Friday, February 23, 2007

Why the Sierra Pacific coal fired power plant is a bad idea.

The coal fired power plant at the Ely Energy Center planned by Sierra Pacific Power/Nevada Power (SPPCO) is an outrage. The big cities of the West have despoiled their own environment, and now they intend to pillage the rest of the West too. These coal fired monstrosities are going to turn our pristine valleys into polluted dust bowls for billions of dollars the local community will never see. They aren't here because the care about us. They're here for what they can take from us. “Clean Coal” is an oxymoron. If these things were as clean as they try to make them sound, they'd build them in their own back yard.


AIR POLLUTION:

30 years ago, Americans learned that coal fired power plants were dirty, dangerous, and ultimately destructive to the natural world that supports our economy and our civilization. Just because the coal industry can now keep a couple of chemicals from leaving their smokestacks, doesn't mean that they've cleaned up their act.


We've been told that scrubbers will reduce air emissions of sulfur by over 95%. That sounds great, until we realize that SPPCO intends to burn 4 million tons of coal a year. The 5% of the coal effluents that gets past the pollution controls amounts to 200,000 TONS of coal burnt with no abatement. That's right, we will see sulfur smog from the equivalent of a coal fired power plant that burns 200,000 tons of coal per year! The McGill copper smelter only burned 70,000 tons a year. Expect over twice the acid rain – from just the first phase of the SPPCO plant.


The story is essentially the same for Nitrates. Even if they find a way to reduce Nitrates by 98%, that still amounts to burning 80,000 tons of coal per year unabated – more than the McGill copper smelter – before it utilized any pollution controls.


Let me remind you that the Ely Energy Center is not the only coal fired game in town. LS Power already plans to burn just as much, if not significantly more coal. If one were to add up all of the coal that LS Power and SPPCO intend to burn eventually, it will amount to approximately 12 to 15 million tons per year. That's about 500 rail cars of coal a day! Literally mountains of coal will be burned here. This is insane!


But hey, the coal industry claims that they can clean up 80% of the mercury in the newer coal fired power plants. That's not so great an accomplishment. What this means is that 20% of that 500 rail cars a day won't get cleaned up. What this means is that approximately 100 rail cars of coal a day will spew out mercury unabated! This is practically guaranteeing serious health and environmental problems in the Ely area. Even a 700 foot tall smokestack will only send some of this smog into the next valleys... to damage their health too. Mercury is a very serious health risk. We're already commonly finding toxic levels of mercury in our oceans' fish. Where do you think this mercury came from? No living thing on the planet is safe.


What SPPCO doesn't remind us of is that the 80% of mercury that doesn't make it out of the smokestack doesn't just disappear. For every reduction they've made in air pollution, there is a concentration of toxic pollutants on the ground. Whatever doesn't go into the air, ends up in the SPPCO (toxic sludge) landfill.


By the time SPPCO has retired their coal fired power plant, They will have effectively contaminated over half of the power plant property – resulting in up to a 3,000 acre no-man's land – toxic for essentially... ever. Unlike radioactive waste, these chemicals don't have half lives. If SPPCO could keep this landfill contained, some of the toxic chemicals would remain for millions of years. But of course, SPPCO won't be able to keep them contained. Perfect containment simply isn't physically possible. The barriers will actually begin to leak as soon as material is put in the landfill. It will take a while before the leaks gets completely past the barriers, but they will. It's just straight forward basic physics. The real question about leaks in any containment system is not when. It is how much and how fast. There is no way that SPPCO can guarantee that they will be around when the inevitable leaks do occur. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to find out that's actually what their betting on – that substantial leaks won't occur before they exploit the area for all the money they can get, and then get out before the clean-up.


What's been rarely mentioned by SPPCO is what will happen to all those other chemicals associated with burning coal. What about lead, arsenic, vanadium, barium, zinc, nickel, hydrogen fluoride, hydrochloric acid, selenium, and as many as 50 others? Yes, some of these chemicals may get captured and stored in the (toxic sludge) landfill. But, many of these chemicals will escape totally unhindered. Some of these pollutants will comprise of all of that particular chemical component within the 200 million tons of coal SPPCO intends to burn during the life of the first phase of the Ely Energy Center coal fired power plant. How much arsenic do you think is in 200 million tons of coal?


