Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Massport Won't Say Climate Change, Then Won't Say Why

Boston Skyline from Logan Airport 波士顿洛港机场Massport took another step forward in its long-term plan to confront the impacts of climate change last week ... but there was something missing from its news release:
As the Massachusetts Port Authority develops its long range strategic plan over the next year, a key component of that effort will be how to protect Boston Logan International Airport, the Port of Boston and waterfront real estate against long-term sea level rise, storm surges and intense weather events like superstorm Sandy.

The first part of the study, currently underway, is to assess both the expected number and intensity of future storms and assess the vulnerability of Massport facilities. Both elements are required to understand the issue better in order to develop appropriate resolutions.

“Good work on looking at rising sea levels is already being done and we want to work collaboratively with federal, state and local officials on this pressing issue," said Thomas P. Glynn, Massport CEO. “Resiliency planning will be critical for Massport and the region to reduce the likelihood of damage from an event and will accelerate the recovery process when an event occurs."
There's no link to the release, but Morgan Rousseau of Metro.us has a report that includes most of the information from the release (and also doesn't make the bridge to climate change).

I asked a Massport spokesman why the agency wouldn't use the words climate change. He never wrote back. It's not like Massport's in denial here - they're quite obviously talking about climate impacts and they absolutely deserve credit for that.

But this is Massachusetts - exactly who is Massport afraid of? Gov. Deval Patrick is a strong advocate for climate action. The Massachusetts legislature passed the Global Warming Solutions Act. The entire Massachusetts Congressional delegation supports climate action. Massachusetts is one of America's leading states for clean energy jobs and is home to several groups like Ceres that organize business leadership on climate change. The Boston Harbor Association's report on sea level rise mentioned climate change in its very first sentence.

Does Massport think it would be defenseless against criticism from the few climate science deniers in Massachusetts? Or that those deniers will be thrown off the trail if they don't see the words climate change? Weird.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Breaking: Big New England Wind Contract Much Cheaper Than Coal, Nuclear

Turbines at Fall 8What if the debate about Environmental Protection Agency limits on climate-disrupting carbon pollution was all hot air? What if the falling cost of clean energy has already planted a stake in coal's polluting heart?

As Erin Ailsworth of the Boston Globe reports, a new onshore wind contract just signed in New England is a game-changer for how we talk about energy:
The state’s biggest utilities, in a milestone for New England’s wind power industry, have signed long-term contracts to buy wind-generated electricity at prices below the costs of most conventional sources, such as coal and nuclear plants.

The contracts, filed jointly Friday with the Department of Public Utilities, represent the largest renewable energy purchase to be considered by state regulators at one time. If approved, the contracts would eventually save customers between 75 cents and $1 a month, utilities estimated. [...]

John Howat, senior energy analyst at the Boston-based National Consumer Law Center, said he needed to review the details before he could provide a thorough assessment of the contracts. But his initial reaction to the price — on average, less than 8 cents per kilowatt hour? “Wow.”
For a comparison, in the same time frame gas is projected to cost 7 cents/KWH, coal 10 cents/KWH and nuclear 11 cents/KWH.

A dollar a month may not seem like a lot. But if wind is cheaper than coal, why would you ever build a new coal-fired power plant? And that's not even starting to account for all the climate change, public health and wildlife benefits that come with switching from coal to wind. When the cost of pollution is factored in, both wind and solar power blow the doors off of coal and are competitive with gas.

Why should we go all-in on wind when gas is projected to be slightly cheaper? Because New England is already dangerously dependent on gas, leaving us vulnerable to price spikes like we saw last winter. And since gas can fire up much faster than coal plants, gas and wind actually go very well together. (No, that was not a fart joke. Let's keep moving.)

In this context, the hot air being spewed in Washington over carbon regulations seems quaint at best. At worst, it's a war on consumers as polluters and their allies try to force us to keep buying expensive, dirty energy.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Remember When the Coal Industry Loved "Clean Coal"?

