The Front Porch Blog, with Updates from AppalachiaThe Front Porch Blog, with Updates from Appalachia


Solar power becomes cheaper than coal

Sunday, December 30th, 2007 | Posted by The Appalachian Voice | No Comments

By John Vidal, environment editor
The Guardian (London)
Saturday December 29 2007

The holy grail of renewable energy came a step closer yesterday as thousands of mass-produced wafer-thin solar cells printed on aluminium film rolled off a production line in California, heralding what British scientists called “a revolution” in generating electricity.

The solar panels produced by a Silicon Valley start-up company, Nanosolar, are radically different from the kind that European consumers are increasingly buying to generate power from their own roofs. Printed like a newspaper directly on to aluminium foil, they are flexible, light and, if you believe the company, expected to make it as cheap to produce electricity from sunlight as from coal.

Yesterday Nanosolar said its order books were full until mid-2009 and that a second factory would soon open in Germany where demand for solar power has rocketed. Britain was unlikely to benefit from the technology for some years because other countries paid better money for renewable electricity, it added.

“Our first solar panels will be used in a solar power station in Germany,” said Erik Oldekop, Nanosolar’s manager in Switzerland. “We aim to produce the panels for 99 cents [50p] a watt, which is comparable to the price of electricity generated from coal. We cannot disclose our exact figures yet as we are a private company but we can bring it down to that level. That is the vision we are aiming at.”

Wise County VA residents speak out against coal plant

Thursday, December 13th, 2007 | Posted by The Appalachian Voice | No Comments

By Josh Tulkin, Chesapeake Climate Action Network
Last night in St. Paul, VA — ground zero for Dominion Virginia Power’s proposed Wise County coal plant — over 100 citizens raised their voices to question members of the Department of Environmental Quality. Residents raised a variety of concerns. The hearing was organized for DEQ to get input on their ‘draft permit.’ Well, input they got. And a lot of it! o

The meeting started with a short technical presentation from the head of DEQ for SW Virginia. In essence, he explained how DEQ felt that the plant was going to be “clean coal” and that is met all requirements. Honestly, it was pretty boring, and everyone was eager for the Q&A.

Kathy Selvage from the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards kicked off the Q&A by asking about mercury.
How much mercury will the plant emit?Just over 70 pounds a year, but don’t worry, its all “within regulation”.
But don’t 1 in 6 women of childbearing age have unsafe levels of mercury in their blood? Don’t worry, it’s within regulation.
Kathy pointed out that just 1/70th of a teaspoon can contaminate a 25 acre lake. “We’re doing the best we can”

A minister from a neighboring community grew quite emotional when he asked why they chose to build the power plant less than a mile from the local elementary school. “Our modeling shows that all the of pollution will be at ‘protective limits’. They kept using this term ‘protective limits. Personally, I think NO POLLUTION is the most protective limit.

Tom Cormons from Appalachian Voices echoed concerns raised by the National Forest Service about the plants impact on Linville Gorge Wilderness in the Pisgah National Forest. People at the hearing ranged from high profile names like the local celebrity Frank Taylor who repeatedly asked about pollution levels and the cumulative effects of the multiple power plants upwind from St. Paul, to concerned parents who have children attending St. Paul schools (the schools are all less than a mile away from the construction site).

While the DEQ had plenty of specific answers when it came to the amount of pollutants the power plant would emit, they maintained that they could not comment on the effects they might have. According to EPA data, the CARBO coal-fired power plant, also located in St. Paul, is responsible for 59 premature deaths each year. How many will occur from the proposed plant? DEQ couldn’t say.

A resident who lives right off the main road asked about pollution from transportation. Dominion estimates that the plant will require six hundred diesel coal trucks a day to feed coal for the plant. Will it lead to more mountaintop removal coal mining? More smog? DEQ couldn’t say.

