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Editor's Blog

Renewable Energy, National Security and Social Justice

By Kenneth Barbalace
[Monday, September 24, 2007]

Too often the discussion of renewable energy development focuses on climate change (aka global warming) to the exclusion of other equally important environmental, national security and social justice concerns. While yes, climate change is a serious concern (in spite of what the skeptics try to portray), we need to invest in and not unduly burden the development of renewable energies like wind and solar energies for many other reasons.

Predictably, coverage in the local press of last weeks hearings for a proposed wind farm on Black Nubble Mountain near Sugarloaf Maine in front of Maine's Land Use Regulation Commission, focused on the issue of climate change because of comments by the National Park Service Superintendent for the Appalachian Trail, Pam Underhill. While later acknowledging that global warming was a real concern, she stated that global warming was "irrelevant" in considering whether or not the proposed wind farm should be allowed, which she opposes (see my editorial National Park Service Superintendent states 'Global Warming Irrelevant' in opposing wind farm). While her comments have made for good fodder and headlines for blogs like ours, they also obscured very serious issues.

Other environmental concerns

Beyond contributing to global warming, the burning of fossil fuels to meet our energy needs has a much more direct and observable impact on our environment. Let us for a moment follow the environmental impact of coal from its "cradle to grave". According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, surface mining of coal accounts for 60% of the coal burned in coal fired power plants each year. The most destructive of the surface mining techniques is called mountaintop removal where hundreds of feet of overburden is blasted away and dumped in convenient valleys to access veins of coal which may only be a few feet thick. In West Virginia alone, over 300,000 acres of hardwood forests and 1,000 miles of streams have been destroyed by mountaintop removal. In an open letter to West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin in December of 2006 on the Ohio Valley Environmental Conservation Website, Mark Schmerling wrote:

A mountaintop removal site on Cazy Mountain, in Boone County, was "reclaimed" 22 years ago. It sprouts nothing but non-native grass, and a few thin, nasty-looking, non-native shrubs. Where is the earth-cooling hardwood forest? Where is the native ginseng that mountaineers have always been able to dig to sell and use? Where are the deer, the turkeys, the many species of songbirds, small mammals and other animals? Where are the clean, swift-flowing streams and their native trout? Where is life-giving soil? Where is life?

Once the coal has been mined, it must be transported to the power plants that need it via trains, which burn diesel fuel for power releasing nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and soot into the atmosphere. In addition, as coal is transported in open rail cars, coal dust is blown into the air contributing to the particulate matter released into the atmosphere.

To ensure a steady supply of coal in the event of transportation disruptions, most power plants maintain a sizeable stockpile of coal stored on site in giant open air piles. These piles of coal can leach chemical hazards into water supplies and wind can stir up coal dust into the atmosphere.

Upon burning coal, power plants release toxic chemicals and heavy metals into the atmosphere, including mercury along with tremendous amounts of carbon soot and fossil CO2. The mercury eventually rains out of the atmosphere hundreds if not thousands of miles down wind polluting lakes and streams. Eventually fish in those waters accumulate the mercury in their bodies and become hazardous to eat (as has happened here in Maine). The carbon soot also stays suspended in the atmosphere and can travel for thousands of miles before settling out. Recently it was reported that industrial soot "raining" out of the atmosphere in the arctic region may be largely responsible for the artic ice cap melting much faster than was predicted by climate models (see "Soot Could Hasten Melting of Arctic Ice" at Live Science).

Other fossil fuels like crude oil also have their fair share of cradle to grave environmental impacts including tragic oil spills and emissions from combustion.

In his open letter referenced above, Mark Schmerling summed the environmental issue very succinctly when he wrote:

The damage that has been done and is being done will last for thousands of years, and through hundreds of generations. All of those generations will look back on what has been done in the past thirty years and say, "Who could have let this happen?"

Will you be one of those who let it happen or will you stand among those who tried to change things, including your own energy use habits, to help stop the environmental destruction?

Social costs of fossil fuels

While it is not often thought about, using fossil fuels for energy historically has come with very high social costs. Whether it be wars fought over oil, workers being killed in industrial accidents or entire towns poisoned by the hazardous byproducts that are release into the atmosphere or water supplies by mining/drilling operations.

