Dominion, one of the largest utilities in the U.S., says it wants to convert three of its Virginia coal plants to run on waste biomass from timber operations. If approved by the state?s regulatory commission, it could bring about 150 MW of renewable capacity to the state and turn two ?peaking? coal plants that operate only 25% of the time into round-the-clock generators that operate 90% of the time.
Like other coal-to-biomass projects we?ve reported on in the past, this one will create about 250 direct and indirect local jobs and only cost the typical ratepayer about 14 cents per month. So it will be good for the local economy and will increase renewable generation ? but is it a core climate solution?
If biomass can help power plant owners ease away from coal faster, that is certainly a good thing. The Dominion announcement is particularly relevant given the number of planned plant retirements in the coal industry ? we?re up to 190 generators around the U.S. set to be shut down with a dwindling appetite to replace them with more coal.
While some independent power providers suggest that natural gas could fill the gap, it will be important for baseload renewables like biomass to be used in existing coal plants that don?t require much new build-out of infrastructure. And considering that new EPA mercury and air toxics regulations exclude biomass for now, the resource may look more attractive to plant owners like Dominion.
Joe Romm wrote about the benefits of using biomass in coal facilities a couple years ago:
Cofiring is a well-demonstrated strategy with multiple benefits. From a practical perspective, most of the existing coal plants are mostly paid off. Plus they are fully permitted and have all the necessary transmission plus they are connected to freight train lines and water supply. Plus this is baseload power. So you avoid all of the problems associated with citing new renewables in the Midwest or Southwest. Cofiring is thus a key near-term strategy for meeting climate goals ? and renewable standards ? in the midwest and southeast.
And, again, this is baseload power, and your typical coal plant has a capacity factor that is some 2 to 3 times larger than that of wind. So 20 GW of biomass coal firing will generate as much power as 50 GW of wind.
But biomass also presents a number of logistical challenges around developing a new supply chain with more fragmented players, requiring different storage methods than coal, using different transportation methods to deliver the feedstock, and understanding how different fuels impact performance. Woody biomass also has lower BTU content, so you need more of it to get the equivalent amount of electricity.
And that brings us to the ongoing debate about biomass: Can we consider a repowering project like Dominion?s an important piece of the climate solution? Or does it have environmental trade-offs that exceed its benefit?
From a resource-availability perspective, we have a substantial amount of biomass potential ? about 1.3 billion tons per year, according to a 2005 study from the Department of Energy and Department of Agriculture. We burn about a billion tons of coal a year, so considering reduced conversion efficiencies compared to coal we?d theoretically need more than a billion and a half tons of biomass to make up for our coal use. Of course, it wouldn?t be very realistic or environmentally friendly to use all our land for electricity generation. But there are enough resources available to help transition a substantial amount of our coal fleet.
However, a number of questions have been raised about the greenhouse gas profile of biomass for electricity generation. You might remember a study from the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences released this time last year, which concluded that the ?carbon debt? of biomass takes more than 20 years to pay off and the use of biomass in coal plants may not actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
But in a New York Times interview, the lead researcher for the study, Thomas Walker, explained that the findings were not the end-all answer on biomass:
[The] headlines fail to recognize that over time using wood for energy can lead to lower atmospheric greenhouse gas levels. While emissions from burning wood are initially higher than from fossil fuels, regrowing forests sequesters carbon, a process that eventually can yield greenhouse gas levels lower than would have resulted from continued burning of fossil fuels.
To further complicate the story, while our life cycle analysis looked at greenhouse gas emissions from production and transport of both biomass and fossil fuels, we couldn?t evaluate every possible environmental impact of energy production, such as broken blowout preventers 5,000 feet under water or mountaintop removals to access coal. Rarely (maybe never) does society really weigh the full array of costs and benefits of our decisions. But as the world gets more complicated, and as resources get more scarce, and as the human population climbs to nine billion (and then some), we?re going to have to become more serious about analyzing these kinds of trade-offs.
