Posts Tagged ‘Virginia’

Unnecessary and Unwanted: Opposition to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline grows

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017 - posted by Lara Mack
There’s still time to add your voice to the choir of people across the country urging FERC to reject the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

There’s still time to add your voice to the choir of people across the country urging FERC to reject the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Despite a faulty format, the public has taken every opportunity to tell FERC to reject the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

At the start of 2017, Appalachian Voices and our partners criticized the many flaws in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Now, as the 90-day public comment period nears its conclusion, thousands of people have told FERC that the DEIS is insufficient and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline poses significant threats to the environment and public safety. With less than two weeks left in the comment period, there’s still time to add your voice to the choir of people across the country urging FERC to reject the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

FERC is required to provide an opportunity for the public to comment on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline DEIS, and communities have taken every opportunity to tell the commission to reject the pipeline. In February and March, FERC visited communities in North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia to receive spoken and written comments. Community members turned up at every Atlantic Coast Pipeline DEIS listening session along the pipeline route to share their concerns. Turnout at the events varied from roughly 40 to more than 150 people, with the Nelson County listening session in Lovingston, Va., topping out at 157. Commenters at every listening session sent a clear message to FERC — nearly all spoke in opposition to the pipeline.

Groups not only found fault with the DEIS itself, but also with the FERC listening session format. Unlike the public hearing procedure that most of us are familiar with, FERC sequestered commenters one at a time into a separate room or private space to record their comments. The Society of Environmental Journalists, a professional association of more than 1,200 journalists, wrote the acting chairman of FERC to express their concerns about FERC’s listening session procedures.

“The ‘listening’ format, which may be an effort to encourage commenters to speak freely, bars the public and the media from bearing witness to the event, much less hearing the information and arguments presented by other citizens,” SEJ President Bobby Magill wrote in a letter to FERC.

“We understand that comments taken at such sessions are recorded, and that transcripts are posted in the online docket for the project in question, and that they are generally available for review there within a couple of weeks, Magill wrote later in the letter. “But that effectively suppresses the news about the content of the meeting by divorcing it from the immediacy of the event itself. The public is left to wonder what transpired, when there is no reason to make them wait.”

In addition to the FERC listening sessions, the DEIS written comment period has proved to be a rallying point for organizations to connect with new folks concerned about pipelines. A number of grassroots groups along the pipeline route are hosting comment writing parties and encouraging pipeline opponents to submit their concerns using FERC’s online system or via good ole snail mail. Comment writing parties have popped up in Charlottesville, Staunton and Buckingham, among other places.

But you don’t need to attend a party to learn more about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline or to send comments to FERC. A number of useful documents exist to help people navigate FERC’s website and comment submission process. And, if none of those are quite what you need, you can always call the FERC help desk to walk you through the online submission process or sign on to Appalachian Voices’ grassroots comments.

As we dive into the final two weeks of FERC’s public comment period for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline DEIS, don’t forget to tell FERC why the pipeline is unnecessary and unwanted!

FERC’s pipeline review process is broken

Monday, February 20th, 2017 - posted by Peter Anderson

Former chairman adds his voice to public demands for greater scrutiny

As new research refutes industry's pro-pipeline arguments, former FERC chairman Norman Bay is calling for greater scrutiny of proposed natural gas infrastructure projects.

As new research refutes industry’s pro-pipeline arguments, former FERC chairman Norman Bay is calling for greater scrutiny of proposed natural gas infrastructure projects.

Sign the petition to stop the Atlantic Coast Pipeline today!

It’s no secret: oil and gas pipelines have captured the nation’s attention, not to mention the new administration’s. Standing Rock’s resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline continues to put water protection, indigenous rights and environmental justice at the fore of any pipeline discussion. And not so long ago, the Keystone XL pipeline came to symbolize the United States’ willingness to lead (or not) on climate action. Now the Trump administration hopes to revive both.

The Trump administration also hopes to push through the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would transport fracked gas 600 miles from the Marcellus Shale in northern West Virginia through Virginia and into North Carolina. A list of the administration’s top 50 infrastructure priorities leaked in January includes the Atlantic Coast Pipeline at number 20. The document reports the pipeline’s permitting process as “done,” despite the fact that comment periods for some federal and state permits are currently open and no permits have been issued. How’s that for alternative facts?

Pipelines not needed

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the agency with primary authority for permitting interstate gas pipelines, was generally viewed as pipeline-friendly even prior to the Trump era. The agency allows a 14 percent rate of return on investments in pipeline capital, and its environmental reviews typically fall short in analyzing both the need for additional pipelines and the projected climate impacts of new projects (in addition to many other deficiencies).