The Environmental Protection Agency is unveiling carbon pollution limits for new power plants today. The coal industry is screaming bloody murder that no one could possibly expect new coal-fired power plants to implement carbon pollution-cutting technology, but it was only a few years ago that Big Coal was promising Americans it could do exactly that.

The rules will require that coal-fired power plants stop treating our skies like an open carbon sewer. While the rules are only being made public today, the coal industry has spent all week promising to send an army of corporate lawyers to fight the pollution restrictions:
Utility companies with large coal fleets already are preparing to challenge the rule, if it is finalized, on the grounds that the agency is requiring pollution controls that have not yet been “adequately demonstrated” in the marketplace. Joseph Stanko, head of government relations for the law firm Hunton & Williams, said the EPA’s reliance on “federally funded demonstration projects” as the base for its new standard “is illegal, it doesn’t ‘adequately demonstrate’ technology for normal use.”
Remember the coal industry was buying billboards promising us coal could be "clean and green with new technologies"?

Ah, but that was before the coal industry blocked a clean energy and climate bill that would've provided billions in taxpayer subsidies for "clean coal." Without taxpayers footing the bill, suddenly the idea of "clean coal" seems crazy to coal lobbyists:
Hal Quinn, president and chief executive of the National Mining Association, said the new standard “effectively bans coal from America’s power portfolio, leaving new power plants equipped with even the most efficient and environmentally advanced technologies out in the cold.” He accused the EPA of “recklessly gambling with the nation’s energy and economic future.”
The last time you heard from the National Mining Association here at The Green Miles, the NMA was suing the Bush administration to strip polar bears of endangered species protection.

Back to that reckless gambling with our energy and economic future. Remember when the coal industry bought millions of dollars worth of ads promising "clean coal" would bring "energy security" AND "affordability"?

Big Coal always puts its own profits above a safe climate and America's public health, and will gladly lie to us to protect them. It's a lesson to remember as the EPA carbon pollution limits move forward.

Tell the EPA you support strong carbon pollution standards for power plants.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

5 Years Later, Still No Compelling Case for Keystone XL

The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline was proposed 5 years ago today. Since then, US oil production's up 44%, gas prices are down 14% and oil consumption's down 1.6%. We've had 3 major pipeline disasters (Kalamazoo River, Arkansas, Yellowstone River). 2012 was America's hottest year ever and 2001-2010 was the world's hottest decade ever. 

But hey, Congress must know some reason it's good for the little guy or they wouldn't be pushing so hard for it, amirite?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Wind Turbines Raised My Cholesterol!

Yes, a Falmouth resident actually said that:
Ford said his cholesterol has “gone wild” since Wind I started operating, and he was prescribed blood pressure medication for the first time.
Again, I'm sure he truly believes that. But it's not a basis for creating sound public policy.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Plymouth Zoning Board Ignores Law, Blocks Wind Turbine

If you're going to deny a local business the right to do what it wants on its own property, shouldn't you have an actual reason? Not according to the Plymouth Zoning Board, which rejected a local Stop & Shop's request to build a wind turbine strictly based on personal preference, reports Wicked Local's Emily Clark:
After three hours of listening to protracted and sometimes confusing arguments for and against a proposal to site a wind turbine behind Stop & Shop off Exit 6, the Zoning Board of Appeals voted Wednesday night to deny the special permit request.

While ZBA Chairman Peter Conner and ZBA member Bill Keohan said the project meets the town's bylaw requirements, the rest of the board expressed concerns of its proximity to residential areas and other issues.
Now, according to WATD's Charles Mathewson, the turbine would be 600 feet from an apartment complex, which would be awfully close. A GE report recommended wind turbines be placed no closer than 900 feet to residential areas.

The answer to that is to pass a law that says wind turbines should be placed no closer than 900 feet to residential areas. That's how we do things in this country - we make laws and we follow them.

