Energy and Global Warming News for October 21st: Gulf Coast faces $350 billion in climate damage by 2030; U.S. approves fifth solar plant on Western public land; Hidden costs of coal generation

Hidden costs of coal generation

Pollution from Chicago‘s two coal-fired power plants costs neighboring communities $127 million a year in hidden health damages, according to a report released Wednesday that relied on research from the nation’s leading scientific organization.

Environmental groups and Chicago aldermen have been fighting for years to force the aging Fisk plant in Pilsen and the Crawford plant in Little Village to either clean up or shut down. The former ComEd plants, now owned by Midwest Generation, also are tangled in anti-pollution lawsuits filed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

While pollution problems at the two plants have been well-documented “” both are major sources of lung-damaging soot and other noxious chemicals “” this is the first time anyone has tried to calculate the economic costs of the steady stream of coal smoke that churns out of the smokestacks.

“Not only are these plants harming our health, they’re draining our wallets,” said Howard Learner, president of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, the Chicago-based group that released the new report.

Learner’s group obtained plant-specific data from the National Research Council, which issued a little-noticed report this year that estimated energy production and its use cost the nation $120 billion a year in damages. Most of those hidden costs are from soot pollution emitted by power plants and vehicles and are not reflected in market prices for coal, gasoline and diesel fuel, the council’s report concluded.

For more on that “little-noticed report” see “NRC: Burning fossil fuels costs the U.S. $120 billion a year “” not counting mercury or climate impacts!

U.S. Gulf Coast Faces $350 Billion in Climate Damage by 2030, Study Shows

The U.S. Gulf Coast may face $350 billion in economic damage by 2030 as extreme weather fueled by climate change wreaks havoc on the region, according to a study released today by Entergy Corp.

The estimate assumes severe weather similar to Hurricane Katrina — a storm that crippled the region in 2005 — will occur every generation rather than once a century, according to the study by Swiss Re, a Zurich-based reinsurer, and McKinsey & Co., a New York-based research firm. New Orleans-based Entergy, the second-largest U.S. producer of electricity from nuclear reactors behind Exelon Corp., commissioned the report.

The study recommends spending $50 billion for projects such as overhauling building codes and reinforcing beaches and wetlands to curb losses. The region, which suffers an average annual loss of $14 billion, may lose as much as $23 billion a year from “extreme” climate change, the report said.

“With the multiplier effect, the amount of economic loss to the Gulf Coast could rise to $700 billion, the gross domestic product for the entire region for one year,” Entergy Chief Executive Officer J. Wayne Leonard said today in a statement. The study is a “call to arms for policy makers,” he said.

US approves 5th solar plant on western public land

A fifth large-scale solar energy plant proposed on western U.S. public lands received federal approval Wednesday.

The 663.5-megawatt Calico Solar Project planned in California’s Mojave Desert would produce enough electricity to power at least 200,000 homes, the Interior Department said.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who earlier this month approved three other projects in California and one in Nevada, authorized the Bureau of Land Management to offer Houston-based Tessera Solar use of 4,604 acres for 30 years to build Calico Solar.

Calico is expected to cost more than $2 billion and create 136 permanent jobs and an average of 400 construction jobs, depending on the construction phase, Tessera spokeswoman Janette Coates said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. The site is 37 miles east of Barstow.

The project still faces an Oct. 28 hearing before the full California Energy Commission. A CEC committee recommended last month that the project be approved.

NJ getting one of nation’s largest solar farms

A New Jersey farm that was slated to become a housing development will now be used to cultivate energy from the sun.

Officials broke ground Wednesday on what they expect will be one of the nation’s largest solar farms when it begins generating power next spring – giving New Jersey even more bragging rights when it comes to harnessing the sun’s power.

The original plan of a housing development replacing the farm was troubling some residents of the rural southern New Jersey town about 20 miles from Wilmington, Del.

Now, Dallas-based Panda Power Funds and Valhalla, N.Y.-based Con Edison Development – the companies developing the project – say its 71,000 solar panels situated on a 100-acre farm will be installed and generating power by April or May.