Walker is exactly right ? there are trade-offs for everything when considering the myriad life-cycle factors for a range of resources. If the biomass isn?t harvested in a sustainable way, using it to generate electricity isn?t much better than removing mountaintops for coal. But if done in a thoughtful, environmentally and community-conscious way, the value of biomass increases substantially.
This is really an issue for policymakers at the state and national levels. But our study suggests that it?s important to be specific about how you define biomass. Energy generation from harvests of live whole trees from natural forests has different life cycle implications than energy generation from wood wastes that otherwise would have released their carbon to the atmosphere relatively quickly.
The Oak Ridge National Laboratory projects that we can realistically convert about 26-GW of coal capacity to renewable biomass by 2020. Assuming companies like Dominion are sourcing their feedstocks from waste products (they say that they are), biomass can be an important tool in helping transition away from fossil-based resources, despite some of the drawbacks.
Governor Mike Beebe (D) made history last night by becoming the first Arkansas Governor to speak to a gay rights group, but reiterated his opposition to same-sex marriage and civil unions. Beebe also defended the Batesville Daily Guard’s decision to exclude a same-sex partner from an obituary, arguing that the paper followed its policy of not listing partners in unpaid obituaries. He also pushed back against the suggestion that the paper’s policy amounted to de facto discrimination because gay couples can’t marry in Arkansas:
Q: That still ignores the issue that straight people can get married and same sex couples can’t. So it’s de facto discrimination the way you look at it.
BEEBE: But that’s the law. That’s the constitution and that’s the way it is.
Q: You don’t have a problem with that?
BEEBE: No, I think marriage is an institution as defined in the law and you and I disagree with that. I do have a problem with that. That is a fundamental disagreement you and I have. [...]
Q: Speaking in terms of strictly of government, do you think LGBT people are discriminated against in Arkansas?
BEEBE: Well, if you measure that by whether or not you believe there should be a law that permits marriage, to other than between a man and a woman, then you’ve answered your own question. I don’t think that’s discrimination because I think that’s appropriate societal judgment. I think that’s appropriate societal…
As the question and answer session went on, Beebe seemed unaware that Arkansas did not have a law prohibiting employers from firing individuals on the basis of sex or gender identity and initially claimed that it was illegal for a business to fire an employee because she or he is gay. He was corrected by the crowd and sounded embarrassed by the snafu. Earlier in the night, Beebe also predicted that a law banning discrimination on the basis of sex and gender would not pass in Arkansas. Listen to that exchange:
“The most important thing is stop hating everybody. Everybody stop hating. Everybody try to be a little more empathetic and a little more tolerant. Everybody understand that there are certain lines some people won’t cross. And in my opinion one of those things is marriage,” he added. Beebe also claimed that he had “evolved” on gay issues, pointing to the fact that he now supports gay people becoming foster parents.
As Kansas regulators prepare to shut down the state’s only three abortion clinics for failing to “meet the requirements to get a license under a law that takes effect Friday,” doctors and clinics that perform abortions have filed or are preparing lawsuits to block the new licensing law. The measure, which was signed by Gov. Sam Brownback (R) just last month, establishes overly rigorous standards that abortion providers must meet in order to continue operating and is part of a broader Republican effort to effectively eliminate abortions in the state.
The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a suit in federal district court yesterday “on behalf of the Center for Women’s Health” (and physicians Herbert Hodes and Traci Nauser) and another abortion provider, Aid for Women in Kansas City — which was denied a license after acknowledging it would need extensive renovations to comply with the new regulations — is expected to challenge the law today. “Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri’s abortion clinic in Overland Park was inspected last week and has a license application pending, though it also is considering a legal challenge“:
In their lawsuit, Hodes and Nauser said the new regulations are stricter than rules for other health care providers. The suit claims the state violated their right to due legal process. [...]
Court documents show that Hodes sent an email June 21 asking the health department to consider waiving some of the rules and granting a provisional license while the idea was considered. A department official replied in 12 minutes, saying the law didn’t permit either step.
“This is like living in a communist country, the way I was treated,” Hodes told The Associated Press.
These suits come on the heels of a separate legal action filed on Monday that challenges a separate “provision in the new state budget blocking Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri from tapping into federal Title X funds to operate nonabortion clinics in Hays and Wichita.”