In the case of coal mining, tailings ponds held back by earthen dams and sludge pumped into abandoned mines can slowly leach their hazardous contents into ground water and drinking water supplies as has happened to four communities in Mingo County West Virginia (see "State Supreme Court upholds verdict against coal company" - West Virginia Gazette). The coal dust from mining operations can blanket nearby communities causing residents respiratory diseases and distress (See "West Virginia Town Fights Blanket of Coal Dust" - New Standard News).

Occasionally tailings dams fail, destroying villages downstream, as happened in 1972 on Buffalo Creek in West Virginia when a dam failure sent 500,000 cubic meters of tailings down a narrow valley leaving 124 people dead, 7 people missing and 4,000 homes destroyed (see "Disaster on Buffalo Creek" - West Virginia Gazette). In October of 2000 near the town of Inez Kentucky, the bottom of a tailings pond collapsed into an abandon mine that ran beneath it, resulting in 250 million gallons of slurry surging into the mineshafts and out two mine exits flooding nearby creeks. Twenty miles downstream had to be declared aquatic dead zones and communities in ten counties had to shut down their water systems (see "When Mountains Move" - National Geographic).

Coal mining is one of the most dangerous jobs one could have and as of this writing 18 people had already been killed in coal mining accidents in the United States in 2007 alone. In 2006 there were 47 people killed in such accidents.

To keep us supplied with cheap fossil fuel energy people are dying, and lives, communities and ecosystems are being destroyed. In short, there is blood on the hands of everyone who depends upon fossil fuel as their source of energy. We can not lower the social costs of fossil fuels unless we develop alternative energy sources and reduce the amount of energy we consume.

The real inconvenient truth, national security

Like all nations, the United States is utterly dependent upon fossil fuels, and much of this energy (especially crude oil) must be imported from politically unstable corners of the world run by unsavory regimes. As the world industrialized in the late 1800s, reliable sources of cheap energy became critical to nations' national security and wars were driven in a large part by the need to secure energy supplies. Throughout the 1900s and even today, wars and allegiances between countries have frequently been in a large part about securing reliable supplies of energy. No where is this more clearly obvious than in the Middle East as far back as the end of World War One. Even in his new book "The Age of Turbulence" Former Federal Reserve Chairman Allen Greenspan wrote:

"I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil."

He is right, why should we deny this? We need to face reality; we would not have cared to give the Middle East more than lip service for the past sixty years if it were not for the oil that flows from their sands. After all, we do not go after depots in Africa. The reality is that without the steady supply of oil from the Middle East and other parts of the world our nation would grind to a halt. The threat from Iran is not nuclear weapons; it is that they might stabilize the Middle East under their view of the way things should be. This could seriously threaten the steady supply of oil to the United States. The same was true when Saddam invaded the Kuwait. Sure liberating a beleaguered nation sounds comforting, but underlying this was our undeniable need to keep the oil flowing.

As a matter of national security, the United States must become energy independent. We must get to a point as a nation where we do not depend upon energy from nations that are run by tyrants. We can not depend upon our own fossil fuel reserves to achieve energy independence. As a society we must invest in renewable energies on a personal, local, regional and national basis and we all must learn to use our energy more wisely, which includes improving the energy efficiency of everything in our lives.

Are wind turbines truly an eye sore or are they a sign of hope?

Wind farms may not be particularly beautiful things to look at on a distant natural vista, but they are signs of a brighter, cleaner and safer future. They do not maim or kill thousands of workers. They do not have to be continually fed at the expense of destroying forests, streams or communities. They do not endlessly pump toxic chemicals into the atmosphere or water supplies. They do not produce carbon soot that accelerates the melting of icecaps and glaciers, nor do they contribute to climate change. Most importantly, when better technology comes along, all traces of their existence can be removed from the land and it returned back to what it was before, with the mountains still intact and the scrap materials recycled into something new.

Wind energy is not an end all be all solution to our energy needs, rather it must be part of a bigger mix of energy sources. Wind turbines, however, have the distinct advantage of being able to be built closer to where the power will be consumed. This will result in less energy being lost during transmission and they can help decentralize an electric grid making it more robust and less susceptible to the loss of a single source of power generation. Finally, every megawatt of energy produced by a wind turbine is one less megawatt of energy came at tremendous cost to the environment, a community or health of people.

Superintendent Underhill's opposition to the wind farm project on Black Nubble Mountain near Sugarloaf Maine is dead wrong; concerns about scenic views from the Appalachian Trail must not override other concerns. Yes protecting the AT is a legitimate concern, but there are bigger issues at play. Unfortunately, if Underhill gets her way and the wind farm does not get built it will be her home state of West Virginia that will continue to pay the tragically high price of her opposition and our nation's failed energy policy in terms of blood spilled, lives ruined and their environment destroyed.