In fact, the DEQ maintained throughout the question and answer period, that their realm of study only pertains to how the pollutants of this plant would relate to the legal limits of pollutants. Basically, the DEQ claims that it is beyond their ability to do anything about the plant’s potential This inability to give a straight answer on so many important issues seemed to only cause the local citizens to want to ask more, harder hitting questions. In the end, only two or three defenses of the coal industry were voiced by attendants.


Before the DEQ briefing, Matt Wasson of Appalachian Voices held a “community briefing” to give citizens a chance to hear another side of the story. Word of our presentation was spread through talking to folks who came to the earlier DEQ question and answer period, and through the efforts of Kayti Wingfield from Sierra Club and myself hitting the town, going from business to business to reach out the locals, and we were surprised to hear so many residents concerned about the power plant. About thirty people showed up to the basement of St Therese Catholic Church around the corner from the elementary school.

As folks gathered and got settled, free pizza and soda in hand, it was obvious that these families were excited to learn more. Matt’s presentation used images of the existing power plant in Russell County, mountaintop removal in Wise, and Google earth imaging to paint the picture of exactly what the Coal industry has done and will continue to do to south west Virginia if allowed to continue with plans to build this power plant. It showed that Wise County is the second most heavily strip mined county in all of Appalachia with 25% of the land being destroyed. It showed that unemployment, poverty, suicide rates, and the number of disabled citizen’s all correlate directly with mountaintop removal mining. It showed that there is not much coal left in SW Virginia, and how this plant would require much more mountaintop removal.

The picture of what will come should this power plant be built is clear, and is damn ugly. Those who came and saw the presentation wanted more to do, and some were ready to come to the SCC hearing in Richmond on January 8th.

Uranium spill in Appalachia

Wednesday, July 11th, 2007 | Posted by The Appalachian Voice | No Comments

A uranium spill in Erwin, TN could have been deadly, according to a Nuclear Regulatory Commission report released recently about a 2006 incident.

According to the Knoxville Sentinel:
“The spill last year involved about 35 liters of highly enriched uranium solution that leaked into a protected glovebox, then onto the floor in a facility where highly enriched uranium is “downblended” to a lower enrichment for use in commercial reactors,..

“According to the NRC’s report, there were two chances for a “criticality” accident, where a nuclear chain reaction releases radiation. If such an incident occurred, “it is likely that at least one worker would have received an exposure high enough to cause acute health effects or death,” according to the report.

“More information on the event came to light last week in a letter sent to the NRC by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. The NRC had provided the committee with inspection reports on the Erwin facility, which have not been publicly released.

“NRC inspection reports suggest that it was merely a matter of luck that a criticality accident did not occur,” reads the letter, signed by U.S. Reps. John Dingell, the committee’s chair, and Bart Stupak, a subcommittee chair, both Michigan Democrats.

Appalachian Voice site showcased by Google Earth

Friday, June 8th, 2007 | Posted by The Appalachian Voice | No Comments

CNET News: Google Earth with a cause
CNET – San Francisco,CA,USA

ZDNet Australia: Do-gooders doing Google Earth

Google Earth helping charities raise awareness
Non-profit organisations and charities are using Google Earth’s three-dimensional maps to raise awareness of environmental concerns.

Issues such as genocide and deforestation are being covered by the groups using the 3D map technology, CNET News has revealed.

Mary Ann Hitt, executive director of non-profit Appalachian Voices, told the IT news group that organisations were drawing attention to the way mining companies were destroying the tops of the Appalachian Mountains.

She revealed that the method allowed the firms to get coal in a faster and cheaper way, but stressed that the impact of the process was detrimental to the environment.

With Google’s help, the organisation is raising awareness of the issue, with “before” and “after” aerial shots of the mountains and videos from communities affected by the problem.