However, former FERC Chairman Norman Bay offered a surprising call for reform of the agency’s pipeline certificate process when he stepped away at the beginning of February (see the last six pages of this FERC order). Bay criticized the method FERC uses to determine whether or not there is a need for a pipeline. He pointed out that FERC usually looks to precedent agreements between pipeline owners and gas shippers as evidence of need. But this method is flawed.

According to Bay, “focusing on precedent agreements may not take into account a variety of other considerations, including … whether the precedent agreements are largely signed by affiliates.”

Norman Bay, a former commissioner and chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Norman Bay, a former commissioner and chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

In other words, a company applying to build a new pipeline says, “Look, we have subscribers lined up to buy gas from the pipeline, so there must be a need for it.” But a closer examination reveals that the buyer and the seller are both affiliates of the same parent corporation.

This echoes a concern highlighted in a report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis published in April 2016. That report found that “in situations in which a pipeline developer contracts with an affiliate company to ship gas through a new pipeline, this is strong evidence that it is doing so because of the financial advantage to the parent company from building the pipeline, but not necessarily that there is a need for the pipeline.”

This report studied the risks of building both the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 300-mile gas pipeline that would also cut through the Appalachian regions of West Virginia and Virginia. It pointed out that for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, five of the six companies contracted to buy gas are affiliates of the companies building the pipeline. Energy behemoths Dominion Resources and Duke Energy have a combined 85 percent ownership stake in the pipeline, and their subsidiary companies have subscribed to 86 percent of the gas shipped. For the Mountain Valley Pipeline, all six of the buyers are affiliates of the companies building the pipeline.

Another report, published in September 2016 by Synapse Energy Economics, Inc., studied conservative estimates of future gas demand in Virginia and the Carolinas. It concluded that, even under scenarios where gas use for electricity production is high, existing pipelines have more than enough capacity to provide energy to the region. That is, we can keep the lights on and businesses thriving without ever building the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines.

Climate impacts of gas pipelines

In addition to the needs analysis, Bay also called on FERC to reform its evaluation of climate impacts. In its draft environmental review of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, FERC refused to consider that the pipeline would spur more gas production, enabling more methane leakage along the entire supply chain. Without quantifying them, FERC compared downstream smokestack emissions to global greenhouse gas emissions and concluded that the pipeline’s emissions would merely be a drop in the bucket.

In its draft environmental review for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, FERC did attempt a rough calculation of downstream emissions but again refused to analyze upstream effects or methane leakage. FERC’s review stated that emissions from burning the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s gas would be roughly 29 million metric tons (MMt) per year.

A new briefing published by Oil Change International puts a comparable number on emissions from gas combustion for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, estimating 31 MMt annually. But when you add increased gas production and methane leakage along the supply chain, total emissions more than double, reaching nearly 68 MMt per year. The organization also published a briefing for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, estimating total life-cycle emissions at nearly 90 MMt annually.

To put that in perspective, emissions from the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would be the rough equivalent of adding 20 coal-fired power plants to the grid or putting 14 million more cars on the road. Emissions from the Mountain Valley Pipeline would be like adding 26 coal-fired power plants or putting 19 million more cars on the road.

While Norman Bay defended FERC’s existing climate analysis methods from a legal perspective, he also argued for change. He stated that “in the interests of good government” the agency should analyze downstream impacts and perform lifecycle analysis of greenhouse gas emissions — not just from pipelines — but from the entire Marcellus and Utica gas production region.

Other environmental impacts

Besides bludgeoning our atmosphere with huge amounts of new greenhouse gas pollution, the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines would, of course, threaten thousands of groundwater sources, surface streams and wetlands. Constructing the pipelines would force the permanent removal of trees along their routes, fragmenting habitats and spoiling views from the Appalachian Trail. The projects would threaten human health and safety, especially near powerful compressor stations used to pump gas along the line. They would disproportionately impact lower-income communities, communities of color and Native American communities, threatening important historic and cultural resources.

What can you do?

Unfortunately, Bay did not follow his own advice and revise the way FERC analyzes pipeline need or climate impacts while he led the agency. But here’s how you can do your part:

Mountain Valley Pipeline:

Atlantic Coast Pipeline:

Protect natural resources for Southwest Virginia’s future

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017 - posted by Appalachian Voices

Editors’ Note: Earlier this month, Congress voted to repeal the Stream Protection Rule using a rarely invoked law called the Congressional Review Act. Appalachian Voices’ members and friends rushed to urge lawmakers to defend the rule, which would improve protections for water and public health from mountaintop removal coal mining. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful. But the rule was not our only means of defending Central Appalachian streams. We will continue to hold coal companies, state agencies and the federal government accountable to the laws that protect our natural heritage. We’re thankful to have allies who are willing to share their stories and help us in the fight for clean water. Here is what one of them had to say leading up to the Stream Protection Rule vote.