NOTICE: Comments are user generated feedback and do not represent the views and/or opinions of EnvironmentalChemistry.com.

KM said...

This discussion would be useful if wind were an alternative to coal and other fossil fuels. It isn't, however. Erect all your wind turbines, and you'll still need as much coal etc. as ever.

Because of the many issues described here, it would be much better to actually address them than to pursue the elusive promise of wind power, which only adds its own adverse impacts to fossil fuel's ill effects and solves nothing.

Anonymous said...

Be advised to replace the summer output of the 10 largest Nuclear and Coal fired plants in Virginia with wind turbines would require 32,693 of them spread over 3,277 miles of ridge tops.

Never imagine those of us on the Allegheny Front opposing Industrialization of our sensitive scenic ridgetops would prefer Mountain Top Removal. Both practices are taking place for the purpose of exporting electricity to the cities and all of those huge suburban homes around DC,Baltimore, etc. who foolishly cut down all their trees and have surrounded themselves w/ glass, steel, brick, and concrete and wonder why they are uncomfortable in the summer.

I applaud your idea that they should take more responsibility for providing their own energy and would much prefer to see decentralized smaller systems like this:
http://www.aerotecture.com/placed on buildings where there already exists a fractured man-made skyline,
as opposed to massive leveling and roadbuilding of the mountains hundreds of miles distant. We're already exporting 70% of the electricity we produce here in West Virgina!

I'll conclude w/ part of a letter Paul Kenyon recently sent to Greenpeace. And, I'm glad to see some real debate taking place on our unhealthy addiction to massive energy use.

Sincerely, Dave B.
(Paul wrote)
The fact is, there is no free lunch, there is a high environmental cost for "renewables" and the very best and cleanest energy is that which we do not use. Choose efficiency and conservation over new electricity production, especially since renewable energy production (like wind)offers low grade, almost useless electricity (too variable) at the expense of the huge amounts of land it must occupy to harvest the wind's diffuse energy content.

We need real solutions if we are actually going to reduce CO2 generation by human activity. Get off the Big Wind silver bullet bandwagon and get behind sensible use of energy: efficiency and conservation. The average home uses 10 to 15 times as much energy to heat it as it uses in electricity in a year. Improve the insulation in a home to save a cord of wood or 230 gallons of heating oil a season and you earn that modern American home the energy equivalent of free electricity for the rest of the life of the home (your insulation improvement only has to be done once but works for you year after year after year.) Insulation is not fancy like a wind mill waving its arms over the countryside, for all to see but it is many times as powerful a tool in dealing with anthropomorphic CO2 emissions.

Anonymous said...

No one said wind is a silver bullet but wind will HAVE to be part of the mix. Conservation will have to be part too but conserve all you want but we must move to renewable energy
that does NOT emit CO2... If you are against wind then you are for coal.
So if you are NOT from a coal extraction area and you don't want to look at the wind turbine, then turn off your electricity. My blood sweat and tears pays for your energy, I live in coal extraction area. Wind is a class issue, so share the burden or turn off the electricity. I'll bet you would want a wind turbine in your backyard instead of a strip mine or a coal fired power plant. Mining an coal poisons water, Last time I looked wind turbines don't discharge mercury, arsenic or lead.

Ken (EnvironmentalChemistry.com) said...

One thing you will never hear from me is that wind energy is a silver bullet that will solve all our energy problems. In essence KM is right; wind power alone can not replace our use of fossil fuels. Our energy consumption/waste and energy policies of the last 50 - 100 years have gotten us into a big mess for which there are no silver bullets, only incremental steps in the right direction.

There is an old saying that asks "how do you eat an elephant?" The answer: "one bite at a time." Our energy mess is just such an elephant and the wind farm project on Black Nubble Mountain is just one such bite. The power generated there will be power that does not have to be generated via coal. This won't shut down existing coal fired plants, but it will help ease the need to build new ones. Eventually, one bite at a time we will be able to become a nation that is energy independent and then begin to wean ourselves off of coal and other fossil fuels.

Dave B, you say how many mountains would have to have wind turbines on them to replace the ten largest nuclear and coal power plants in Virginia (BTW, do you mean West Virginia?), so I will ask you this question. Over 50 or 100 years, how many mountains would have to be completely and irreversibly removed and how many valleys filled to supply those plants with the coal they require?