Over the life of the first phase of the Ely Energy Center coal fired power plant, 700 million tons of Carbon Dioxide will be released. (Carbon's atomic weight is 12, plus 2 Oxygen atoms, atomic weight 16, results in 3.6 times the mass of the carbon in the coal burned to carbon dioxide) This is the equivalent to 2 million SUVs running on White Pine County's roads for the next 50 years. SPPCO has no realistic plans for dealing with carbon dioxide. They have left a spot open on the property so that maybe someday, when they get around to it; they can think about what they might want to put there. At the scoping meeting they indicated that they had no plans for the pipeline, pumps, or destination for the carbon dioxide. Think about it. What difference does it make if someday they might be able to separate the carbon dioxide, if they have no place to ship it. SPPCO is not going to do a thing about carbon dioxide, and I predict (with 99% certainty) that they never will.


EXTREME CLIMATE CHANGE:

In the US, coal fired power plants' carbon dioxide emissions amount to over a third of the nation's total carbon dioxide emissions. SPPCO wants to increase that – for the next 50 years. The European Union, on the other hand, has just agreed to decrease carbon dioxide emissions by 20% by 2020. Apparently, SPPCO wants us to be more like a third world nation than the developed countries. Our nation's big cities are treating our rural areas like third world nations. This is what colonialism looks like. The people who live in the big cities don't want this. But the powerful people who wish to exploit us all can only think about the money. Ultimately, the pollution from these coal fired power plants will hurt us all.

For decades, scientists have been warning us about the Greenhouse Effect, Global Warming, or (extreme) Climate Change (if you wish to call it that). Almost every scientist that has studied carbon dioxide pollution says things are getting very dangerous for humanity, and life on Earth. Six former EPA leaders say that the US is not doing enough. National Academy of Sciences have concluded that human influenced Global warming has resulted in the past few decades being the warmest in the past 400 years. NASA's chief atmospheric scientist has shown that carbon dioxide levels are the highest, by far, than they have been in 650,000 years – and rising. The American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, National Science Foundation, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have all issued statements in recent years concluding that evidence for human modification of climate change is compelling. Even George W. Bush now admits we have a problem.


  • The intensity and duration of hurricanes has doubled since the 1970's.

  • 400,000 square miles of Arctic sea ice has melted in the last 30 years.

  • There isn't a glacier on the planet that isn't significantly smaller than it was a hundred years ago. And the meltwater from some of these glaciers feed rivers that millions depend on.

  • The National Center for Atmospheric Research has found that the density of the outer atmosphere is predicted to reduce by 3% by 2017 due to carbon dioxide emissions.

  • The Center for Health and the Global Environment has reported that mosquito-borne diseases, such as malaria, have spread to once cooler climates.

  • The National Center for Atmospheric Research has found that the percentage of the Earth's land area stricken by serious drought more than doubled from the 1970's to the early 2000's.

  • The El Nino has caused a drought for two years in the Amazon rain forest. Rivers have dried up, and wildfires have burned large areas. If this continues this year, an unstoppable cycle of deforestation will begin.

  • In 2002 and 2006, the Western US experienced some of the worst wildfires in the last 50 years. The National Academy of Sciences have published data that show that Western wildfires have been linked to North Atlantic temperatures. Nature magazine has published evidence that this is happening on other locations on the planet also.

  • The National Oceanography Centre found a 30% reduction in the currents that carry water from the Gulf Stream, which raises fears that Western Europe might plunge into a mini ice age.

  • Researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography have found clear evidence that the top half-mile of the ocean has warmed dramatically in the past forty years. Nature magazine has published an article that points out that the Oceans' phytoplankton are in decline, and that the productivity of the Global oceans is tightly linked to climate change. Phytoplankton absorb carbon dioxide.

  • The National Academy of Sciences published a report that Global warming was responsible for permanently killing off of 90% of the coral in a part of the Indian Ocean. The World Conservation Union warns that 20% of the Earth's coral reefs have already effectively been destroyed and that half of the world's coral reefs may die within the next 40 years.

  • The Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory has found that the world's oceans are 30% more acidic from more carbonic acid (due to the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere). This acid is accumulating 100 times faster than at any time in a million years. At this rate, within the next 50 to 100 years seawater will dissolve sea shells.

  • Divers from the University of California, Santa Barbara have already observed methane blowouts from the sea floor. They warn that if Global warming continues, we may reach a tipping point wherein frozen hydrocarbons will release tremendous amounts of greenhouse gases that could accelerate Global warming out of control.

  • The Institute of Arctic Biology has found that frozen bubbles in Siberian lakes are releasing methane at rates five times higher than previously estimated. As permafrost continues to thaw, tens of thousands of teragrams of methane could be released into the atmosphere, accelerating Global warming.