Ron Short

Ron Short

I was born and raised in the coalfields of Southwest Virginia. My father was a coal miner, and without his efforts to send me to school, I would have been a coal miner also. For all my life, the coal economy has ruled this region and its people. Now we are facing the demise of the coal industry, and we must save the valuable natural resources that we have left if we are ever to develop cultural tourism and eco-tourism as important parts of a new economy that works for everyone.

When I was small, one company dumped coal waste into the Pound River and I saw the deadly effects that followed: thousands of dead fish, mink, muskrats, frogs, birds and water so polluted with metals and minerals that for the first time in my life I could not swim in the river. I was 10 years old and it took the river 50 years to heal itself. My father was 90 years old before we could go fishing in the Pound River together again. Sadly, pollution from mining operations is still contaminating our waterways today.

The Stream Protection Rule — the product of nearly a decade of community engagement and scientific and economic studies — is designed to preserve this life-giving resource. Unfortunately, Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress have vowed to kill the Stream Protection Rule using an obscure procedure known as a Congressional Review Act as part of the mad rush to rip the last of the coal out of the ground at any cost.

Water truly is life! We have more pristine and biologically valuable waters than most places in the world, and we need to protect them for our health, our economic future and our grandchildren. Senators Kaine and Warner, you are our only allies in Washington. Please do not let your colleagues kill the Stream Protection Rule. Killing this rule would produce a short-term political gain for their ilk, but it could create a future that we in Southwest Virginia may never be able to recover from.

Ron Short

Why is Dominion’s IRP important for Virginia’s future?

Friday, December 16th, 2016 - posted by Peter Anderson
Peter outside his landlords' home in Charlottesville.

Peter outside his landlords’ home in Charlottesville.

I recently moved into a basement apartment in Charlottesville, Va. The house has solar panels on the roof, and I must admit that knowing my electricity comes almost entirely from a renewable source feels pretty good.

My landlords are not wealthy, so getting solar on their roof was going to involve some sacrifice. They had to think strategically about their retirement funds, energy bills, and fees for staying connected to the grid. Fortunately, they made the numbers work. Now they’re living comfortably and sustainably, and they no longer have an electric bill (except for a modest draw from the grid in the dead of winter). This decision balanced their interest in financial stability with their desire for reliable electric power from a sustainable source.

I couldn’t help thinking about this decision as I began studying the long-term planning process used by Virginia’s electric utilities. Utilities providing public services are regulated to ensure that they — like my landlords — balance reliability, sustainability, and affordability. In return, utilities are guaranteed a profit. In Virginia, this balancing process is embodied by an annual integrated resource plan (IRP).

What’s an IRP and What’s at stake?

Simply put, an IRP is a long-term plan created to ensure that our utilities keep the lights on and avoid sticking customers with a bill for big investments that don’t pan out. This is sometimes referred to as “least-cost planning,” but that doesn’t mean the cheapest option is automatically selected. It means that by studying different alternatives, companies attempt to meet reliability and sustainability goals at the lowest possible cost.

It’s no simple task. With rapidly changing technologies, fuel prices, regulations, and customer-use trends, projecting how much electricity we’ll need and how much it will cost to provide can be quite complex. But an IRP shapes the energy mix and customer bills for several decades, so the stakes are high.

In April, Dominion Virginia Power, the largest electric utility in the commonwealth, submitted its proposed 2016 IRP to the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) for approval. (See an update at the end of this blog.)

What’s in Dominion’s IRP?

Dominion published five alternatives, including four plans that would comply with the federal Clean Power Plan (CPP). Although the fate of the CPP now lies with the courts and the incoming administration, the company believes carbon emissions from power plants ultimately will be regulated.

Under the CPP, states are given an option to comply using either “rate-based” or “mass-based” approaches. Rate-based means a limit on the amount of carbon emissions per unit of electricity produced. In theory, carbon emissions can actually increase if electricity production increases. By contrast, mass-based compliance means a total cap on carbon emissions from the electric sector in the state. Many experts agree that such a cap would reduce climate pollution more effectively.

All five of Dominion’s options share some common elements. For example, each would add 500 megawatts (MW) of solar power produced in Virginia and 1,585 MW of gas-fired electricity at Dominion’s new Greensville power plant. They also would renew 20-year licenses for all four of Dominion’s existing nuclear units, and retire two coal-fired units at its Yorktown plant.

The main differences among the plans are summarized below. New capacity across these plans differs because each would retire different amounts of coal-fired capacity—the greater the coal retirements, the more new capacity.