At the end of the life for a wind farm the man made structures could be removed and the land restored with little trace of the project having ever existed within 50 or 100 years later. The same can not be said about mountains that are removed to get to the coal that lay beneath. A thousand years from now the land won't record any trace of our wind farms, but our descendents will look at the removed mountains of West Virginia and ask "what were they thinking?"

In regards to decentralized systems, I am a big believer in this. I firmly believe that the roof tops of homes and buildings are wasted space and that this space should be utilized via solar heat and electric generation. All of the surplus power generated by "personal" micro-generators like rooftop solar should be purchased by the power grid, just like they do large scale generators. In Maine the power company does give credits for excess power that consumers send back to the grid, but these credits must be used within one year or are forfeit. Just like wind, however, solar is not a silver bullet. No, it is a silver fork that will like wind energy help us eat our energy elephant one bite at a time.

In regards to localized power generation there is one thing people either do not realize or forget to consider. When electric power is generated and then transmitted over long distances there is energy that is lost. The further the power is transmitted, the more energy that gets lost. Thus 10mWh generated from a source 20 miles away results in more energy reaching the consumer than 10mWh being generated by a source 200 miles away from the consumer.

In climates like New England where severe weather frequently knocks out sections of the power grid, decentralizing power generation also helps reduce the number of customers who are without power after major storms.

Paul, who Dave B. quoted, is right and I have written about this in the past, energy efficiency and conservation is the greenest of all energy sources. If we don't consume the energy in the first place we won't have to rape the environment to produce it. There are so many things every family can do that will reduce the total amount of energy they consume without having a significant impact on their life style. In my own case, we were able to cut our electrical consumption by 1/3 by changing out our lights to energy efficient CFLs and convincing our landlord to replace our 37 year old refrigerator with a newer model. Within a couple of years we hope to build our own U.S. Green Housing Council LEED certified home here in Maine with a target total monthly energy of $100 per month. No, it won't shut down a coal fired plant, but it will be another bite out of the elephant.

Anonymous on 9/24/2007 at 02:28:00 PM is right and it is the chief point of my article this issue is about social justice and sharing the burden. If we want to share in the fruits of our society, we must also share in the burden. I live in Maine and I do not want to see my "backyard" spoiled any more than anyone else, but it is socially irresponsible for me to protect my "backyard" at the expense of trashing someone else's back yard in a far off place.

Black Nubble Mountain is not about trying to power New York City or Boston; it is about trying to take the equivalent of around 20,000 homes in Maine off of coal and other non-renewable energies.

Will history record you as one went to work trying to eat the elephant one bite at a time, or will history record you as one who said it was impossible and that those small bites won't make a difference? Worse yet, will history record you as one who stood in the way of those who tried to take a bite or two out of our energy mess?

The wind farm on Black Nubble Mountain may only be a bite out of the elephant, but it is a bite Mainers have a social obligation to take.

Anonymous said...

Ridiculous; there is no social contract which folks in Maine or anywhere else should be expected - let alone obligated - to support industrial wind energy facilities. This is an "ends-justifies-the-means" argument/mentality, which is symptomatic of efforts to end-run or do-away with the need to adequately consider the purported benefits and potential impacts of these facilities in order to bias the siting decisions in favor of development.

What is being framed is a decidedly false-choice - as even large numbers of skyscrapper-sized wind turbines will not obviate the need to build more conventional generating capacity BECAUSE wind turbines generate very little electricity during the summertime - when power is typically needed most (the decisions to build new powerplants in most grid regions are primarily driven by need to meet escalating summertime demand for electricity).

A typical wind turbine sited in the Mid-Atlantic Region would operate at only 15% of its rated generating capacity - on average - during the summer months. Annually, this turbine would operate at best with only a 30% capacity factor. This compares to nuclear powerplant which operates annually and during summertime with capacity factor of close to or over 95% (meaning it generates at its peak level every hour of every day during the entire summer and year). Although considered as its "Achilles Heel", the "intermittency" issue associated with wind power is superceded by the very low operating performance of utility-scale wind turbines during the seasonal period when demand for electricity is the greatest (i.e., summer).

