Thursday, November 28, 2013

Global outrage at dirty coal

My friend has a brother who has worked most of his life in the western coal industry.  He supervises an open-pit mine in Gillette Wyoming that can load up to three trains an hour.  Their machinery is so efficient that the trains literally do not stop moving as they are loaded.  Because Wyoming coal is considered low-sulfur, he is loading coal that complies with the Clean Air Act.  Yet every ounce of coal he loads will eventually become CO2 and contribute to global warming—and he loads tons of it every second.  It takes a LOT of coal to keep the nation's electrical generators running and his crew is a long way from digging out 16 tons a day with a pickaxe.

There is literally no way that we can continue to burn Powder River Coal and not destroy the atmosphere.  There is just too much of it.  And that's the problem—those folks invested in this coal want it turned into profits.  And they are not about to back down without a fight.  There are actually people who benefit from not doing anything about climate change.  Fortunately for the rest of us, there are not so many of them.

Another Reason to Divest: Global outrage at dirty Coal threatens Investors’ Profits

Posted on 11/23/2013 by Juan Cole

The divestment movement on US college campuses against Big Carbon (coal, oil and gas) signals more than just the arrival of a new, determined and idealistic generation of students. It is a harbinger of danger for investors.

In addition to the keen competition thermal coal is facing as a source for electricity generation from fracked natural gas and from wind turbines, coal in particular faces a major public relations problem. It is the dirtiest way of producing electricity, causing lung problems and probably contributing to autism via mercury emissions, and it is the major cause of global warming.

The value of coal stocks is to outward seeming backed by trillions of dollars in coal reserves, but what if that substance is actually worthless? Coal is already being shorted by a major brokerage, which points out that even heavily coal-dependent China plans to move away from the fuel because of pollution concerns (like that coal plants are making the air thick as pea soup and giving small children lung cancer).

Canada’s major Ontario province (as populous as Illinois) is banning coal plants, with the last one to be closed by the end of this year. Wind, nuclear and natural gas have taken coal’s place. Wind and nuclear do not produce C02, and natural gas produces about half as much as coal. The feed-in tariff has also been important in encouraging renewables.

Local politicians are beginning to win races with an anti-coal platform, showing the sea change in public attitudes.

The pro-Carbon right wing government of Australia is facing growing public anti-coal protests.

Proposals for new coal plants are meeting with public opposition. Moreover, investors in companies planning to invest in coal-related projects are beginning openly to ask how they intend to secure the projects against sabotage by environmental activists. Since coal is destroying the earth, some people may mind it being mined and burned.

So many coal plants are closing in places like Massachusetts that communities are trying to replace the income by asking for redevelopment help. Even proponents of coal and its profits admit that the plants made local residents sick (can you say “black lung”?)

The dangers of coal ash are also increasingly being recognized by activists. Most people don’t stop to think that most coal gets around by rail, and that the rail cars carrying it are emitting coal dust and dangerous substances such as arsenic.

India is now witnessing the stirrings of a nation-wide anti-coal movementthat is protesting in cities across the country. Even not counting climate change impacts and sea level rise that will menace Bengal, Indian coal plants kill 120,000 people a year.

As with tobacco, where consumer lawsuits gradually began succeeding as judges and juries came to recognize that the substance causes cancer and that the companies had tried to obscure the dangers, so too with coal, consumers damaged by its burning may before too long be able to collect damages. Indeed, in the US, the Sierra Club has had some success in closing coal plants through law suits pointing out that they are in contravention of environmental laws (they are very dirty and put out loads of toxins in addition to their fatal carbon dioxide pollution).

The college students urging disinvestment may be wiser than we realize. Universities that hold stock in coal companies may be victims of a Madoff hoax– the collateral backing their value, coal itself, may be worthless or worst, it may be a legal liability. Universities and other investors would be wise to get out of those stocks before this fact comes to be generally recognized. more
But burning coal can be stopped.  They did it in Ontario.