  • Plan A: No CO2 Limit – A least-cost plan for the unlikely scenario in which there are no carbon regulations. All new generation would be gas-fired.
  • Plan B: Rate-based dual rate – Would add 1,100 MW of solar, plus an additional 3,641 MW of gas-fired capacity.
  • Plan C: Rate-based state average – Would add 3,400 MW of solar, plus an additional 2,049 MW of gas-fired capacity.
  • Plan D: Mass-based emissions cap – existing units only – Would add 2,400 MW of solar, plus 3,641 MW of gas-fired capacity.
  • Plan E: Mass-based emissions cap – existing and new units – Would add 7,000 MW of solar, plus 2,435 MW of gas-fired capacity, plus 1,452 MW of capacity at a new nuclear unit at North Anna

Without making an official recommendation, Dominion stated a preference for Plan B. Plan B would add the least amount of new solar generation, but according to Dominion’s analysis, it would also be the cheapest of the CPP-compliant options.

Why are These Plans Flawed?

The SCC scrutinized Dominion’s IRP at a hearing in early October. In a “battle of the experts,” Dominion’s senior energy planning employees were cross-examined, followed by expert witnesses from other participants in the case, including Appalachian Voices.

Three major flaws in the IRP stood out:

1) Inflated Future Demand and Becoming an “Island”

Electricity demand in Virginia has been pretty flat for the past several years, and with ongoing efficiency improvements, many predict it to remain so, even as our population and economy grow.

However, Dominion’s model shows steady demand growth. One expert explained how the regional transmission organization, PJM, changed its forecasting model in 2014 because it observed in recent years that electricity demand no longer closely tracks economic consumption. PJM’s new modeling accounts for this decoupling of economic growth and energy demand. By contrast, Dominion’s model still uses the old assumptions, tending to produce an inflated picture of demand.

Testimony also revealed that Dominion fails to properly account for how quickly its customers adopt energy-efficient technologies. For example, Dominion’s model includes data from 30 years ago, meaning that 30-year-old lightbulb technology is still part of the calculation. How many 30-year-old lightbulbs are still burning? Dominion admitted that it needs to pay closer attention to the market penetration of LEDs and other technologies.

Dominion pairs this inflated demand forecast with another dubious assumption: the company states that it cannot rely on carbon credit trading or purchasing power on the wholesale market to meet customer demand and comply with carbon regulations. Instead, Dominion intends to generate most of the power needed itself. The company claims that this “island” approach to compliance is the prudent, conservative decision in a time of uncertainty.

SCC judges were sympathetic to Dominion’s view on credit trading, but not on purchases. Historically, Virginia has been anything but an island — buying and selling electricity in the PJM wholesale market, which includes parts or all of 13 states plus Washington, D.C. In fact, Virginia is usually a net importer, relying on power generated in other states to satisfy 10-15% of demand. Switching from being a net importer to purchasing virtually zero power from other states represents a major shift for the commonwealth, and the SCC judges were clearly sceptical.

Dominion’s assumptions that (1) demand will steadily increase and (2) that Virginia must be an “island” simply serve to justify the company’s preference for building new generation, most of it gas-fired.

Even if the company’s assumptions are accurate, why not meet all of this new demand with a greater reliance on utility-scale wind, solar, and other renewables? At the hearing, Dominion expressed concerns about the effect that adding large amounts of renewable generation could have on grid reliability. However, a 2014 study commissioned by PJM found that the regional grid “would not have any significant reliability issues operating with up to 30% of its energy (as distinct from capacity) provided by wind and solar generation.”

As a point of reference, solar and wind currently provide less than 1% of the energy for electric generation in Virginia. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the fuel mix for electric generation in Virginia is comprised of approximately 40% gas, 33% nuclear, 20% coal, 5% biomass, and less than 2% hydroelectric. In other words, there is room to bring a significant amount of renewable generation online before starting a discussion about reliability.

2) Inflated Cost of Solar Energy

The main reason that Dominion did not include more solar in its IRP is that it assigned solar a hefty price tag from the start. The plan adds an “integration charge” of $390.43 per kilowatt for all new solar generation. Several witnesses said this surcharge is higher than it should be — up to 35 times higher — creating an inherent bias against solar when it comes to least-cost planning and comparing alternatives.

Dominion witnesses were unable to support their number, essentially conceding that the company will need to do a new analysis. The effect of the inflated surcharge in the IRP is that adding solar to a plan immediately makes that alternative much more expensive than it should be. Therefore the plan is less likely to be selected.

3) Unwillingness to Make Big Shifts to Renewables

Dominion’s stated reliability concerns and its unsupported price tag for solar are in line with the company’s business-as-usual preference for fossil fuels. In fact, the company decided not to publish one of the plans it modeled because it relied too heavily on solar.

Through legal discovery and public testimony, Dominion revealed that an early version of Plan E contained an additional 15,000 MW of solar power and did not include a new nuclear unit. This was referred to as Plan S, and it cost over $1 billion less than the published Plan E. Experts testified that if Dominion had used a reasonable solar surcharge in its modeling, Plan S may have been up to $4 billion cheaper. When pressed, Dominion witnesses again cited their fear that deploying large amounts of solar all at once could present reliability issues.