Furthermore, the notion that a wind project in ME will appreciably lessen the amount of coal that is burned in a year to produce electricity doesn't jibe with reality. First, only 1.7% of the electricity generated by powerplants in ME during 2005 was due to coal. Second, it is very likely that wind-generated electricity would displace far more power that is generated by hydropower or other renewable sources - which are responsible for producing over 43% of ME's electricity (in 2005). Source - see table 5: http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/st_profiles/maine.html .

It is a mistake and wrong-headed to conclude that wind energy development - which primarily is targeting Appalachian ridgetops in the east - represents a better trade-off than mining the coal of Appalachia. They both will impact the region - and there is NO TRADEOFF. Wind energy development only will add to the mining impacts. On a per MW basis, the forest habitat impacted by wind energy development likely exceeds the impact due to coal extraction from Mountain Top Removal technique - see: http://www.vawind.org/Assets/Docs/Very_Shaky_Environmental_Claims.pdf .

Wind energy developers are allowed under the federal tax code to avoid paying (i.e., recover) about $2-million per turbine due to tax credits and other tax-shelter provisions. This means that the federal treasury loses $2-million per turbine because income-tax that otherwise is owed can be avoided due to the federal subsidies available to wind energy project owners and their wealthy investors. Far more bang for that buck could come be realized by many other policy choices - at far less environmental cost.

Rather than attempt to eat the proverbial elephant one random bite at a time, perhaps we need to first remove our blindfolds in order to better understand its dimensions and vulnerabilities.

Anonymous said...

It's not about wind farms It's a zoning change.The permit is to take Black Nubble out of Protected Zoning,Where it has been for over 30 years.I don't believe we should do this or developers will want to take all our mountains over 2700 feet.There is so much money to be made and there will be ton of new projects coming down the pike.Save our high ridges.for our kids and Maine

Anonymous said...

Thank goodness for some dialogue. . Appalachia is being leveled, West Virginians are sitting on their hands and the coal companies are plotting and writing checks. Our own Congressman Rahall wants "fueled by coal-to-liquid" emblazoned across Jeff Gordon's souped-up Chevy.

Kenneth is right on the point. There is no single answer. We have a fist full of solutions that are being employed in this country at this very minute. All put together they can in time satisfy our energy needs, but we have to try, and quit being so selfish. I'm miffed at those people who say "conservation is the answer" and they are the very ones that won't change the light bulbs.

There are massive buildings in Chicago that are being powered by a combination of solar and wind. Systems have been installed on building faces, rooftops, you name it. A city that wants to TRY.

I have stood on the edge of a mountaintop removal site and often wondered why I was standing there alone. People that are fighting wind turbines in their own "backyard" don't have clue how our brothers and sisters in southern West Virginia are living. Maybe they don't know because they don't care enough to go take a look. It's EcoRAPE!! And if you don't take a stand to stop it, then we might assume that you support it - simple as that!

Like you Kenneth, I pulled my family together to cut our energy use. We have in the past 8 months cut back 38%. And we're not finished. It's time to fall in love with wind and solar and water power and energy saving light bulbs.

A wind farm will never ever ever hold a candle to mountaintop removal in regards to environmental degradation. You can tear a wind mill down. You can't put a mountain back. And btw, some of the wind folks might be interested to know that there is coal under those windy mountaintops in West Virginia. A wind farm might be the best insurance against them blowing your whole backyard to kingdom come.

B. J. Gudmundsson
Lewisburg, West Virginia

Ken (EnvironmentalChemistry.com) said...

Since the issue of Maine's energy source mix was raised, here are the numbers from http://www.maine.gov/mpuc/industries/electricity/standard_offer/disclosure_labels.htm
(Standard delivery options - January 1, 2005 – December 31, 2005 unless stated otherwise):

Central Maine Power
Sources meeting Maine’s 30% renewable and efficient resources requirement
Biomass 4.0 %
Municipal Waste 4.0%
Fossil Fuel Cogeneration 9.1%
Fuel Cells 0.0%
Geothermal 0.0%
Hydro 14.5%
Solar 0.0%
Tidal 0.0%
Wind 0.0%

Nonrenewable sources
Nuclear 24.4%
Gas 25.7%
Oil 8.5%
Coal 9.6%

TOTAL 100.0% 100.0%
Total Fossil Fuel 43.8%

Bangor Hydro and Power
Sources meeting Maine’s 30% renewable and efficient resources requirement
Biomass 4.0%
Municipal Waste 4.0%
Fossil Fuel Cogeneration 9.1
Fuel Cells 0.0%
Geothermal 0.0%
Hydro 14.5%
Solar 0.0%
Tidal 0.0%
Wind 0.0%