Instead, the Zoning Board rejected the turbines based not on any law, but on "conflicting evidence of health effects of large turbines," which is basically like saying you're worried the wind turbines will give people herpes. Meanwhile, Plymouth will continue relying on a rickety old nuclear power plant that threatens local wildlife.

Zoning Boards are the worst.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Tipping Point for Home Rooftop Solar?

sunlight shadow and reflection (7)My fiancee and I are in the process of buying a home, which means I'm constantly worried about what amenities that are popular now will still be popular when we're thinking about selling the place. Granite countertops are the big thing now, but will they still be popular 10 years down the road, or will something else be the next big thing?

I'd never have guessed that the next big thing is rooftop solar:
Solar panels are the next granite countertops: an amenity for new homes that’s becoming a standard option for buyers in U.S. markets. At least six of 10 largest U.S. homebuilders led by KB Home include the photovoltaic devices in new construction, according to supplier SunPower Corp. (SPWR) Two California towns are mandating installations, and demand for the systems that generate electricity at home will jump 56 percent nationwide this year, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

In the next six months, homebuilders in California and the expensive-energy states will be going solar as a standard, and just incorporating it into the cost of the house like any other feature,” Jim Petersen, chief executive officer of the PetersenDean Inc., the largest closely held U.S. roofing and solar contractor, said in an interview.

Lashing panels to roofs during construction is about 20 percent cheaper than after a house is built. Homeowners who can afford the extra $10,000 to $20,000 cost in return for free power threaten the business of traditional utilities such as Edison International of California or Kansas’ Westar Energy Inc. Power companies are losing business because they can’t cut their rates in line with the tumbling prices of residential solar systems. Those cost about $4.93 a watt in the first quarter, down 16 percent from a year earlier, according to the Washington-based solar association.
It makes sense to promote home solar even if you don't own a system - every home powered by solar is one less home that needs to be powered by a multi-billion-dollar central power plant.

If you're interested in home solar, check out Sungevity - you get a discount and the National Wildlife Federation (my day job) gets a donation. Oh, and the planet gets a tiny bit saved. Everybody wins!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Another Big Win for Wind in Massachusetts Local Elections

Fairhaven WindmillsFor the third time in the last six months, southeastern Massachusetts voters delivered a major victory for clean energy yesterday. Wind turbine supporter Peter DeTerra won in a landslide over wind opponent John Wethington in the Fairhaven Board of health election:
The tally was DeTerra, 1,269, and Wethington, 717. With a 31 percent turnout (compared to 23 percent in April), Monday night's results provide DeTerra with a far more decisive victory than his one-vote win in April, which was subsequently ruled a tie by Superior Court Judge Robert Kane, who questioned one of the ballots. [...]

DeTerra swept all six Fairhaven precincts, including Precinct 5, where the town's two wind turbines — a focus of this election — are located. There, he beat Wethington by 169 votes.
As New Bedford Standard Times reporter Ariel Wittenberg points out, DeTerra avoided talking about the turbines in the April election. Judging by yesterday's result, that was a big mistake:
In April, the candidates shied away from discussing the town's controversial wind turbines, which some opponents say cause sleep deprivation and other health effects. This time around, the race seemed to be squarely centered on the turbines, with pro- and anti-turbine groups forming political action committees over the summer. Wethington attributed his loss to the success of the pro-turbine Friends of Fairhaven Wind, saying that in this re-match "the machine stepped in and got the vote out."
Lesson for candidates: If you like clean energy, say so! It's incredibly popular and not even people who live near turbines are falling for claims about "wind turbine syndrome."

The Fairhaven win for wind comes in the wake of not one but two victories in Falmouth. In April, voters at a town meeting passed on a chance to have a referendum on tearing down the turbines. Town officials decided to have the referendum anyway, so in May voters rejected tearing down the turbines by a 2-to-1 margin.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Pleasing NIMBYs Means Less Affordable Housing

IMG_9961Construction isn't even finished yet, but already Arlington, VA has seen 3,600 people apply for 122 new units of affordable housing, according to a Washington Post report by Patricia Sullivan.