  • The Association of British Insurers has estimated that global warming will lead to $27 billion worth of storm damage annually by 2080.

  • Nature magazine and National Geographic have published articles that predict that by 2050 a million species may go extinct due to human emitted greenhouse gases.

  • An internal Pentagon report has warned that Global climate change will soon lead to drought, famine, and widespread warfare as countries begin to fight over scarce water, food, and energy resources. The report argues that climate change, “should be elevated beyond a scientific debate to US national security concern.”


In case you weren't paying attention, this is a very serious matter. We're not talking about a few jobs here. We're talking about the near future economic health of the planet. We're not just talking about a possible economic recession. We're talking about billions suffering. We're even talking about the possibility of the collapse of our civilization, maybe even the possibility of the extinction of humanity.


There. I said it. I just said what what nobody wants to talk about. We're likely in very deep trouble. The naysayers may claim that I am panicking. But, consider your source. Nobody is paying me to tell you everything is going to be alright. Nobody is paying me to tell you that burning millions of tons of coal won't hurt anything. I don't stand to make billions by telling you what they want you to hear.


Our civilization will fail if we continue to value money over wealth. White Pine County has an abundance of natural wealth that we should never sell out for any amount of money. This is my homeland. This area is sacred to me. For people to despoil it all for a profit – in fact, just to maximize a profit, seems an act of a psychopath.


THE WATER GRAB:

One more thing. As if all this pollution isn't enough, SPPCO intends to take 8,000 acre feet of water too. That's enough water to supply 40,000 people. Those people may not be here now, but they will never have the opportunity to be here if that water gets used up. It's as if there is a conspiracy to keep White Pine County weak, so that outsiders can take what they want, and leave us their waste.


Nevada Power and Southern Nevada Water Authority have been working closely together for decades. We know that SNWA wants water in Spring Valley. NV Power refused to build a power plant in Spring Valley. Now they want water from Steptoe Valley, Duck Creek Basin, Butte Valley, and maybe Smith Valley. Effectively, this is just an extension of the water grab.


They must realize that this is the desert. You don't waste water in the desert.


CONCLUSION:

All of this is completely avoidable. Other forms of profitable power generation exist that leave no pollutants behind and use no water. The winds in Spring Valley are strong. The solar energy in White Pine County is better than average. The technology to utilize the kinetic energy of the Earth improves every year. Don't believe the coal salesmen. Don't take advice from those who wish to take our wealth. Clean energy is practical. Dams have been generating electricity for decades.


SPPCO has better alternatives. Maybe not quite as profitable in the short term, but why should we be so concerned about maximizing their quarterly profits if they're not concerned about our lives.


The Ely Energy Center is a hideous idea based upon short term thinking. SPPCO has forsaken common sense for bottom line mentality. Residents of White Pine County don't need the power, don't want to lose the water, and resent our homeland being polluted so that Las Vegas, Reno, and California can get cheap electricity. Some of us even realize that these areas won't be getting cheap electricity. Coal prices invariably will rise. And with only one major power line delivering the power (the Frontier Line, which will be privately owned) – it will be far too tempting to be like Enron, and pinch off supply to raise prices. What's worse, is that it appears that the utility companies involved with the Frontier (power) Line intend to force California into rescinding their mandate to not buy coal power. Of all the power these companies plan to generate on the Frontier Line, 98 percent will be from coal. California may want clean power, but the utility companies appear to have no intentions of selling it – unless we stop them.


I see this as project as failing on all counts. If we continue on this path; we will ruin the environment of the West, energy customers in the cities will be subject to exorbitant electricity prices, our government agencies will be corrupted, and ultimately, the utility companies will suffer – when the price of solar energy drops significantly below the price of coal generated power (which, without coal and railroad subsidies, would already be happening).


Let's not try to fix short term financial issues by creating long term environmental problems.


1 comment:

Robert said...

Thank you for your well considered and well presented article. Our national energy problems are big and complex, and releasing more carbon is a bad idea. Effeciency gains and conservation are much bettr alternatives while wind and solar gain in scale and decrease in price. Right now we are building a new company based on a hand full of technologyies that are well proven and increase effeciency of existing coal fired plants by about 20%, (read -20% CO2), produce about 1MM gallons of fresh water plus about 8,000 bbls of synthetic crud per day while reducing toxic stack emissions. Eventually carbon can be captured and re-used, but that is still a few years away. We can do these things right now, with proen technology, some came from DOE research and NASA rocket science. We are looking for concerned people to help us get this off the ground. We don't need new coal plants and we don't need middle east oil. We just need to roll up our sleves and get it done.