Nonrenewable sources
Nuclear 24.4%
Gas 25.7%
Oil 8.5%
Coal 9.6%

TOTAL 100.0%
Total Fossil Fuel 43.8%

Maine Public Service Company and Eastern Maine Electric Cooperative (2003 – latest available online); Houlton Water Company and Van Buren Electric Cooperative (2002 - latest available online)

Resources that meet Maine’s efficiency or renewable standards
Biomass 33.0%
Hydro 13.0%
Municipal Trash 2.0%

Other resources
Nuclear 13.0%
Natural Gas 8.0%
Oil 19.0%
Coal 12.0%

Total: 100.0%
Total fossil fuel 39.0%

So the amount of Maine's power that comes from coal ranges from 9.6% to 12.0% with total fossil fuels ranging 39.0% to 43.8%.

A significant percentage of Maine's power does come from coal power, the pollution from which has poisoned Maine's lakes streams and fish with mercury.

It would appear that Maine's coal elephant is a lot more manageable than the naysayers would like us to believe. Maine doesn't need to replace 10 giant power plants in West Virginia, we simply need to replace the 9% to 12% of our energy that comes from coal with other renewable sources. Is pushing our renewable energy from 30% to 40% really too much to ask for? Once our energy is no longer partially supplied by coal, we can really start screaming about the "coal states" polluting our lakes, streams and fish with mercury.

As B. J. Gudmundsson stated, we can solve our national and local energy, environmental and climate change crises, but we have to stop being selfish. We must more willingly share in the burden of generating electricity (e.g. stop obstructing wind farms) and start doing a whole heck of a lot more to reduce the amount of energy we consume on a personal level.

As I said earlier, my family has been tackling our carbon/energy footprint very aggressively and are striving to become as energy efficient and carbon neutral as we can.

KM said...

Reducing energy use is indeed taking a bite out of the elephant. But putting giant wind turbines in rural and wild areas (where people don't have the resources or other clout to fight them, where some might even welcome them, clinging to the desperate prospect of some crumbs dropped for them from the subsidies flowing to private investors -- as Anonymous said, it's a class issue), with the heavy-duty roads and transmission infrastructure ... Giant wind turbines on the grid are not even scratching the elephant's skin. In fact, they are creating another elephant and driving the building of yet another elephant to back it up.

Anonymous said...

Those interested in not seeing Mountain Removal Coal Mining expand at a fantastic rate should write to their congressmen/women and to the Office of Surface mining to oppose their proposed rule change to eliminate stream protections in the original Surface Mine Control Control and Reclamation Act (1997). This is a response to numerous recent legal losses the coal industry has suffered, with WV ruling that standard mining practices are a clear violation of the clean water act. Also Massey Energy faces over 4,000 counts of violations across Appalachia amounting to billions of dollars in fines. www.700mountains.org has further information and a contact form to comment.

Anonymous said...

Apples and oranges... Ken, the USDOE Energy Information Administration's data for 2005 clearly documents that coal supplied less than 2% of Maine's electricity - see table 5 in: www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/st_profiles/maine.pdf .

The info which you posted in an effort to refute this fact does not show what you claim. First, your info shows only sales of electricity within ME, and ignores the electricity which is generated within the state but exported to surrounding states. Second, your info is focused primarily on "residential/small commercial" users, and ignores larger commercial and industrial sectors. Lastly, your info does not provide any weighting of the percentages to adjust for differences among the utilities.

Consequently, your claim that:

"So the amount of Maine's power that comes from coal ranges from 9.6% to 12.0% with total fossil fuels ranging 39.0% to 43.8%."


Of the nearly 19-billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) generated by the electric industry in ME during 2005, only 322-million kWh's were produced by burning coal (1.7%).

And ME is already producing more than 40% of its electricity from hydroelectric and "other renewables" (43% in 2005), so the state has already attained the goal you claim is desired (i.e., "pushing our renewable energy from 30% to 40%").

It's not about being "selfish", it's about being PRUDENT and WISE. Supporting wind energy projects without regard to their consequences or impacts is unnecessary, extreme and foolhardy.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Dave, I should have included this in the first post but I was very distressed by your post. I know you didn't actually say you preferred Mountaintop Removal to wind in actual words but the choices you make are clear. This IS a class issue. By rejecting wind or solar to move forward away from climate crisis you are for Mountaintop removal, coal and nuclear.