Forecasting a Sunny Future

Despite all this, I remain hopeful that the SCC will hold Dominion to a higher standard. As an investor-owned utility, Dominion has an obligation to its shareholders. But it’s also a regulated utility, so the company must consider sustainability when balancing reliability and cost concerns. However, the company will only do that if the SCC holds it accountable.

The good news is we have a great recent example of how that’s done. Shortly after Dominion’s SCC hearing, Minnesota gave the country a glimpse of what a successful balancing effort looks like. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approved an Xcel Energy IRP that would double the state’s wind and solar capacity while retiring two coal-fired plants by 2030. According to the Sierra Club, the plan will add “no new gas without a deeper analysis into other options,” and the plan stands to reduce Minnesota’s carbon emissions by up to 60 percent.

Perhaps the key to getting more companies to take sustainability seriously in their IRPs is to show them why doing so makes financial sense. Groups working on the Minnesota plan used data to make “a persuasive case that renewable energy was the most affordable, economic path forward for the utility — not propping up aging coal plants or adding new gas.”

Just like my landlords installing solar on their roof — once the numbers made sense, choosing sustainability was obvious.

Update: On December 14, the State Corporation Commission approved the Dominion IRP, including all of the scenarios, as a long-term planning guide. Under state law, however, Dominion still will need SCC approval to implement any of the individual projects in the IRP, for example, building a particular power plant or adjusting rates. The good news is that next year the SCC is requiring Dominion to model plans without placing caps on the amount of power that can be bought or sold on the wholesale market. The order also says that Dominion must model “regional” as well as “island” approaches to CPP compliance next year for comparison. Unfortunately, the order does not address Dominion’s method of modeling future demand, nor does it address the company’s approach to pricing solar resources.

Electric Cooperatives Initiate Community Solar Projects

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016 - posted by molly

By Tristin Van Ord

“We’re at an age where we need to start looking at alternative energy,” says Olivia Haney, a member of the BARC Electric Cooperative since 1989.

The BARC electric co-op in Virginia and the Appalachian Electric Cooperative in Tennessee have both launched community solar projects to help members save money while reducing carbon emissions.

Community solar is a cooperative alternative to installing solar panels on an individual residence. Instead of dealing with the upfront and maintenance costs of solar panel installation on their house, homeowners can invest in a solar farm, or array of solar panels, provided by the BARC electric cooperative. BARC’s solar farm is a grid that consists of 1,750 solar panels. Now members of BARC can invest in solar and avoid dealing with personal solar panel installation.

Solar farm

BARC’s solar farm contains 1,750 solar panels and produces 550 kilowatts of energy. Photo courtesy of the BARC Electric Cooperative

Mike Keyser, the CEO and general manager at BARC, explains that there was a lot of interest in solar by members of the cooperative, but there was no real increase in the installation of solar panels on individual houses. Keyser adds that certain aspects were preventing people from investing in renewables, including physical barriers such as shading and positioning of the house, along with financial barriers including upfront costs and commitments.

The new solar project provides up to one-fourth of the total energy needs of each of the 220 households that have a membership in the cooperative.

Not only does this option allow any member to invest in solar, it also prevents the possibility of future rate increases through a 20-year fixed rate at only a dollar more per month than what standard customers are paying.

BARC sells its solar energy in “blocks,” which are made up of 50 kilowatt hours each.

“We rolled the subscriptions into something called ‘solar energy blocks,’” Keyser explains. “If it’s an average customer, 25 percent of their consumption would be five blocks, which is an easy thing for people to wrap their mind around.”

Community members who live in the five rural counties in Virginia that BARC covers can apply to be a part of the program, including all of Bath County and parts of Highland, Alleghany, Augusta and Rockbridge counties. BARC member Haney joined the community solar program after learning about the environmental benefits of renewable energy.

When it comes to the growth of the project, Keyser is optimistic about the possibilities.

“We have room on the site to triple the size. It’s 550 kilowatts, and we can go up to about a megawatt and a half, so we are hoping to expand in another year or so,” says Keyser. “Once we feel like we’ve given the option to every member that wants an opportunity, then we would increase the percentage.”

According to Keyser, most subscribers in the solar project have shown interest in increasing the percentage of their electricity covered by solar.

Tennessee’s Turn

Appalachian Electric Cooperative, an electricity provider based in New Market, Tenn., is also starting a community solar program. According to Mitch Cain, the co-op’s director of member services, the solar array will be operational after Dec. 12 and consists of 9,471 panels at 145 watts each. Any residential or commercial member of Appalachian Electric, which covers Grainger, Hamblen, Jefferson and Sevier counties in Tennessee, can take part in this new initiative.