New Deal for Appalachia

Friday, June 8th, 2007 | Posted by The Appalachian Voice | No Comments

Excerpt from the
Courier Journal opinion article “New Deal for Appalachia”

My home state contains the largest contiguous forests in southern Appalachia, which is home to the most biologically diverse landscape in North America. To sit quietly in such a place is an extraordinary thing to do. I have heard ovenbirds and black-and-white warblers, sometimes a wood thrush, as steep ridgelines rose around me, mountains older than the Himalayas. There is a lot to see in this forest: 250 different songbirds, 70 species of trees, bears, bobcats and my favorite nonspeaking mammal, the Southern flying squirrel.

Alas, many of these species are vanishing because their habitat is vanishing. A form of strip mining called mountaintop removal has ripped apart all of the ridgelines that surround this forest, leaving miles of lifeless gray plateaus, lunar wastelands. Mountaintop removal entails the blasting of entire summits to rubble in an effort to reach, as quickly and inexpensively as possible, thin seams of bituminous coal. Trees, topsoil and sandstone are dumped into the valleys below. More than 1,000 miles of streams have been buried in this way, and an Environmental Protection Agency study found that 95 percent of headwater streams near mines have been contaminated by heavy metals leeching from the sites.

Ed Wiley on the March

Friday, August 4th, 2006 | Posted by The Appalachian Voice | No Comments

Wiley’s march is expected to take this route:

Route and Distance Between Towns.

Charleston, WV

Pinch, WV———————————10.6 miles

Clendenin, WV—————————11.6

Glen, WV———————————-12.86






Falls Mill———————————–17.08

Rock Cave———————————16.20








Mt Storm———————————11.91

New Creek——————————-15.71




Paw Paw———————————10.59

Great Cacapon————————-19.48

Berkeley Springs———————–5.43




Harper’s Ferry————————12.04

Brunswick, Maryland—————9.23

Lucketts, Virginia——————-13.0

Leesburg, VA————————7.38

Sterling, VA————————–12.16

Tyson’s Corner, VA—————-14.42

Arlington, VA————————8.94

Washington, D.C.——————-5.0

Presbyterian, Unitarian churches oppose mountaintop removal

Friday, July 14th, 2006 | Posted by The Appalachian Voice | No Comments

For Immediate Release

Contact: Lenny Kohm at Appalachian Voices (828) 262-1500

June 29, 2006

Two Major National Religious Denominations Pass Resolutions Against Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining

Within a week of one another, two major national faith groups passed resolutions at their general assemblies opposing the widespread practice of mountaintop removal coal mining in central Appalachia. Mountaintop removal involves blasting off the top of mountains and dumping the waste into valleys below in order to access multiple seams of coal.

One resolution, passed on June 22 in Birmingham, Alabama by the Presbyterian Church/USA stated that, “Mountaintop removal coal mining contributes to a cycle of poverty that has created high unemployment, high illiteracy rates, record numbers of school closings and a lack of opportunity in areas where coal is produced.” The Presbyterian Church/USA has over 2.5 million members nationwide.

The effort to pass the resolution was spearheaded by West Virginia native Melissa Gee. “Someone once told me that Presbyterians don’t go alone. I now realize the similarity of that belief to the way I was raised in West Virginia. The need for this resolution was clear; the people of our nation’s coalfields should not be sent out alone in the fight to protect their homes and families,” commented Gee.

The resolution cited a decreasing quality of life for nearby families and communities due to flooding, blasting, dust and fallen rock, loss of home and property, and destruction of “both the beauty and productive capacity of the land” caused by mountaintop removal as a basis for their opposition. The resolution passed almost unanimously.

On June 26 the Unitarian Universalist Association, representing more than 1000 congregations nationwide, passed an action of immediate witness concerning mountaintop removal at their general assembly in St. Louis, Missouri. The action stated that the “Passage of H.R. 2719, the Clean Water Protection Act, would amend the Clean Water Act to eliminate mountaintop removal coal mining because coal companies would no longer be permitted to dump waste into nearby streams and valleys.”