Anonymous said...

Dave, You chide Ken for talking apples and oranges, but I know that you live where 95% of your electricity comes from coal.......But yet you fight wind..you are content to flip on your switch and poison my family and bomb my home so you can use electricity but yet you don't want to look at wind farms. We are fighting for wind on our mountain to save our mountains, streams and homes. How come my father and brother can die in the mines and of black lung so you and others can have energy but you don't want to look at wind turbines. Shame on you!!!!!

Ken (EnvironmentalChemistry.com) said...

Dan B.,

I am afraid it is you, not me who is comparing apples and oranges. The numbers you are quoting cite the amount of power a state PRODUCES, NOT the amount it CONSUMES and thus are irrelevant for this discussion.

The numbers I referenced from the State of Maine's website look at the mix of power that is CONSUMED in the state of Maine. Remember that Maine is not self-sufficient when it comes to electrical generation and we must IMPORT much of the electricity we CONSUME.

The State of Wyoming took great issue with the DOE's numbers for exactly this reason. Wyoming was hit really hard by the DOE for tons of CO2 released per capita when in fact most of the energy produced by Wyoming is exported to other states. Their contention was that the per capita "carbon footprint" of states should be measured based on the electrical energy states consume rather than what they produce as many high population states like California are net importers of electricity.

The numbers I got were not made up. They come from the State of Maine's website. Every Mainer gets the reports I referenced each year in our mail from the electric utilities as is required by state law.

The facts are what they are. According to the state of Maine and our electric utilities (who would know best) the Standard Delivery Option for consumers in Maine consists of 9.6% to 12% from coal and 39.0% to 43.8% from fossil fuels.

When looking at stats and figures, be careful how you cherry pick them. You do not serve your cause at all by misrepresenting numbers as you have just done.

I will state it again, as a electric CONSUMER in the state of Maine, unless you explicitly selected a energy provider different from "Standard Delivery Option" for your electric supply, 9.6% - 12.0% of your electricity was generated via coal and up to 43.8% of it was generated by some sort of fossil fuel in general.

It should also be noted that there is a line in electrical mix stats that I provided that is labeled "Fossil Fuel Cogeneration" under the section titled "sources meeting Maine's 30% renewable and efficient resources requirement", under Central Maine Power and Bangor Hydro and Power, which is 9.1%. I did not calculate that number into my total fossil fuel calculation, because I did not understand what it was, however, it turns out that this is fossil fuel generated power (e.g. coal) that is considered "efficient" because the power plants generate both power and heat. So when one looks at the 30% renewable and efficient category, one must subtract 9.1% from those figures to get the percentage of renewable energy Maine consumers receive in their energy mix.

Again, Dan's numbers are looking at the wrong thing and are designed to confuse an issue to support his ends.

Anonymous said...

Hello, I live in WV, one of the states currently enduring the outlandish practice of Mountain Top Removal for supplying coal to this energy hungry nation.

There has been an ignored rule pertaining to how close to a stream they are allowed to mine.

Recently there has been a move to get the rule changed, rather than enforce the rule.

This will require an environmental study to be done, and indeed the draft has been issued. [aug 24]

I am concerned that considering the huge surface area the leaves on forested mountains represent that there is no plant species that could ever approach the leaf surface area of forested mountains on flat land [post MTR]

This seems to me to be a double wammie.

We'll be burning more coal, requiring more O2 generation via Photosynthesis while at the same time limiting the planet's ability to convert CO2 to O2 FOREVER

I asked a question about this on a website nature.org that says 'ask our scientists'

[I think they were looking for questions that had already been answered]

The rule change proposal can be viewed at


Document ID: OSM-2007-0007-0001

Comment period is until Oct 23, 2007

They are not even entertaining the notion of not changing the rule.

It is not clear whether any fact could deter those in favor of MTR from their intended desecration of our beautiful mountains.

As such, if my contention is correct it maybe that we will have to enlist the help of children to ask What will we breath?

While I was an exceptional math and science student I did not pursue my formal education.

I feel confident that my idea about Oxygen and MTR is valid, but without confirmation from a higher source it would not be given much credence.

This has the potential of being a global issue as the rush for cheap energy will likely mean this technology will be exported with everyone's breath on the line.

Please Correct me if I'm wrong...
Michael Condon

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