Subscribers to Appalachian Electric’s solar program can invest in individual solar panels. Members pay $125 per 145-watt panel as an upfront cost. There is a cap at 5,000 watts per residential customer and 10,000 watts for commercial subscriptions. Members begin receiving solar energy credits on their bills the month after they start the program. The time needed to recover a member’s investment is estimated to be about 12 years.

Community Solar’s Effect on Carbon Emissions

United States businesses have installed enough solar energy to offset almost 890,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Solar panels convert energy from the sun into electricity that can be used in place of other non-renewable sources such as coal and natural gas.

BARC’s calculations state that their solar project will prevent 11,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere.

Appalachian Electric’s program projects that 202 pounds of carbon will be offset per year for each panel installed. Over 20 years, one panel will keep 3,866 pounds of carbon from entering the atmosphere.

“Solar is here. It is something we can harness and use to help us and help the environment,” BARC co-op member Olivia Haney says. “Hopefully we will see more of this, and hopefully we will see more than just the co-ops looking to do this.”

Devastating Forest Fires Ignite Southeast

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016 - posted by Elizabeth E. Payne

By Tristin Van Ord

The Party Rock Fire rages near Lake Lure, N.C., in November.  Photo by John Cayton

The Party Rock Fire rages near Lake Lure, N.C., in November. Photo by John Cayton

Numerous forest fires continue to burn across Southern and Central Appalachia due to dry weather conditions. According to USA Today, over 119,000 acres of forest have already burned throughout the region this fall.

Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia have all been affected.

At least 300 homes and business were damaged or destroyed after wildfires tore through the city of Gatlinburg and Sevier County, Tenn., on Nov. 28. Fourteen people lost their lives in the blaze and its aftermath.

The Southeast is currently experiencing a “once in a generation drought,” according to PBS News. While drought has increased the spread and intensity of the fires, arson is to blame for many of them. The Associated Press announced that multiple people were arrested for intentionally starting fires. A Kentucky resident was arrested after he started a wildfire to gain popularity on his Facebook page through a forest fire video.

Over 200 homes in the Nantahala National Forest in Western North Carolina were evacuated, and N.C. Governor Pat McCrory issued a state of emergency in 25 counties.

Smoke from the fires is also a public health hazard. According to the Weather Channel, at least two people in Kentucky died from respiratory complications due to the fires, while hundreds have been hospitalized.

Thousands of volunteers are working to stop the spread of the fires, including firefighters from across the country.

Citizens should check to see if their county is under an open burning ban. The North Carolina Forest Service advises keeping a shovel and water at hand if burning outside is necessary.

Editor’s note: The print version of this article stated that seven lives were lost in the Gatlinburg fire at press time. That figure has been updated in this version.

Southwest Virginians Challenge Mine

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016 - posted by Elizabeth E. Payne

Six-year-old Levi Marney was the first to speak out against the proposed Doe Branch mountaintop removal coal mine near Haysi, Va., at a public meeting on Nov. 7.

“God gave us the water so we can stay clean, and so we can drink it,” he said. “I don’t want poison in the water.”

Appalachian Voices was proud to stand beside him and the other community members who attended the meeting and addressed their concerns about the mine to the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy.

The 1,100-acre surface mine is proposed by Contura Energy, a new mining company that was formed when Alpha Natural Resources emerged from bankruptcy, and threatens to discharge sediment and other mining-related pollutants into the Russell Prater Creek.

This meeting focused on a potential renewal of the operation’s water pollution discharge permit.
These permits allow facilities such as the proposed mine to legally release specific amounts of various pollutants into public waterways like the Russell Prater Creek and the Russell Fork River.

The state approved the initial discharge permit for the Doe Branch mine back in 2012. But, as several individuals in attendance pointed out, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has maintained an objection to the project from its outset.

The Doe Branch Mine has already received the other permits it needs. The EPA objection is one of the only things currently preventing the mine from moving forward.

“Many members of our family are in coal mining, but we know the future of Dickenson County is in tourism, and it’s in taking care of our environment better than we have in the past,” said Gail Marney, Levi’s grandmother.

America’s miners deserve better than this; time to do your part

Thursday, December 8th, 2016 - posted by thom
Time is quickly running out for Congress to pass the Miners Protection Act. Photo by Ann Smith, special to the UMW Journal

Time is quickly running out for Congress to pass the Miners Protection Act. Photo by Ann Smith, special to the UMW Journal

America owes a debt to the nation’s coal miners. Not just a debt of gratitude, but a financial debt as well.

The good news is that there is a bill in Congress that would allow this country to begin to pay that debt: the Miners Protection Act. The bad news is that the opportunity to pass the bill is quickly slipping away.