Al Gore Urges California to Vote No on Climate Initiative

The future of climate change legislation in the United States could rest in California, where voters will decide on Nov. 2 whether to pass Proposition 23, a ballot measure that would roll back the state’s ambitious greenhouse gas emissions targets. With some polls showing voters in California split over the issue, former Vice President Al Gore released a video today explaining his opposition.

“The fight for America’s clean energy future is taking place right now, and it’s come to California,” Gore says in the video. “This is a fight we simply cannot afford to lose.”

In 2006, California passed a law to curb the state’s emissions by 15 percent by 2020, which would bring them down to 1990 levels. The plan targeted a range of economic sectors for emissions cuts, including automobiles, buildings and landfills, and it called for a third of California’s electricity to come from renewable sources like wind or solar energy. The plan was hailed as a model for national climate change legislation.

Climate change a proven case
We can’t afford luxury of debate anymore

Two weeks ago I began a discussion about climate change, and why most people are still not convinced that taking immediate, serious action–especially in terms of a carbon tax or cap and trade program– is the way to proceed. I also looked at some of the extreme weather events that have taken place in 2010 and how they reflect what to anticipate in a warming world.

As you are probably aware, the first half of 2010 was–at a global level–the warmest ever recorded.

As for the period from January to September, the global combined land and ocean surface temperature was tied with 1998 as the warmest January-September period on record.

In Peterborough, the mean (average) temperature for September mirrored the global trend.

The average temperature for the month was 19.55 C, a full 6 C warmer than the 1971 to 2000 average of 14.6 C. September’s average high was 26.1 C, while the average low was 13 C. These are much warmer than the long-term averages of 20.1 C and 9 C.

Today, I’d like to present some recent research findings that underscore the vulnerability of both nature and human society to climate change.

U.N. urged to freeze climate geo-engineering projects

The United Nations should impose a moratorium on “geo-engineering” projects such as artificial volcanoes and vast cloud-seeding schemes to fight climate change, green groups say, fearing they could harm nature and mankind.

The risks were too great because the impacts of manipulating nature on a vast scale were not fully known, the groups said at a major U.N. meeting in Japan aimed at combating increasing losses of plant and animal species.

Envoys from nearly 200 countries are gathered in Nagoya, Japan, to agree targets to fight the destruction of forests, rivers and coral reefs that provide resources and services central to livelihoods and economies.

A major cause for the rapid losses in nature is climate change, the United Nations says, raising the urgency for the world to do whatever it can to curb global warming and prevent extreme droughts, floods and rising sea levels.

Some countries regard geo-engineering projects costing billions of dollars as a way to control climate change by cutting the amount of sunlight hitting the earth or soaking up excess greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide.

The worst part of climate change may be severe drought

And here the whole time we thought the biggest downsides of climate change were polar melt and flooded coastlines. But a new study suggests that what we really need to fear is prolonged drought. Wet your lips and read on.

Bake it to the limit: Aiguo Dai, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado came to that conclusion after analyzing 22 computer models. He thinks that unless greenhouse-gas emissions are cut, large areas of the planet, including the U.S. Southwest, are in for some very long, very damaging dry spells within the next 30 years. Few continents would escape — Dai mentions parts of Asia, southern Europe, and much of Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East — and he believes regions bordering the Mediterranean Sea could suffer “almost unprecedented” drought conditions. Says Dai:

We are facing the possibility of widespread drought in the coming decades, but this has yet to be fully recognized by both the public and the climate change research community. If the projections in this study come even close to being realized, the consequences for society worldwide will be enormous. [Discovery News]

Change we don’t need: Which is why military strategists and terrorism experts are focusing more and more on climate change as a major risk to global security. The latest to weigh in is Great Britain’s Strategic Defense and Security Review, which warns that increasing competition for scarce energy and water resources could increase the likelihood of terrorism and armed conflicts. [Business Green]

Hungary’s Red Sludge Spill: The Media and the Eco-Disaster

The sludge spill in Hungary dominated world news for days, as horrific images of red-mud rivers appeared nonstop on the Internet, newspaper front pages, and TV screens. Yet other environmental threats “” less visible, but potentially more devastating “” often go largely unnoticed.