The lawsuits will only increase costs to taxpayers, who are already paying an ?absurd? amount of money — $67,000 a year for six inspections at three clinics — to challenge Roe v. Wade and chase abortion providers out of the state.
PELLA, Iowa — Sarah Palin stared a bit uncomfortably at a movie screen Tuesday night watching a montage of Matt Damon, David Letterman, Madonna, Howard Stern, Bill Maher, Louis C.K. and other celebrities malign her, then asked The Hollywood[...]
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It is one thing to think that a company like Massey Energy is cheating safety regulations. It is quite another to find out that they kept two different sets of safety books. That is a crime in and of itself. Here is hoping it leads to a RICO case and[...]
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Cross posted from The Stars Hollow GazetteDuring his confirmation hearings to replace Leon Panetta as CIA director, General David Petraeus, the Nato commander in Afghanistan, told Senate Intelligence Committee that:(Sen. Mark) Udall was clearly trying to[...]
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Clips from our friends at www.americavotes.org
PRIORITIES USA UP IN IA, FLA., VA., COLO . - The Democratic super PAC Priorities USA Action will roll out an ad campaign in four general election battlegrounds today, in direct response to the $20 million blitz from American Crossroads targeting President Barack Obama. POLITICO's Maggie Haberman reports that the pro-Obama group will go up in Iowa, Florida, Virginia and Colorado: "[S]ources, who are familiar with the buy but requested anonymity, said the ad the group will air is called 'Portraits,' and will go up on a broadcast TV buy starting Wednesday morning and running through the weekend. It wasn't immediately clear what the substance of the ad will be, but television stations in those four states are expected to start receiving copies of the spot first thing in the morning." http://politi.co/kzVnNV
ACU PLANTS FLAG IN ORLANDO - The American Conservative Union will announce today that it plans to hold the first regional Conservative Political Action Conference this fall in Orlando, potentially making "CPAC FL" a key stop in the 2012 presidential primaries. ACU will host the event on Sept. 23, a day after the Fox News debate in Orlando and in the middle of the Republican Party of Florida's Presidency 5 summit. The national conservative group has already invited the announced presidential candidates to participate, along with Sunshine State GOP rock stars Marco Rubio and Allen West. ACU Chairman (and former Florida GOP chief) Al Cardenas: "As we battle President Obama and the most liberal Administration in the history of our country, ACU is heading to the frontlines and taking the conservative fight directly to the states ... We look forward to hosting CPAC FL in the Sunshine State this fall, expanding the CPAC brand and further energizing the national conservative movement as we head into the critical 2012 election season."
DCCC PITCH: 'MAKE BOEHNER C RY' - The House Democrats' campaign committee will drop an eye-catching, John Boehner-mocking fundraising appeal this morning, ahead of the second-quarter FEC deadline. Writes DCCC executive director Robby Mook: "We all know it doesn't take much to make Speaker Boehner get teary-eyed. But let's give him something to really cry about ... This deadline is so huge that just last week Boehner announced he's transferring $1 million of his own Big-Oil-tainted funds to our Republican counterparts to give the false impression that they are the ones with the momentum at this critical benchmark ... We absolutely must exceed Boehner's cash infusion with over $1 million in grassroots support of our own." The second quarter is a big financial test for House Democrats, who have started to persuade doubters that the chamber is in play, but still have a long fight ahead of them.http://politi.co/j6F0Ia
HOUSE TALKER - NRCC VS. RED CHINA - The National Republican Congressional Committee is going on the attack today against Nevada Treasurer Kate Marshall, hitting the Democratic House candidate for supporting an increase in the debt limit that will send money to "places like the People's Republic of China." The video echoes GOP candidate Mark Amodei's first ad, which showed Chinese troops literally marching past the U.S. Capitol. The name of the NRCC's video? "Kate Marshall's Chinese Credit Card." Watch it here: http://bit.ly/iBtU5P ... And the Amodei spot: http://bit.ly/mbFEw5
