Sunday, December 28, 2008

Toxic Sludge from "Clean Coal"

Democracy Now! has reported a huge spill of toxic sludge that has buried a part of Tennessee in as much as six feet of coal-fired power plant toxic coal ash. CNN has reported that the toxic spill was over a billion gallons – “enough to fill 1,660 Olympic-sized swimming pools.”

The toxic spill is more than fifty times larger than the Exxon Valdez oil spill. “Coal ash typically contains high concentrations of toxic chemicals like mercury, cadmium, (arsenic, lead, selenium, uranium, thorium,) and other heavy metals.” The New York Times has reported the EPA found that “concentrations of arsenic to which people might be exposed through drinking water contaminated by fly ash could increase cancer risks several hundredfold.”

The sludge has flowed into the Emory River, a tributary of the Tennessee River, which provides drinking water to millions of people downstream in Tennessee, Alabama, and Kentucky.”

And this isn't the first time. Toxic sludge floods also happened in Martin County, KY in 2000 and in Buffalo Creek, WV in 1972.

Moreover; “The toxic sludge we are seeing pollute Tennessee today is actually from air pollution control devices.” That's right. The cleaner the air is from a coal-fired power plant, the dirtier the toxic sludge. And this disaster shows us again that a real threat exists that coal-ash toxic sludge will not be contained. The regulations for landfills are far more lax than regulations for air quality. High Country News has reported extensive health problems near coal-fired power plant toxic landfills in Arizona. In Arizona, however, there have been no huge breaches. The toxins just blow in the wind.

This disaster in Tennessee is just a catastrophic example of what we already know. There is no such thing as clean coal.

Environmental disasters such as these continue to remind us of how important it is for us to utilize safer technology to generate power. Unfortunately, the coal industry won't do this FOR us... For them, it costs too much to do the right thing. For us, it costs too much not to.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Customers Want Abundance – Suppliers Want Scarcity

What if I could show Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) that desalination is cheaper than the watergrab pipeline?

Would it matter? I have my doubts.

If SNWA were always going to be a municipality, they would want to keep the price of water down. And the best way to keep prices down is to increase supply. (In case you didn't realize, draining water from the Central Great Basin ultimately reduces overall water supply.) Actually, the only way to increase the long-term supply of fresh water is to make it from non-potable or saltwater.

However, there is no guarantee that SNWA will not privatize. In fact, they already claim to be a QUASI-municipality. What does that mean? Well, they haven't clearly explained that. But their actions tell us more than they've been willing to tell. They're acting like a corporation. Corporations want scarcity. It means more profits.

From the first day the watergrab pipeline starts pumping, there will be less and less water available. Who benefits from that? Not the customers.

Desalination, on the other hand, increases the overall long-term supply of water. That's what we want. We want abundance, not scarcity.

So, is desalination do-able? Sure.

Spectra Watermakers sell a portable desalination unit with triple the efficiency of conventional desalinators. It's so efficient that it runs on attached solar panels and/or a small windmill. Spectra Watermakers “Solar Cube” desalination system is already installed and working in a number of countries. It costs between $40 thousand and $80 thousand dollars – and desalinates almost 1000 gallons per day.

Here's the math (you can skip this part if you have an aversion):

The watergrab pipeline is designed to “steal” up to 200,000 acre feet per year from Rural Nevada.

200,000 acre feet per year x 326,000 gallons per acre foot


365 days per year x 1000 gallons per day

= 180,000 Solar Cube units

Now, obviously this is not how to best build up this desalination system. Building larger systems could vastly reduce the number of units necessary, and the economies of scale would greatly reduce the costs.

But, for rough a comparison, that would mean:

180,000 units x $40,000 per unit = $7.2 billion

180,000 units x $80,000 per unit = $14.4 billion

So, what we're looking at is the costs of desalinating an equivalent amount of water, AND the cost of power generation to do it of between $7 and 15 billion.

Yes, that sounds like a lot. But remember, the cost of power expenses for the watergrab hardly ever gets discussed by SNWA. Those costs will be enormous!

And moreover, anyone who has been seriously following the construction cost estimates for the watergrab pipeline knows that they're low-balling us. Everyone in the know expects cost overruns. One independent estimate ranges as high as $20 billion!

So let's just guess that the watergrab pipeline is double what SNWA claims – and Spectra Watermakers can build large scale desalination facilities at the cheaper end of their price estimates.

That would mean they would both be about $7 billion... about the same!

But, with the desalination system, we would also get power generation – worth billions in savings.

And better yet, with desalination, water facilities could be built as needed. Meaning we don't have to come up with all the money up front.

Yes, there are a number of other things to consider, such as whether to build these desalination plants offshore – or how much the (ultimately) rising price of coal or gas fired power will effect the cost of power to SNWA. But my point is simple.

Desalination is NOT prohibitively expensive.

Therefore, SNWA must be considering other variables in their decision to build the watergrab pipeline. My guess is that SNWA executives do NOT want there to be an abundance of water. That would cut into future profits.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Time To Start Planning Better

I've got some really good news. Its starting to look like some of those experimental medical procedures are starting to pan out.

1. Cancer: Nanotechnology has brought with it the ability to kill cancer without harming surrounding tissue. Proteins can be attached to gold nanospheres which can be injected into the body. The proteins chosen will only attach themselves to cancerous cells. Infra-red light can then be used non-invasively to cook the cancer cells, without harming healthy tissue. Someday, cancer treatment could be little more than an office visit to the doctor.
2. HIV: Recently, a bone marrow transplant has effectively cured an AIDS patient. The bole marrow donor had a genetic mutation that was “resistant” to HIV. This finding could inspire scientists to pursue gene therapy to suppress or even cure HIV.
3. Heart Disease: Gene therapy has shown promising results for advanced heart failure.
4. Organ Replacement: Stem cell therapy has shown promising results in regrowing tissue in the eye, the windpipe, the bladder, the skin, the immune system, the brain, the face, the heart, the pancreas, the ovaries, the testes, and the muscles.
5. Aging: An immune system drug based upon a Chinese herb has possible applications in slowing the aging process.

Wow! The probability that many of us today may live much longer, healthier lives is becoming ever more likely.

However, so is the likelihood that we will destroy our habitat on this planet.

Imagine a future where people live for hundreds of years in a overheated, polluted cesspool of a planet. Doesn't that sound a lot like the biblical description of Hell – living forever in a miserable place? This may be our future.

You may think you only have another 30 years or so to live. But that might not be true. What if you're going to live another 130 years? What do you want your future to be like?