The Miners Protection Act would provide retired members of the United Mine Workers of America the pensions they’ve been promised and the health benefits many of them and their families desperately need. There is broad bipartisan support for the bill — the Senate Finance Committee passed the Miners Protection Act earlier this year by a whopping 18 to 8 margin.

But Congress is on the verge of passing a budget that would leave out pensions altogether, and only provide a band-aid solution for the health benefits. As UMWA president Cecil Roberts explains:

The inclusion of a mere four months of spending on health care benefits for retired miners and widows is a slap in the face to all 22,000 of them who desperately need their health care next month, next year and for the rest of their lives.

Further, the complete exclusion of any language to provide help for the pensions of 120,000 current and future retirees puts America’s coalfield communities on a glide path to deeper economic disaster.
The miners are calling on “any and all allies” to join them in fighting for the pensions and health benefits they have earned. We hope you will join us in becoming one of those allies.

Please call your senator today and tell them that you support the Miners Protection Act, and that they need to pass it before Congress goes on recess. Tell them it is the right thing to do, and going home without doing it is totally unacceptable.

North Carolina – Richard Burr (202) 224-3154
Note: Sen. Burr is a cosponsor of the bill. We need him to show his support by insisting the entire bill passes before he goes home.

Kentucky – Mitch McConnell (202) 224-2541 Note: He is failing the miners by not working to secure their pensions. He needs to support the entire bill and bring it up for a vote before he goes home.

West Virginia – Shelley Capito (202) 224-6472 Note: Sen. Capito is a cosponsor of the bill. She needs to keep fighting, and do everything she can to get this entire bill passed before she goes home.

Tennessee – Bob Corker (202) 224-3344 Note: Sen. Corker needs to show support for the miners. It’s the right thing to do, and he should help get the entire bill passed before he goes home.

Virginia – Tim Kaine (202) 224-4024 Note: Sen. Kaine is a cosponsor of the bill. He needs to do everything he can to make sure the miners get their pensions before he goes home.

Rest of the country – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (202) 224-2541 Note: He is failing the miners by not working to secure their pensions. He needs to support the entire bill and bring it up for a vote before he goes home.

Southwest Virginians speak out against Doe Branch Mine

Tuesday, November 15th, 2016 - posted by willie
A map of the Doe Branch Mine and watershed connections to the Russell Fork River. At a recent hearings Southwest Virginians shared their concerns about Doe Branch with state regulators.

A map of the Doe Branch Mine and watershed connections to the Russell Fork River. At a recent hearings Southwest Virginians shared their concerns about Doe Branch with state regulators.

“God gave us the water so we can stay clean, and so we can drink it. I don’t want poison in the water.”

Those are the words of 6-year-old Levi Marney, spoken on the evening of Nov. 7, to representatives of the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME) at a public meeting about the proposed Doe Branch mountaintop removal mine in Haysi. The mine, proposed by Contura Energy, would raze over 1,100 acres near young Levi’s home and discharge sediment and other mining-related pollutants into the Russell Prater Creek where children like Levi and his siblings play during the warm months.

Levi was the first of 10 individuals to speak that night. As he sat down, his grandmother Gail stood up, and with a hand on Levi’s shoulder said, “I’m here to speak against this mine for five reasons and this is one of them. He is one of my five grandchildren. He’s the seventh generation of our family on our property in Dickenson County. Many members of our family are in coal mining, but we know the future of Dickenson County is in tourism, and it’s in taking care of our environment better than we have in the past.”

The particular matter under question at this public meeting — called an “informal conference” by the state — was a renewal of the operation’s National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. The NPDES permitting process is the method by which point sources of pollution are monitored and legally allowed to release various pollutants into public waterways like the Russell Prater Creek and the Russell Fork River. The DMME approved the initial NPDES permit for the Doe Branch mine back in 2012. But, as several individuals who spoke out at the informal conference pointed out, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has maintained an objection to the project from its outset, citing the likelihood that the mine would cause further harm to the Russell Prater Creek, which is already listed by the state of Virginia as being impaired by mining-related pollution.

In addition to concerns over water quality, many individuals spoke to the urgent need to develop new economic opportunities that utilize exactly the natural assets that large-scale surface mining destroys. Underscoring her opposition to the Doe Branch project, Sister Jackie Hanrahan, a nun representing the Appalachian Faith and Ecology Center in neighboring Wise County said, “A healthy economy can only happen when we have a healthy ecosystem. We’ve focused on only extractive industries for so long, but now we’re finally at a point where we have people working together over different philosophies to build a healthy economy.”