DISASTROUS RICK SCOTT POLL OF THE DAY - The idea that Florida's Republican governor could drag down his party in 2012 has now caught on nationally. Yesterday, PPP served up a set of numbers that highlight just how jaw-droppingly unpopular Rick Scott is: His approval rating is 33 percent, his disapproval rating his 59 percent and his net disapproval among independents has grown to 37 points. If the 2014 election were held today, Scott would get vaporized: "[Charlie] Crist would crush Scott in a hypothetical match up, 56-34 ... Democrats wouldn't need Crist to win if Scott stood for reelection today- in a rematch of their contest last fall Alex Sink now leads Scott by a 57-35 margin." http://bit.ly/jYDGPI
CUT-CAP-BALANCE VIDEO -- Let Freedom Ring is out with a new video this morning in support of its 'cut, cap and balance' pledge, in which signers vow to tell their elected officials to follow a deficit-reduction approach that cuts spending, implements structural spending caps and pursues a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution. Spoofing a horror-film trailer, blood-red ink washes over the Capitol, drips from the Statue of Liberty and floods the Grand Canyon as an announcer intones 'Congress is drowning America in a sea of red ink ... we have to stop the spending before America and it's great people are under water ... sign the pledge to save America. Together we can stop the out of control spending. Sign the pledge today.' The video was produced by Harris Media for Let Freedom Ring, which is a coalition of scores of interest groups and tea party affiliates. Organizers say the pledge has been signed by 49,000+ Americans, six presidential candidates, 12 U.S. Senators, 22 Congressmen and 25 candidates for federal office. Here's the video http://bit.ly/mLqJpK Twitter: @CutCapBalance
AND INSIDE THE CAPITOL -- Republican senators are promoting their balanced-budget amendment in a media availability at 11:30 a.m. Participants: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Lindsey Graham (R-N.C.), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and other Republican senators.
POPPING IN N.H. - ROMNEY STEADY, BACHMANN RISING - Mitt Romney is holding firm at 36 percent of the vote in New Hampshire, according to a Suffolk University poll released late last night. But the big mover in the Granite State is - wait for it - Michele Bachmann, who has risen from 3 percent support in May to 11 percent now. More: "With the exception of Romney and Bachmann, support for the 18 candidates tested remained in single digits. Tim Pawlenty slipped 3 points, to 2 percent, and Newt Gingrich was unchanged with 2 percent ... Jon Huntsman gained 4 points (4 percent), ranking him ahead of Gingrich, Pawlenty and Rick Santorum (1 percent)." http://bit.ly/kmi7Ek and http://politi.co/j6F0Ia
SURGING IN GALLUP - THEY REALLY LIKE HER - The authoritative nonpartisan pollster sizes up Bachmann and finds her in a strong position as she starts this new phase of her campaign: "Her name recognition is up to 69% for the two-week period of June 13-26, having climbed from 52% in late February/early March...Bachmann's Positive Intensity Score of 24 ties with Herman Cain's as the highest such score of any candidate, and is her highest to date. Bachmann's ability to maintain her relatively high Positive Intensity Score as she has become better known distinguishes her from several of her competitors." Bachmann is on the road with a pollster of her own, the Tarrance Group's Ed Goeas. http://bit.ly/m0bCcB
How Republicans finally found a tax cut they didn't like -- one that might provide a short-term boost to the economy and President Obama.[...]
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How surprising. Yet another Ivy League professor who has deep financial ties to radical right money. Nice research by Greenpeace.
One of the world's most prominent scientific figures to be sceptical about climate change has admitted to being paid more than $1m in the past decade by major US oil and coal companies.
Dr Willie Soon, an astrophysicist at the Solar, Stellar and Planetary Sciences Division of the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, is known for his view that global warming and the melting of the arctic sea ice is caused by solar variation rather than human-caused CO2 emissions, and that polar bears are not primarily threatened by climate change.
But according to a Greenpeace US investigation, he has been heavily funded by coal and oil industry interests since 2001, receiving money from ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Insitute and Koch Industries along with Southern, one of the world's largest coal-burning utility companies. Since 2002, it is alleged, every new grant he has received has been from either oil or coal interests.