Sarah Berel- Harrop, the sponsor of the resolution, said, “I was overwhelmed with the support from delegates around the country. I am hopeful that this action of immediate witness will spur members from their congregations to learn more about and become active on this issue.”

The two denominations have now joined several other national faith groups who have outwardly expressed their opposition to mountaintop removal, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church and the Catholic Conference of Kentucky.

Bizarre Dance of Wind Power

Monday, July 10th, 2006 | Posted by The Appalachian Voice | No Comments

… Unlike other clean energy sources such as solar power, electricity from wind has now become competitive in cost with electricity from conventional sources, due largely to advances in turbine design over the last 30 years. According to the AWEA, today wind electricity sells for half the price of nuclear power about the same as electricity from coal, oil and natural gas.

Despite the potential benefits of wind power, a growing number of local communities like Lewisburg have come to oppose wind turbines nearby.

Link to Augusta Free Press story

Roanoke Times opposes mountaintop removal

Wednesday, July 5th, 2006 | Posted by The Appalachian Voice | No Comments

Following its series on MTR (linked below), an editorial in the Roanoke, Va. Times this morning opposes mountaintop removal, saying: Gut instincts aren’t always right. But when it comes to mountaintop removal mining, those who recoil from the carnage directed at Mother Nature are right, both on an emotional level and a more pragmatic one. (For more, here is a link to the MTR editorial

Mountaintop removal mining series published in Roanoke Va Times

Wednesday, July 5th, 2006 | Posted by The Appalachian Voice | No Comments

The Times says that mountaintop removal mining ” is reshaping the geographic profile of Appalachia.” Although it is “an efficient way to mine coal, it stirs environmental and cultural concerns.”
Here’s a link to the Ronaoke Times MTR story

One section of the Times report is sure to stir some controversy among people who live in the coalfields:

Dink Shackleford, executive director of the Virginia Mining Association… dismisses Mountain Justice Summer as well-meaning but misinformed. He calls the activists weekend environmentalists. They visit nature. They don’t live in it. So they can’t understand it. At one rally, Shackleford said, “I saw five or 10 college professors and I saw about 110 misguided kids 17, 18 years old that you can’t even hardly get mad at when you see them.
“They’re so young. You know they don’t know what they’re talking about.”
Shackleford gives locals who support Mountain Justice Summer even less credit than he gives the activists. “The people who are doing the complaining are the people who can afford to complain,” he said. They get their living out of a mailbox, Shackleford said. They’re retired or receive disability payments so they don’t have to worry about what the loss of mountaintop mines would do to the economy.

Energy Blueprint being developed by Appalachian Regional Commission

Wednesday, July 5th, 2006 | Posted by The Appalachian Voice | No Comments

According to the ARC press release, a review of all renewable energy sources and an assessment of the resource potential across the Region for each renewable energy source, as well as identification of any significant concentrations of business activity in each business segment will be prepared by the Center for Business and Economic Research at Marshall University.

And yet, the agendas for the Morgantown June 21 and Oak Ridge June 27 round tables appear to be focused almost entirely on the “future for fossil energy.” Renewable energy was not an agenda item.
ARC workshop agendas

A third workshop is scheduled for Huntsville, AL on July 13.

NPR Celebrates the History of Appalachia

Monday, May 8th, 2006 | Posted by The Appalachian Voice | No Comments

The interview begins with the question of how to pronounce the word: Appalachia (like “apple-at-cha”) or Appalachia (like “apple-ate-cha”). The interview also contains a question about hillbillies and recognizes that part of that stereotype comes from the ability of Appalachian people to laugh at themselves. There’s also an interesting discussion about Appalachia as a haven for freedom lovers, both before and after the American Revolution.

Its good to hear Jeff waxing poetic about this part of the world. His enthusiasm helps spread the pride.

There’s a mention of the Highlander center in the story too; Appalachian Voice probably needs to write an article about it.



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