But there's one thing the article doesn't say: Arlington shrank the size of the affordable housing complex to please neighbors:
In preparation for its proposal, [Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing] staff met with many stakeholders in the Arlington Mill community to hear concerns and ideas. From these meetings, it reduced the number of units to address concerns of the Park Glen community that the complex was too large for the space, adjacent  to the Park Glen condos; and some of the concerns about the density of the project with resulting traffic and crowd-control issues.
From an APAH presentation on the project:
Responds to community issues and County goals: The building height was lowered and the unit count was reduced from 192 (256 bedrooms) units to 122 (245 bedrooms) units.
Note that this building is only about four stories. I've literally heard some people who live on Columbia Pike say allowing a building like this to be eight stories would turn Columbia Pike into lower Manhattan.

Artificially limiting the amount of housing a developer can build comes with real-life consequences. By limiting height, restricting the number of units, or in the case of suburbs, mandating each unit be built on a certain lot size, you're telling a certain number of people they're not allowed to live there and will have to look elsewhere for housing.

When at least 3,600 people are in such urgent need of affordable housing, every unit counts. As Slate's Matt Yglesias has detailed, limits on building size in urban cores have devastating effects.

Fortunately, the tide is slowly turning in favor of allowing taller buildings and denser developments in urban centers. Boston Mayor Tom Menino's newly-unveiled affordable housing plan does just that.

Fracking and Earthquakes Come to Timpson, Texas

main street, timpson, texasUntil fracking for natural gas came along, Timpson, TX had never experienced an earthquake. Now it's home to 27 active fracking and fracking wastewater disposal wells, and it's had three earthquakes of at least magnitude 4, including two in the last week. One Timpson earthquake in May registered 4.8, the largest quake in East Texas history.

It's a reminder that, like all other fossil fuels that produce "cheap" energy, someone's paying the price, whether it's up the line in Timpson, or down the line on climate change.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Best Time of Year at Farmers Market

Got all this for just $13 at the downtown New Bedford farmers market. This time of year, they're practically giving away things like salad greens & eggplants. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a great online tool to find a farmers market near you:

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Wind Turbines Have No Impact on Nearby Home Values, New Study Confirms

Fairhaven, MA Wind TurbinesWind turbine opponents do not like looking at wind turbines. But in the face of strong public support for non-polluting, locally-produced clean energy, that's not an effective argument, so they make outrageous claims about health impacts and property values.

Study after study has proven claims about health impacts are false, and now a new study confirms nearby wind turbines have no impact on property values:
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) analyzed more than 50,000 home sales near 67 wind facilities in 27 counties across nine U.S. states, yet was unable to uncover any impacts to nearby home property values.

“This is the second of two major studies we have conducted on this topic and in both studies [using two different datasets] we find no statistical evidence that operating wind turbines have had any measureable impact on home sales prices,” says Ben Hoen, the lead author of the new report. [...]

“Although there have been claims of significant property value impacts near operating wind turbines that regularly surface in the press or in local communities, strong evidence to support those claims has failed to materialize in all of the major U.S. studies conducted thus far”, says Hoen. “Moreover, our findings comport with the large set of studies that have investigated other potentially similar disamenities, such as high voltage transmission lines, land fills, and noisy roads, which suggest that widespread impacts from wind turbines would be either relatively small or non-existent.”
Distant wind turbines are at most a minor inconvenience, something you might not pick as part of your new home in a perfect world, but one that wouldn't deter you from buying a home in the real world.

Look at Falmouth, Fox's favorite example of the WIND MENACE - home prices are up in the last year. And they're flat in other places with wind turbines like Fairhaven, Hull, Kingston and Scituate, a far cry from the outrageous claims of home price decimation made by clean energy opponents.