European environmental groups had long fretted about an aging industrial sludge pond near Ajka, Hungary, containing caustic waste from the process that converts bauxite to aluminum. The International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River included the pond on a 2006 watch list of sites “at risk” for accidents that could pollute the Danube ecosystem. WWF Hungary had pushed for the closure of the pond (large enough that it could easily be seen from space on Google Earth) and of two other bauxite sludge storage ponds in western Hungary.

But in the policy world, mining pollution is a perennial also-ran in the list of environmental concerns “” distant from where most people live, and normally out-of-sight, out-of-mind. And even many of the people who lived close to the pond, in villages like Kolontar and Devecser, were not particularly bothered by its presence.

That all changed around lunchtime on Oct. 4, when a corner of the sludge reservoir gave way after weeks of heavy rains, letting loose a tidal wave of thick red sludge that oozed its way over garden fences, onto front porches and into middle-class living rooms in Kolontar and Devecser, where lunches sat waiting on tables. Ten people were killed by the muck “” most from drowning “” and more than 100 had chemical burns from the highly alkaline mud that were serious enough to require hospitalization.

22 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for October 21st: Gulf Coast faces $350 billion in climate damage by 2030; U.S. approves fifth solar plant on Western public land; Hidden costs of coal generation

  1. Jose says:

    I think the geoengineering debate will heat up in years (no pun intended) to come. Especialy if countries with the resources to act unilateraly(like Russia, India or China) start to panic and decide to take matters into their own hands. I can imagine there might be people in those countries who take umbrage in being told they can’t pursue a solution. Especialy if the countries trying to reign in are the ones primarily responsible for causing the problem in the first place.

    Doesn’t the city of Beijing already have a department of weather modification? How desperate does a country have to get before they start loading a battleship cannon with sulphorous ammo and start shelling the stratosphere? As desperate as Pakistan is now?

    I realise this sounds far fetched but I suspect this is going to come up sooner rather than later and I doubt the UN is going to have any say over the matter.

  2. “large areas of the planet, including the U.S. Southwest, are in for some very long, very damaging dry spells within the next 30 years.”

    Lake Mead is already at its lowest level in history.

  3. Colorado Bob says:

    A new article on the reef die-off in southeast Asia –

    “It is certainly the worst coral die-off we have seen since 1998. It may prove to be the worst such event known to science,” says Dr Andrew Baird of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook Universities. “So far around 80 percent of Acropora colonies and 50 per cent of colonies from other species have died since the outbreak began in May this year.”

  4. Raul M. says:

    Not sure, but, it looks as if the storm that just passed the
    Philippines bent a steel reinforced column. Maybe 2’x2′ just
    bent right over close to it’s foundation. Concrete all broken
    up at the bend and the picture shows the re-barb just bent
    right over. Big insurance companies over there are certainly
    in awe. The hole in the yard gang as the new community group.

  5. fj2 says:

    5. Raul M., “Big insurance companies over there are certainly in awe.”

    Yes, the actuary tables are out the window.

    For insurance, the world’s largest industry, business-as-usual does not make good economic sense and the need for social change accelerates.

    The oil industry to follow.

  6. Steve Bloom says:

    IIRC much of the damage that occurs from typhoons in the Philippines is not insured at all.

  7. fj2 says:

    Wake of the Flood Circa 2080, New Yorkers could live in some 600,000 modular apartment along structural cables and held in place by powerful electromagnets. The support would be attached to the city’s existing skyscrapers.

    Yes, but probably a lot better to prevent the flood and stop runaway climate change.

  8. fj2 says:

    climatehawks @ Will @BarackObama become a #climatehawk and protect America from the dangerous #climate crisis?

  9. Mark says:

    The obvious link between water and the red toxic sludge in Hungary is the fact that the toxic sludge has made its way to the Danube River – potentially poisoning the drinking water for millions.

    The link I hadn’t noticed – but should have guessed – well you take a read and see if you pick up on the link…

    “That all changed around lunchtime on Oct. 4, when a corner of the sludge reservoir gave way after weeks of heavy rains, letting loose a tidal wave of thick red sludge that oozed its way over garden fences, onto front porches and into middle-class living rooms in Kolontar and Devecser, where lunches sat waiting on tables.”

    The not so obvious link is that “the sludge reservoir gave way after weeks of heavy rains.”

