyoming that now have mines on them. The ranchers there didn't have the mineral rights to their property. Now, their ranches will never be the same. We need to pay attention to their predicament. The environmental destruction there is an indicator of the attitudes of this industry and our economic system. By law, a corporation has to maximize its profits for its shareholders. But, where are the laws that say its customers or the community have to be considered? Where are the institutions that were supposed to protect us? Maybe the Department of Interior's own inspector general, Earl Devaney can explain. He recently testified that “Short of a crime, anything goes at the highest levels of the Department of the Interior.”
And things could get worse. There already has been an effort in Congress to set up a coal monopoly in the Powder River Basin.
Back in 2003, an amendment was offered in the House of Representatives to the “Energy Security Act of 2003” that only failed by four votes. H.R.6 would have, in the words of (ranking Democrat) Rep. Nick Rahall; “These provisions would allow coal producers with Federal leases to seize unlimited additional Federal coal lands without competitive bidding and be relieved of paying royalties owed to the American taxpayer ... The net effect of these provisions would be the creation of a Federal coal producing monopoly in the Powder River Basin.”
Power lines with Southern Nevada Water Authority complex in distance
So, with the possibility of astronomically rising coal prices, why aren't the utility companies worried about hikes in the price of coal? Because, ultimately, they won't have to pay them - the ratepayers will. And more insidiously, increases in fuel expenses are actually a good excuse for the utility companies to raise their rates.
Here is a hypothetical example: Let's say a unit of some fuel costs a dollar. For sake of ease of calculations, let's say that that dollar's worth of fuel results in two dollars worth of electricity. Obviously, these aren't real numbers. But this example is to show you why the power companies may want the price of fuel to rise. Let's say the price of this fuel goes up by 10 percent – 10 cents per unit. The power company would be thus justified in raising their electricity prices too. Let's say they raise their prices by 10 percent also. But 10 percent of 2 dollars is 20 cents. In this example; for every 10 cents fuel price rise, the power company gets an additional 10 cents of profit! This could add up to hundreds of millions of dollars, when your selling billions of dollars of electricity. Of course, in the real world things aren't this simple. But don't be surprised if this extra profit potential might be the hidden reason power companies aren't all that interested in free fuel for their power generation.
Global Warming photos
One other thing. You're tax dollars are helping the power companies to build these coal fired power plants. "Between 1950 and 1997, the coal industry received more than US$70 billion in federal subsidies, or nearly $1.5 billion a year. In 2005, Congress approved an additional $7.8 billion for coal." Your tax money is going to subsidize the fossil fuel industry – while alternative energy inventors, with the better ideas, are systematically excluded. Our tax money is being spent to perpetuate an antiquated, polluting, and price gouging energy system – and that's just how old money wants it.
China air pollution
So, just how bad does our situation have to get before Americans act? Does our environment have to be worse than China's before we decide that we're environmentalists. You can wait. But, what's the point in being an environmentalist after our environment has collapsed. Many scientists are now saying that we have to act on Global warming within the next ten years, or the Earth won't be able to heal itself. And when they say we have to act, they mean you.
We are the customers. We have the influence, if we choose to use it. If you are willing to commit to safe and sustainable power, let the utility companies know. Write them. They need to know how many customers they might lose if they commit to the construction of unsafe and unsustainable power. If enough of us are willing to do what it takes – even build our own power generators, if necessary; the utility companies cannot ignore us.
Wind map of Nevada showing Spring Valley as quite windy
We have better options. Options that utilize the kinetic energy of the Earth. Wind, sun, geothermal, and wave power are free for the taking. The initial costs might... might be higher. But... You're probably not driving the cheapest car you can buy. You're probably not living in the cheapest house you can find. You're probably not eating the cheapest food. Why would we even consider decades of dirty, dangerous, and even ecocidal power generation just because our utility companies want the highest profits at the cheapest up front cost?
New designs continue be developed that increase windmills' efficiency, reliability, and decrease their costs. Energy storage systems, utilizing technology such as flywheels or compressed air, are becoming even more practical. And don't believe the hype that fossil fuels are always cheaper.
As an example; Xcel Energy, a local utility in Colorado, has already charged less for wind generated electricity than that generated from fossil fuel. We have seen gas prices rise. We have seen natural gas prices rise. We will see coal prices rise. The price of wind and sunlight will always be free. Investors have recently realized this.
The stock market value of all of the larger renewable energy firms has recently doubled.
Part of the reason for investor enthusiasm is that new alternative power technology keeps being developed. Substantial advances in photo voltaic solar cells have been made recently. Solar energy is now cheaper and more practical than ever. The company Nanosolar now has a factory that will mass produce solar panels that will generate electricity cheaper than coal or nuclear.
Solar panels on rooftops
Of course, widely distributed solar power generators don't lend themselves well to the utility companies' desire to mass produce and control the distribution of power. The best place to put solar panels is on rooftops, because no additional land is required. But if everyone were to have solar panels on their roofs, generating their own electricity, there would be less of a need for big centralized power companies. Consequently, you can expect conventional power companies to tell us that distributed power generation is impractical, no matter how it's generated. They want to control supply.