How Ontario Went Coal-Free

By Alex Brown November 21, 2013

Some politicians in the U.S. are quick to distance themselves from the term "war on coal," but leaders of Canada's most-populous province went before the cameras Tuesday in a full-throated celebration of its new coal-free status.

The shutdown of Ontario's last coal-burning plant—slated to happen before the end of this year—is the culmination of a goal set 10 years ago, when the province produced a quarter of its electricity with coal power. The milestone isn't a stopping point, said Premier Kathleen Wynne, who used the event to propose a ban for all future coal-plant construction.

As if to erase any doubt Ontario is taking its cues from the environmental community, the province imported the planet's most prominent climate campaigner to keynote the event. "Congratulations, Ontario, and thank you, Ontario," said former Vice President Al Gore, launching into a somber portrayal of the effects of climate change. "Mother Nature is proclaiming the urgency of this crisis in ever more easily understandable tones." But Ontario's transition offers hope, he said. "If we were magically able to do in the world what Ontario is announcing today, then half the CO2 [currently in the atmosphere] would fall out in a single generation."

So how did a province with a population larger than Illinois wean itself off coal in 10 years? A wide mix of alternative power sources, boosted by some government help, have filled the gap. Since 2003, Ontario has seen the completion of five nuclear projects, 12 natural gas projects, five hydropower projects, and 17 wind projects. Coal plants are being converted to run on natural gas and biomass.

Coal still makes up 9 percent of Ontario's installed energy capacity, but other sources provide more than enough to meet peak demand on their own. Nuclear power is the leader with 36 percent; gas power makes up 28 percent; hydropower provides 22 percent; and fast-growing wind energy comes in at 5 percent.

The province's Green Energy Act, passed in 2009, provides cost considerations for renewable energy sources that feed into the grid, a controversial policy known as a feed-in tariff.

But while ambitious goals and aggressive policymaking have found results north of the border, such action is unlikely to be replicated in the U.S., where 37 percent of the electricity still comes from coal. As Yale Environment 360 notes, "Unlike the U.S., where miners, producers, truckers, railroads, and utilities form strong regional coal alliances, coal-fired power in Ontario had no other influential political constituencies."

Even one of the most marginal enablers of the coal-free transition—increased energy efficiency—has run into obstacles in the United States. A widely supported efficiency bill stalled out in the Senate in September due to Republican attempts to add non-germane amendments.

And while the ever-polite Canadians took care not to scold neighbors who have been less active on the climate front, the message was clear: You can do this too. "There's no denying that climate change is happening," Wynne said. "We have the power to change our behaviors to reverse this increasingly critical problem." more
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Not surprisingly, Ontario's CLEAN Program (also known as a feed-in tariff) has been an energy game changer in the province. In 2003, Ontario generated a meager 15 megawatts (MW) of wind power from just 10 wind turbines. Now, Ontario has more than 2,000 MW of wind power online, generatedby more than 1,000 wind turbines. During the program's first two years, Ontario contracted 4,600 MW of distributed renewable energy -- enough to power more than one million homes -- and now leads Canada in both wind and solar installations and manufacturing. The staggering growth of renewable energy has continued in Ontario, as more than 12,000families, farmers, community groups, and small businesses already participate in the CLEAN Program. This smart energy policy has created 20,000 jobs, and it is on track create as many as 50,000 new jobs and stimulate over $27 billion of private-sector investment by 2018.

The real winners in Ontario's ambitious transition away from coal to local renewables are the province's energy consumers and communities. Even before instituting their CLEAN Program, energy prices were steadily increasing and Ontario's aging nuclear fleet was requiring massive sums for maintenance and replacement. Ontario's investments in clean local energy has locked in reasonable energy rates for Ontarians, as renewable energy sources are not subject to volatile fuel costs -- the sun and wind are always free. Additionally, distributed renewables avoid expensive transmission costs, increase local economic benefits, enhance grid resilience, and foster environmental sustainability.

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