    As we’ve been discussing – climate change has been increasing the amount of rainfall that comes in heavy rain storms.

    So systems that had worked to retain the toxic sludge in the past – were no longer adequate to retain the toxic material in our new climate where heavy flooding is much more likely.

    It is a sobering message that climate change was an indirect cause of the toxic sludge release in Hungary. This is just one example of how climate change will force us to change the building and engineering standards for much of our infrastructure.

  10. JasonW says:

    Here’s an interesting and in my opinion pretty stunning bit of news I found on a weather blog a couple of days ago: By the end of 2011, Germany’s potential solar power output, in terms of installed PV modules, will have rise to a whopping 30 gigawatts, according to DENA, the German government agency dealing with energy matters. It basically means that on sunny days at noon, this could lead to 25 gigawatts being fed into the power grid, an equivalent of 30 coal-fuelled power plants. To put things in perspective: On weekends, Germany’s entire electricity requirements, on weekends at least, rarely pass 30 gigawatts. This poses a challenge and potential crisis for the German grid, which does not have the capacity for such peaks. DENA is recommending limiting the currently fairly heavy and guaranteed government subsidy for solar power in order to buy time for grid upgrades and installing storage facilities.

    Again, with the second decade of the 21st century barely begun we are already discussing limiting renewable energy expansion because we are reaching, albeit within limited time periods, near 100% coverage – I think that is powerful news!

    Who knows, with my 31 years, I may yet live to see the curtain fall on the age of fossil fuels.

  11. JasonW says:

    Oops, forgot the link – it’s in German though:

  12. paulm says:

    Every 8 mins enough solar energy reaches the earth equivalent the all the fossil fuel and nuclear energy we use for an entire year!

  13. Jay Alt says:

    Illinois has a plan to close the dirty old Chicago coal stations. Their fraction of the grid would be replaced by power from the proposed Taylorville Energy Center, a IGCC-CCS plant. All Illinois public utilities would be required to buy a small % (<10) of their power from the TEP. Original plans called for 50% CO2 capture. DOE recently offered another tax credit which would raise the capture requirement to 65%. Plan hinges on legislative approval of a study by state energy/power? commission. The gasifier system would also capture Hg and sulfur,

  14. Peter M says:

    Arctic of old is gone, experts warn

    Warmer Greenland, low sea ice and huge glacier breakup cited in 2010 report card

  15. Preview of Europe’s new energy infrastructure vision, facilitating renewables, CO2-grid, smart grid:

  16. Michael T says:

    Arctic Report Card: Region Continues to Warm at Unprecedented Rate

    Record temperatures in Greenland, thinning sea ice, record snow cover decreases and links to some Northern Hemisphere weather are among dramatic changes

    October 21, 2010

    “The Arctic region, also called the “planet’s refrigerator,” continues to heat up, affecting local populations and ecosystems as well as weather patterns in the most populated parts of the Northern Hemisphere, according to a team of 69 international scientists. The findings were released today in the Arctic Report Card, a yearly assessment of Arctic conditions.”

  17. Michael T says:

    NOAA: Another Winter of Extremes in Store for U.S. as La Niña Strengthens

    October 21, 2010

    “The Pacific Northwest should brace for a colder and wetter than average winter, while most of the South and Southeast will be warmer and drier than average through February 2011, according to the annual Winter Outlook released today by NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. A moderate to strong La Niña will be the dominant climate factor influencing weather across most of the U.S. this winter.”

  18. Patty says:

    How about building an IGCC plant to replace the 2 old technology plants in the Chicago area?
    “Fisk plant in Pilsen and the Crawford plant in Little Village”
    If the old plants close, there will job losses. The infrastructure is already in place.
    I guess I just have issues with the idea of “forcing” the old plants to clean up or close, when immoral amounts of incentives are out there for new plants.

    If a FRACTION of the money available for new plants was used to retrofit old ones (or replace them at the same site – and legislatively mandating the old one closes when the new one comes “up”) Like in Edwardsport, IN

    It would save the taxpayers/rate payers BILLIONS. And the energy would be closer to the site of use. And people would keep their jobs in the same area.

    Makes too much sense I guess.