“I can show exactly what mining has done to this area,” said Tammy Owens, an organic farmer with nearly 30 acres of reclaimed strip mine on her farm. “This is my top soil,” Owens said dropping a plastic bag of what appeared to be little more than sand and rock on the table in front of the DMME representatives. “There is no topsoil. Nothing grows on the mined areas of my farm. Here in our area is where ginseng grows the best. It’s where bloodroot, and yellow root grow best. These are highly valuable medicinal herbs. What we can get for an acre of ginseng is astronomical compared to what other row crop farmers would get but can we grow those medicinal herbs any more on our farm land?”

The Doe Branch mine has already received the other permits it needs to move forward. The EPA objection is one of the only things currently preventing the mine from moving forward. Cooperation between state and federal agencies in making permitting decisions is an intentional system that creates checks and balances in weighing factors that impact industries, communities and the environment. That’s exactly what is happening with the Doe Branch permit. But it could change quickly under a Trump presidency.

While many personnel will remain at the EPA, changes in high-level staff, budget, or regulations could alter how the agency handles permitting decisions for mountaintop removal coal mining. Market forces are another largely independent factor. There is no magic wand that can suddenly put more coal in the ground, or make the coal that remains more economically feasible to mine and burn in the face of stiff market competition from natural gas and increasingly competitive renewable energy sources. In light of this reality, it is difficult to gauge how eager Contura Energy is to begin work on an operation of this size.

Environmental justice in Buckingham County

Thursday, October 13th, 2016 - posted by Lara Mack

NO Compressor Station = NO Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Andrew Tyler, from the Cherokee and Pamunkey nations and a representative of the Coalition of Woodland Nations, gave words of support to local residents and discussed the importance of fighting pipelines across the country for native peoples before the public hearing started.

Andrew Tyler, from the Cherokee and Pamunkey nations and a representative of the Coalition of Woodland Nations, gave words of support to local residents and discussed the importance of fighting pipelines across the country for native peoples before the public hearing started.

Stand with community members in Buckingham County on Monday, October 17 at the next Planning Commission meeting.

On Monday, September 26, the Buckingham County Planning Commission held a public hearing about the special use permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s 57,000-horsepower compressor station. Dominion Resources and Duke Energy’s joint project, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), is proposed to carry fracked gas 600 miles from West Virginia, through Virginia, into North Carolina. The ACP’s three proposed compressor stations would run engines 24/7 to provide the pressure to push the gas through the pipeline. This permit would allow for huge industrial construction in an otherwise very rural and agricultural community and county. If approval for the construction of these compressor stations is denied, it would severely impact the viability of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project overall.

Dominion, the project’s lead developer, has already purchased the land for the Buckingham County compressor station from plantation-owner descendants in a largely black historic community called Union Hill. Over the last two years, Buckingham County has received much less media attention than other counties fighting the ACP. When we held a press conference before the public hearing, only one reporter attended from a local newspaper in a neighboring county.

This is an environmental racism and justice issue at the core. If built, this compressor station would be one of the largest in the country. Surrounding communities would be severely impacted by noise pollution, air pollution, and disruption of the community’s culture. Dominion is doing its best to take advantage of a historically marginalized, low-income, rural and isolated community by locating the compressor station in an area where people are less likely to have the resources to resist. Despite Dominion’s efforts, word is getting out about Buckingham’s fight. Friends and neighbors are rallying to support the effort against the compressor station and pipeline there.

Members of the Buckingham County Planning Commission look over a packed room of people speaking out against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline compressor station.

Members of the Buckingham County Planning Commission look over a packed room of people speaking out against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline compressor station.

The September public hearing served as an opportunity for those of us working against the pipeline to support Buckingham County residents on the ground. Local folks, neighboring activists and friends flooded the County Administration Building, with almost all attendees wearing “No Compressor Station” stickers to give the planning commission a clear sign of where we stood on the issue.

Fifty-four people signed up to give public comment, nearly all of them local residents concerned about the potential compressor station. The public comments lasted so long that the planning commission took the rare step of setting up another meeting to hear the rest of the community input. This means that we also delayed the progress of the compressor station a couple more months. The planning commission will hear the rest of the public comments on October 17 and will eventually give a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors, which will make a final decision on whether or not to allow Dominion the special use permit to build the compressor station.

Allies from Richmond hold up a supportive message to Buckingham County: Heart of Virginia, we’ve got your back.”

Allies from Richmond hold up a supportive message to Buckingham County: Heart of Virginia, we’ve got your back.”

Though a lot of work needs to continue to support and amplify the most marginalized voices in Buckingham County and along the ACP, local residents appreciated the show of support and were invigorated by the strong presence against the compressor station.

“It was amazingly heartening and inspiring to see all the people that showed up,” said Chad Oba, a local resident and member of Friends of Buckingham. “Every time we come together it gives us all energy to keep the momentum going and it sends a message that we are here and we care about what happens to our air, our water, our homeplaces and all that we hold dear.”