A new type of power company has grown out of this dilemma. This power company, Citizenrē, rents solar cells. Citizenrē Corporation pays for, installs, owns, and operates the solar installation. All you are required to do is pay for the electricity generated from these panels, at a fixed rate that is at or below your current electricity price.
As the price of electricity generated by fossil fuels continues to rise, the public will become ever more willing to commit to solar energy. In fact, this may be the unintended driving force behind the conventional utility companies' desire to generate the cheapest power possible, no matter what the environmental cost. Evidently, coal can't compete any other way.
The big risk for conventional utility companies is that, by committing to decades of coal fired power, they will be stuck with antiquated technology. As the price of coal rises, which is virtually inevitable, they could lose billions. Unless, of course, the American government has guaranteed their power plant loans or subsidizes their industry even more. If so; the American public will be stuck with the bill for the utility companies' poor decisions... The truth is; we already are.
You may be familiar with the term corporate welfare. These big business' hidden agenda is for taxpayers and ratepayers to burden the risk.
Mountain top removal coal mining in Virgina
Conventional business thinking in our economy is to privatize the profits, and socialize the costs. Conventional economic thinking is to only be concerned with the bottom line of a myopic and outdated accounting system.
Conventional thinking even has Southern Nevada Water Authority convinced that they should drill for 200,000 acre feet of water a year in the desert, pipe it for up to 250 miles, and power the whole operation with coal fired power plants. Conventional thinking has us draining our nation's water reserves, intensifying Global warming, and destroying our rural areas. It's time to start thinking outside of the box. Someday, short term profits for a few at the expense of our communities will be a crime. Someday soon, coal fired power plants will have to pay a carbon tax. Unfortunately, Rural Nevada can't afford to wait for someday. But, the good news is this is just a matter of choice. All our society has to do is make the commitment to do what is right.
Thermal Solar Power/Desalination plant
A thermal solar power plant is being built in Boulder City, Nevada by a company called Solargenix. This solar power plant does not rely on photo voltaics. Instead, concentrating mirrors focus light onto oil that heats water to steam in a conventional turbine – resulting in “the lowest cost solar energy that can be produced today.” What is especially appealing about this type of design is that the water can also be desalinated. If Nevada were to install these thermal solar power plants along the coast, we could supply California with desalinated water in exchange for a larger allotment of the Colorado River – which could eliminate Southern Nevada's need to take water from Rural Nevada, and also the need to build coal fired power plants.
Solar desalination is not the only option, though. For years, reverse osmosis desalination has been accomplished routinely on cruise ships. The equipment is already available for offshore desalination for coastal cities.
Spanish Desalination Plant
In fact, an offshore desalination plant already exists off the coast of Greece and on islands in the Baltic Sea and off the coast of Spain. Here in the US; an offer to build offshore desalination plants on ships off the coast of Monterey, California, is already being considered.
Saudi Desalination Plant
Conventional desalination plants are built on the coast, usually with their own dedicated power plant nearby. The primary draw back of reverse osmosis desalination is that the process presently requires a lot of energy. But these limitations are being overcome.
New Reverse Osmosis membranes – Desalination plans for Monterey Bay
New breakthroughs have already been published in scientific journals. In fact, by the time the proposed Groundwater Development pipeline network into Rural Nevada is built, it will likely be cheaper to desalinate sea water. Especially since deep wells often draw saline water, which might add the cost of desalination to the cost of drilling, pumping, and piping Rural Nevada's water away.
Desalination unit - Wave power generators
If Southern Nevada were to build a fleet of desalination units on barges with electricity from wave power generators, not only would their costs be stable for decades to come, but they would sometimes have excess power to sell. Most importantly, however, there would be far less damage to the environment.
Schell Creek Range
We know that there are only so many natural places left on the planet. There are only so many natural resources left to exploit. We are starting to realize that allowing others to squander the last of our natural wealth for a quick profit is not best for us in the long run. Its time to vote with our pocketbooks.
Google Complex – solar panels – windmills
There is a trend developing. Since Google installed photo voltaic solar panels on their office complex, other companies have noticed the good will the company has received.
Wal Mart is now considering installing as much as 100 MW of solar generated power over the next five years. Some may accuse Wal Mart of just trying to improve their tarnished image. But... every company should be trying to improve their image. The most important asset of a brand is its likability. And people like companies that live to a higher standard than they themselves do. Wal Mart has realized that solar panels on the ceiling speak louder than any radio ad, solar panels say more than any newspaper ad, and what they say – is that Wal Mart cares. Any company can follow the Google example, and the result is the same; a more likable company. There is a trend developing that companies could join – to improve their image, by doing something worthy of improving their image. Solar panels and windmills could end up being like billboards, without words, that undeniably say to the public; we intend to do everything we can to make the world of the future a better place.
There is hope, if we take the initiative.